Dancing in the Wilderness

Dancing in the WIlderness Book CoverBased on real events, Dancing in the Wilderness fictionalises two significant periods of awakening in New Zealand’s history – the birth of the Labour movement at the turn of the century, and the birth of environmental activism ninety years later.

Sophisticated PR pro Stephanie Hunter returns after 25 years to her birthplace on the uncompromising, untamed raw edge of New Zealand – the South Island’s wild West Coast. Motivated by money and ambition, she has left behind her London lifestyle, headhunted by a logging multi-national to take on the environmental activists fighting to protect precious lowland native forests.

Nearly a century earlier, young, impressionable immigrant Henrietta (Etta) Jackson was a naïve newlywed in 1908 when she arrived in New Zealand. Dumped at the foot of the towering Denniston Incline, Etta has no option but to walk up the steep hill to an isolated, barren and windswept landscape. With her handsome, union-activist, miner husband Ted, she is to start a new life in the stark settlement of Burnett’s Face, where the sun rarely shines and the coal bins judder along the main street right past the back door.

Dancing in the Wilderness is the passionate and compelling saga of two women – an immigrant miner’s wife and her granddaughter – separated by three generations but linked by an emerging pioneering spirit as they come to terms with the raw honest of the West Coast and travel on their own journeys towards finding themselves. Will they be able to find real happiness – even at the ends of the earth?

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REVIEWS

Felicity Price’s first novel offers something rare in New Zealand fiction – pace and tension. You can’t bear to put it down… Price is gifted enough to write her story with a precision, eye for detail and balance that makes it feel authentic.” – NZ Herald

“Quite apart from being a good yarn, it is well informed about issues that should concern us all.” – Wairarapa News

Price spins a captivating tale… The book is well crafted and engaging, and impressive for a first novel. I hope it is the first of many.” -Nelson Mail

“Price has the pace of a good storyteller and the development of character that absorbs the reader into the lives of strong women characters.” – The Press

DETAILS

Paperback: 302 pages
Publisher: Hazard Press (2001)
ISBN-10: 1877270156
ISBN-13: 978-1877270154
Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

Historical Note

Based on real events, Dancing in the Wilderness fictionalises two significant periods of awakening in New Zealand’s history – the birth of the Labour movement at the turn of the century, and the birth of environmental activism ninety years later.

The first period, between 1908 and 1913, saw several major events on the West Coast that impacted the whole of New Zealand:

  • the rise of the Red Feds – a group of Socialist firebrands from Australia and the UK who lit the spark under West Coast miners to fire up the beginnings of the NZ Labour Party
  • the lengthy 13-week strike in 1908 at the Blackball Mine to earn the right for a 30-minute lunch break (a generous extension of 15 minutes)
  • a further lengthy strike in 1913 over arbitration, that spread throughout the country
  • the associated waterfront confrontation in Wellington, which was attended by a group of miners from Denniston
  • the final capitulation of the striking miners when they signed in blood red ink and marched through Westport
  • the peak period of employment on the Denniston Plateau occurred around this time. Some 1500 people lived there in often primitive conditions, earning some of the highest wages in the country for long hours, hard and dangerous work.
  • The rise of the Denniston Miners’ Brass Band, to become of the best in the country, consistently winning awards at national competitions.

And then there is the Denniston Incline itself – the eighth wonder of the world they called it – dropping coal bins down 2000 feet in just a few minutes on a gradient almost as steep as a 45 degree angle.

If you find this period of New Zealand’s History fascinating, you might like to try some further reading.

Further Reading

The Hill – the Story of Denniston, by Ceclia Adams. J W Baty Ltd, Christchurch. 1971
Silk Amidst the Clouds, by Beatrice June Fayen. Buller Printing Ltd, Westport. 1994.
The Denniston Miners’ Union – A Centennial History 1884 – 1994, by Len Richardson. DMU Centennial Committee, Westport. 1984.
Coaling from the Clouds, by RJ Meyer. NZ Railway and Locomotive Society, Wellington. 1971.
A History of Denniston, by WA Munro. Denniston High School and Waimangaroa Centennial Committee, 1980.
House Surgeon, by Harold Valentine. Whitcombe and Tombs, Christchurch, 1964.
A Life of Ettie Rout, by Jane Tollerton. Penguin, 1998.
Coal, Class and Community, by Len Richardson. Auckland University Press, 1995
Ballads of the Track, by Billy Banjo Hunter. Co-operative Publishing Board, Auckland, 1918.
History of the Denniston Brass Band. Published in the Grey River Argus during 1906.
The Hill in the ’80s. Published in the Westport Times and Star during 1930.
Good Times at the Face. The Westport News, January 1958
Farewell to a Ghost Village, Weekly News, April 1956
The Face’s History. The Grey River Argus, June 1958
The Story of Burnetts Face. A series in the Westport News, January 1958

News Release

A novel covering the dramatic events of the summer of 1997 – when protesters perched in precarious tree platforms to stop the logging of native rimu – is to be published by Hazard Press in early November.
Based on real events, Dancing in the Wilderness fictionalises two significant periods of awakening in New Zealand’s history – the birth of the Labour movement at the turn of the century, and the birth of environmental activism ninety years later.

Spanning three generations of women, Dancing in the Wilderness, by first-time author and former Press/ North and South/ NZWW (etc; change to fit publication) journalist Felicity Price, traces the journeys of self-discovery of a naïve young immigrant newlywed and her granddaughter as they come to grips with the uncompromising landscape and harsh realities of the wild West Coast, at the raw edge of New Zealand.

“There’s been so much said and written about the logging of native timber on the West Coast, but most of it has been very one-sided,” Felicity Price says.

“I’ve spoken to people who were protesting up in the trees and to loggers who lost a day’s pay when protesters nicked their chainsaws. And like the good old-fashioned journalist that I am, I can see both sides of the story. I’ve tried to present both sides in a balanced way, with fictional characters who passionately believe they are right.”

The three-generational family saga also steps back to the turn of the century, providing an insight into daily life in an isolated New Zealand mining village before the advent of electricity and hospitals, when domestic arrangements were primitive and life was often in danger.

There is much historic detail that will be of interest to older New Zealanders – how people entertained themselves when there was no TV, no electricity and no movie theatres; how people managed to live and even flourish in such primitive conditions; the magnificent engineering feat of the Denniston Incline, accessible only on foot, so the 1500 or so people living at the top rarely went down unless they were dead; the rugby matches on ground so rocky the visiting team was scared to tackle; the dramas of the day, like mine accidents, earthquakes, and strikes that sometimes went on for months, passionate unionism and hatred of the capitalists; the rise of the Red Feds and the Labour movement; and the violent and shameful Wellington waterfront confrontation of 1913, when striking unionists and farmers seeking to unblock the port, waged war against each other.

“The turn of the century is a fascinating time in New Zealand’s history yet it was never on the agenda in any of my history classes at school,” Felicity Price says. “The more I read about it, the more excited I was about making it come alive in the pages of the novel. The difficulty was in trying to leave any of it out.”

The modern-day part of the novel centres on a PR pro, Stephanie Hunter, who returns after 25 years to her birthplace on the West Coast. Motivated by money and ambition, she has left behind her Gucci London lifestyle, headhunted by a logging multi-national to take on the environmental activists fighting to protect the precious lowland native forests. Distracted by the magnetic attraction of one of her workmates, she is soon locked into battle with an unlikely adversary.

Like her grandmother Henrietta, who had her own battles to win nine decades before her, Stephanie tries to achieve reconciliation – with the West Coast, with her family and with herself.

As a young, impressionable immigrant, vicar’s daughter Henrietta (Etta) Jackson was a naïve newlywed in 1908 when she arrived in New Zealand. Fresh off the boat from the genteel society of Edwardian England, Etta finds the raw realities of the West Coast almost more than she can bear. Dumped at the foot of the towering Denniston Incline she has no option but to walk up the steep hill to an isolated, barren and windswept landscape. With her handsome, union-activist, miner husband Ted, she is to start a new life in the stark settlement of Burnett’s Face, where the sun rarely shines and the coalbins judder along the main street right past the back door – a daily reminder of the dark and dangerous tunnels nearby where her husband hews coal pre-dawn ’til after dark.

Etta’s journey of self discovery begins as – like all pioneers – she embarks on a learning curve as steep as the hated Incline itself.

 

The West Coast of New Zealand

Known for its breathtaking scenery and natural beauty, the West Coast of New Zealand is worth a visit. And while there, you can visit what’s left of Denniston and Burnetts Face, the two old mining towns that feature in the novel. They make for a fascinating and haunting journey back in time.

If you would like to know more about the West Coast, you should visit

www.westport.org.nz
www.westcoast.org.nz
The Press newspaper carries West Coast news on its website, www.stuff.co.nz

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