Ray Caird says harakeke or flax is New Zealand’s most under appreciated plant. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Flax story borne of history


Ray Caird was running up the Centre of New Zealand when he looked out to see the flax that sits at the top in full colour.

He had been working on an idea to write a story about his family history – one that connected them to the flax milling industry that dominated New Zealand in the late 19th century. But Ray needed a way in.

“The flax was in full bloom,” he says of that run up the hill. “I thought ‘that’s the story’.”

So, Ray embarked on a four year journey of research and writing that has ended up in his book ‘Blood of the Flax’ being launched.

“It is a story of the beauty and versatility of the plant. It is all around the world, it is everywhere, and we take it for granted.”

The book uses poetry-prose style, along with more than 100 photographs, to explore all the ways that the plant, also known as harakeke, intersects with the human world.

Whether it is the very beginning of its evolution 30 million years ago when Gondwanaland was underwater, or the way that Maori have used it in weaving, or how it is used on the fashion runways of New York City – the book covers a lot of ground.

“We take harakeke for granted because it’s all around us,” Ray says.

“The paths on that hill are a seasonal delight as the flax opens and flowers. I’ve become an addict.”

Ray first launched ‘Blood of the Flax’ last year and embarked on a 1000km flax “survival’ bike riding tour down the South Island.

“It was a huge relief to have the book out,” he says.

“It’s a triumph really. You are fighting a lot of factors. This is a niche book.”

The book is available from Nelson bookshops and from The Copypress in Pascoe St and other bookstores around Nelson.