Special Collections Twenty at 20: An iconic Swanndri

To mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Special Collections, the curators have selected some intriguing items for the Twenty at 20 series. Here is number nine.

Geographer Kenneth Cumberland’s Swanndri

Most archival collections are primarily paper-based, and archival institutions do not usually collect objects, or realia, but occasionally donations include one or two related objects that add to the research value of the collection.

Mostly these objects are small, will fit in an archive box and don’t need specialist care: a professor’s favourite pipe, an organisation’s official rubber stamp, or a poet’s briefcase. Yes, all of these can be found in Special Collections – as can geographer Kenneth Cumberland’s Swanndri jacket which he wore on the 1980s television series Landmarks.1

First University of Auckland Professor of Geography

Kenneth Brailey Cumberland (1913-2011) was the University of Auckland’s first Professor of Geography. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire and educated at the University of Nottingham and London, he came to New Zealand in the late 1930s to take up a position at Canterbury University College.2

During his time at Canterbury, Cumberland helped update and modernise the geography syllabuses at both school and university level. He also played a key role in the formation of the New Zealand Geographical Society in 1944 and was the editor of its journal, New Zealand Geographer, from 1945 to 1954. Cumberland taught at the University of Canterbury until 1946 when he accepted the position of Senior Lecturer of Geography at what was then Auckland University College. He was appointed Chair of the Department in 1950 and remained professor until his retirement in 1978.3

Public figure and television presenter


Television New Zealand promotional material for the Landmarks series.4

Cumberland believed that a geographer should maintain and pursue close, constant, and vital relations with the community.5 This he achieved as a member of the Auckland City Council and through public appearances, radio broadcasts and the Television New Zealand series Landmarks which he wrote and presented in the early 1980s.

Inspired by the BBC documentaries Civilisation, America, and The Ascent of Man, the ten-part series traced the history of Aotearoa through its landscape and the impact on it of humans and technology. Landmarks was a hit, and Cumberland, the Swanndri-clad presenter, was a recognisable figure to many.

Discover more

Katherine Pawley, Special Collections


1 Swanndri jacket worn by Kenneth Cumberland while presenting the Landmarks television series, 1980s. Kenneth Cumberland papers. MSS & Archives 2013/04, 15/3/2. Special Collections, Te Tumu Herenga Libraries and Learning Services.

2 Cumberland, K., (2007). Kenneth B. Cumberland: a memoir. New Zealand Geographer, 63, 62-68.

3 Sinclair, K. (1983). A history of the University of Auckland, 1883-1983. Auckland, NZ: Auckland University Press.

4 Television New Zealand promotional material for the Landmarks series. Kenneth Cumberland papers, MSS & Archives 2013/04, 8/41/1.

5 Pawson, E. (2011). Creating public spaces for geography in New Zealand: towards an assessment of the contributions of Kenneth Cumberland. New Zealand Geographer, 67, 102-115.

Featured image: Geographer Kenneth Cumberland’s Swanndri jacket.

One Comment

  • Kirsty Wilson commented on 18/07/2022

    I’m thrilled to see this artefact! I remember the whole family watching the Landmarks series. I love that he donated the swandri along with his papers to Special Collections. Sometimes an physical item resonates more than words.

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