Voices of the West Coast: An investigation into the development of a distinctive West Coast character in New Zealand fiction
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The West Coast of the South Island has a particular history distinct from other regions of New Zealand because of its physical isolation, its sparse and fragmented Maori occupation, its lack of suitability for farm settlement, and its social and economic links with Australia through nineteenth century shipping routes; many of the goldminers who first populated the region came via the Victoria goldfields and had little relationship with other South Island settlements. This thesis begins with a chronological annotated bibliography of imaginative writing with the West Coast as its setting, then analyses this writing in terms of the West Coast landscape, its settlement history and its four major physical resources – pounamu, gold, coal and timber – and the way in which each has influenced the literature. It further examines the work of five West Coast writers, Jean Devanny, Peter Hooper, Keri Hulme, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman and Peter Hawes, in the context of their imaginative portrayal of the characteristics of the region. It concludes that there is a discernible perception among New Zealanders, fostered particularly by novelists and film-makers who have set their work on the Coast, that the region has iconic status and represents values and attitudes which appeal to the wider audience as distinctive. In his 1940 attempt to encourage a national literature, Monte Holcroft wrote that, “…the spirit of a country, recognisable in history and literature, is a kind of collective definition undertaken by a line of creative writers.” New Zealand has long since developed a healthy diversity of creative literature, but it is argued in this thesis that Holcroft’s definition can now be restated in regional terms; the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand has its own spirit, is in a sense another country, and has been so defined by its creative fiction.