Professor Kenneth Cumberland

CBE, geographer

Died aged 97

Few people can have embraced the country of their adoption more comprehensively or thoroughly than Kenneth Cumberland.

Quite apart from his work on geography at the University of Auckland, he came to be involved in planning and council matters affecting Auckland City. And in such subjects as farming and forestry which he embraced with enthusiasm.

He was also the writer and presenter of the major Landmarks television documentary series.

His brief was to tell the story of New Zealand as he saw it. Landmarks was filmed between 1979 and 1981 throughout this country and around the world. Cumberland retired from his scholarly university post to make the series.

But it is interesting that a man born in Bradford, England, who grew up with a passion for the Yorkshire Dales found himself installed as lecturer in charge of the new department of geography at Auckland University in 1946. And also that his wide-ranging interests, are still with us in various forms today.

In that year he was talking about a world shortage of food. And soon also warning about the dangers for New Zealand in soil erosion. He noted that it was not long since some government departments called people concerned with soil erosion "cranks". And that some civil servants regarded erosion as an unavoidable accompaniment of agricultural production.

As chairman of the Auckland Regional Planning Authority in the 1950s, he noted city traffic increasing from 15 to 20 per cent each year even as a motorways plan for the city was being prepared.

In 1969, amid talk of farm subsidies, he said the country could not afford to have farmers not earning overseas funds. But he added that subsidies could have any value only if they helped to earn overseas funds and none if they merely encouraged excess commodities.

He was always interested in the effects of urban sprawl, local government reform and also transport solutions. He had, for example, doubts about whether a tube railway like the inner-city one being pushed for Auckland today would succeed.

"There are probably not more than 30,000 people living ... close enough to the proposed lines to use them instead of a car," he said.

Kenneth Cumberland was very productive as a geographer, researching, writing and broadcasting. For more than 40 years he spoke to groups all over New Zealand on farming, forestry, economic development and a wide range of other topics.

He came to Christchurch in 1938 after being offered a lecturing job. His wife-to-be, Majorie Denham, followed him in 1940 and they had three children. Marjorie predeceased him, as did his wife of more recent years, Rene. Two of his children survive.