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Remnants of Ruminants

My friend Mark Orton of Seeing Red Media just made this video for me in Central Otago. In it, I charge around in a leather jacket and lace-up gumboots and get to drive a cool-looking HQ Holden. I wrote this song a few years ago after a trip in my old 1978 Ford Cortina up to the top of the South Island, which I blogged about back in 2012 here.

Ruminants are animals that ferment their food in a series of stomachs before digesting it. The process requires regurgitation and re-chewing (“chewing the cud.”) They first appear in the fossil record as small forest-dwelling mammals in the Eocene, around 50 million years ago. Today there are around 200 ruminant species including deer, cattle, sheep, giraffes and antelopes. The presence of ruminants on the Eurasian continent about 9000 years ago allowed a number of species to be domesticated by humans and thus cattle, sheep and goats soon formed part of the basis for agricultural societies.

The ancestors of New Zealand’s first Maori inhabitants brought only one domesticated animal to New Zealand – the kuri, or Polynesian dog. New Zealand then was a land of birds – giant ratites called moa and other birds that filled every conceivable ecological niche. Unused to mammalian predators, this incredible avian fauna soon fell easy prey to hunting pressure, and were finally extirpated.

Europeans arrived in New Zealand a little over 200 years ago, bringing with them their domesticated ruminants, especially sheep. Their possession and knowledge of these animals allowed them to capitalize on the open grasslands and to profit from the land by growing huge amounts of meat and wool. The extinction of the moa and other birds had left a huge ecological void in the landscape that domestic and feral ruminants were able to capitalize on.

And so in the last two centuries we’ve seen progressive waves of ruminants sweep New Zealand  – great flocks of sheep, plagues of wild deer, and more recently almost 5 million dairy cows, upon which the country’s economy is now heavily dependent. The long-term sustainability of this kind of intensive land use is in real question.

A palaeontologist examining New Zealand’s fossil record in another million years will find a bizarre and dramatic sequence indeed – the rapid disappearance of a great avian megafauna, closely followed by a great cache of the bones of domesticated animals – remnants of ruminants by the millions. And then… who knows?

I wonder what will they make of it all?

Remnants of Ruminants

There’s an electric fence around my heart
It goes tick tick tick in the dark

Picking it up on the AM dial
 as I go driving
Through the ribcage of this land

Moving fast through frequencies
Headlights flickering in the poplar trees
Static from stars and small town bars
Lit up for Saturday night

We’ve got an Ice Age here with us
A continent of grass and mud
And remnants of ruminants

I’m driving up the coast to be with you love
To feel your warmth beside me

Something’s broke but I’ll fix it up you’ll see

And memories of sunken shores
The reefs beyond the kelp beds roar
The morepork in the milking shed’s
The last of his kind

(Chorus)

There’s an electric fence around my heart
It goes tick tick tick in the dark
Picking it up on the AM dial
As I go driving
Through the ribcage of this land

Moving fast through frequencies
Headlights flickering in the poplar trees
Static from stars and small town bars
Lit up for Saturday night

(Chorus)

Drums: Steve Hudson
Bass: John Dodd
Acoustic guitar: Bill Morris
Electric guitars: Joseph Hoskin
Dobro: John Egenes
Sound FX: Gunther Flutney

Hinemoa

Here’s a song I wrote last year, while teaching a class of film students about the history of film and television in New Zealand. I was inspired after learning of this country’s early cinema history and pioneers like Rudall Hayward, who produced a number of features in the first part of the 20th century.

New Zealand’s first feature film was “Hinemoa,” made by George Tarr in 1914. It told the legend of a wahine of that name and her love affair with Tutanekai on an island in Lake Rotorua.The film was shot over 8 days near Rotorua, with the entire cast being drawn from a local Maori choir. The film opened in the Lyric Theatre in Auckland during the first week of World War One before touring the country and being shown overseas.

Like many of New Zealand’s earliest films, “Hinemoa” has been lost; immolated, perished or simply misplaced. The silver nitrate prints of many old films like this have perished – some were even deliberately melted down to make other things. The only record we have of “Hinemoa” is a promotional poster, which features a picture of the lead actress, Hera Tawhai.

Video thanks to Steve Hillman and the students at Aoraki Polytechnic, Dunedin

Hinemoa_1914_still1

Hinemoa

Maybe her hair was dark and long
But who’ll ever know
now that she’s gone?

Maybe she kissed her leading man’s lips
As the credits rolled

But when the last reel flickered to its final frame
She just drifted away

And down came the curtain
And up went the lights
And the people stepped out
With stars in their eyes

And maybe they walked
Through the city that night
Still dancing on air

But when the last reel flickered to its final frame
She just drifted away

Maybe they vanished in a quick burst of flame
Or maybe time slowly stole them away
Maybe they crumbled into dust in a tin
Where no light gets in

But when the last reel flickered to its final frame
She just drifted away

Last night I dreamed
A forgotten scene
Last night I dreamed
You were back up on that screen

But you can’t believe everything you see
At the movies

AmericanaUK review

Posted on

Another nice review over at AmericanaUK.com

That’s two continents conquered, only three to go!

http://www.americana-uk.com/index.php/cd-reviews/item/bill-morris-hinterland

First Review – No Depression Magazine

Posted on

Really excited to get a great write up from John Apice at No Depression:

Album will be available online next week

 

http://nodepression.com/album-review/bill-morris-%E2%80%93-hinterland

 

New Album Taking Shape!

Hi everyone,

Just wanted to let you know that there is a new album in the works! It’s being recorded at Albany Street studios in Dunedin. John Egenes is producing and its being recorded by Danny Buchanan. I’m very excited about how its coming together and loving working with these two. Keep an eye out later in the year.

Bill

Overland LA to Texas

I’ve just traveled over 1500 miles overland, from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas, in a Chevy van with John Egenes.

Four days on the road watching the desert flying past, calling in at dusty little towns and strange curiosities but mostly just doing long miles across the forbidding wilderness. The highlights for me were the big Wild West desert country along the California/Arizona border and the wide plains as New Mexico stretched out towards Texas.

This is a grand, vast landscape. When a train passes in the difference, you can see the whole train at once (this is a novelty for someone for New Zealand, when you usually only see handfuls of carriages at a time.) In this country, trains, even ones that stretch for well over a mile, become tiny models on a giant movie set. It’s awe-inspiring.

Of course you’ve gotta stop and see some of the tourist attractions – here’s John “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” and below that, examining the evidence at the Roswell International UFO museum and research Center.

standin on the cornerjohn roswell

Midwinter Carnival with Tahu and the Takahes

Last night I played with my other band Tahu and the Takahes to a huge crowd in Dunedin’s Octagon. It was all part of the Dunedin Midwinter Carnival, held on the winter solstice every year.  The surreal grace of all the paper lanterns being paraded around the centre of the city reflects the sombre majesty of winter here in the south. In the darkened hinterland, hills crouch with their burden of snow. Beyond, the basins of Central Otago freeze in the grip of ice. Here on the coast, the city is lashed by a fleet of wind and rain that draws back in time to give respite to this carnival of cold. Stilt walkers, drums and flag dancers file past in the early evening dark, the crowds looking on in appreciation – silently acknowledging and celebrating our place here in the shadow of the planet. And we had a great time, playing in front of the biggest crowd we’ve played before. The evening was capped off by seeing good friends Matt Langley and Lindon Puffin play a great set at Queens. Winter in the south is a special time – embrace the cold!

MidWinter_Carnival_2

photo: Jill Karyn

photo: Jill Karyn