Collect the Set
Remembering New Zealand’s Nature Heritage
How many school projects owed their existence to New Zealand’s Nature Heritage? A mid 70s part series - covering everything from fossil penguins to podocarps, from scree slopes to sea dragons of the Mesozoic, they must have been a godsend for kids approaching their homework deadline in that pre Wikipedia age.
While interest in the bush and nature is as strong as ever in this country, it’s hard to imagine a product like this today - a densely written journal, articles vetted by an advisory panel of 19 academics and experts, sold in a populist ‘collect the set’ style with the promise of handsome vinyl binders to display them all. It followed a similar history series (with an advertising campaign fronted by Brian Edwards), and a world trend for this kind of part series publication, but according to a history of publishing in New Zealand has had no successor but for Weetbix cards, ‘a publishing idea that has fallen out of fashion.’
No doubt they were of their time - even their musing on conservation and the impacts of mankind on the environment comes across as a little gentle, reserved, in light of our knowledge now of all the horrors we regularly inflict on the earth. But the minimalist covers with their bold, sans serif titles and crisp colour photos are timeless, combining authority and wonder. And you can’t help but admire this unapologetic approach to information, an unwillingness to dumb things down despite the mass market approach to sales, cramming detail in, each back cover even given over to a ‘Science Gallery’ with profiles of the men of science (Yes, I'm afraid it does just say men).
For these reasons its articles have a second life, cropping up in the suggested sources in that modern homework gold mine, the online encyclopaedia Te Ara. Hard copies are out there too, floating about on TradeMe, at garage sales and book fairs. That challenge remains, a little harder maybe, but worth it still, to collect the set.