The story and video were produced back in January, when I was staying at Long Flat Bottom. The pou-pou described has just been unveiled at the newly opened Te Ahu Community Centre in Kaitaia.
As well as being a knife maker, Pete works as a carver. Over the last year he’s been busy on an interesting project. Two massive wooden cylinders lie horizontal in his workshop, taking up most of the space. In a couple of weeks they’ll be propped upright, one on top of the other, rising 7 metres into the air. Their location will be the atrium of the brand new Te Ahu community centre in Kaitaia. It’ll be one of seven pou-pous (carved totems) reflecting the history of the Far North. Five of those will be from different Maori tribes, one Dalmatian (this region had a lot of settlers from that Croatian coastline), and Pete’s will be the story of the Pakeha.
Pete’s vision has challenged the ideas of those he’s worked with, but the result is a unique piece of art that’ll read like a story book. Over the weeks that I spent at Pete’s and in his workshop, countless people have called in to view his work. With charismatic flourish he’d run them through the story. With the Far North having a sparse yet connected population, many of these local visitors had ties to the images in the wood.
The 150 year old Totara tree used for the carving once grew nearby, witnessing the majority of local Pakeha history. The settlers enjoyed this timber, using it for general building work, constructing bridges and wharves, telephone poles and railway sleepers (although the tracks never made it to the Far North). It’s still used now, but mainly for carvings and furniture making. When Pete pushes his chisel through the flesh he makes the wood look soft. The timber was still green when he received it. As it began to shrink, cracks appeared on its surface. To combat this he bored holes into its centre along the length of its back. This allowed it to dry from the inside-out, keeping the piece workable.
With the carving ready to leave his workshop, Pete talks me through his work:
“In this carving I’ve taken as our genealogical roots the Ionic column from Greece. This is iconic in the European tradition. It is outside a lot of our churches and public buildings – it’s very much part of our Pakeha culture. And as a genealogical line I have used the English rose, Scottish thistle and Irish shamrock, which work their way up the pou-pou, dividing it into different sections.”
The rose runs up the centre of the column, while the thistle and shamrock cross it at 45° angles, resembling vines wrapped around a trunk. The base of column, which effectively provides a launch-pad for the story, is imposing in its simplicity. The smooth and even finish applied to this section is in stark contrast of the nitty-gritty details that lie above. The Roman numerals MMXI mark the year that Pete created this huge carving. The story depicted begins much earlier with the ships and science that brought the first Europeans to the shores of New Zealand.
“These include the Spanish caravels that were wrecked on the Kaipara coast, Abel Tasman’s ship, James Cook’s ship and the scientific knowledge and equipment that brought him here and got him home. That includes the Harrison clock, the sextant, and of course the compass.”
“This side of the carving shows the economic reason for the initial settling of New Zealand, which is whaling. Whaling was critical to the genesis of New Zealand, bringing Europeans to its coasts. Whalers settled these areas and were closely followed by missionaries. One of the first was in the Bay of Islands, and it was from there that the first missionary came to Kaitaia. He was a gentleman by the name of Joseph Matthews who arrived in the town in 1834. He was followed a little while later by his associate William Puckey. Matthews was the theologian and Puckey was the man of practical skills. At the arrival of Matthews into Kaitaia at a place called Te Ahu – which is the name of our new centre – he was met, captured…. arhh… introduced, that sort of thing – a fairly moving story – by Panakareao who was the leader of the local tribes. The stories are sort of varied. Some say that Panakareao was going to boil Matthews in a pot, some say that Matthews arrived on a hill and said “This is where my mission will be, this is the place of my dreams”. However it happened I’m sure that Panakareao was deeply involved in it and was highly politically motivated in his actions towards the missionaries. In a very short space of time Joseph Matthews had a 600 acre farm, permission to proselytize the north and he’d saved the Aupouri people who were under threat from Panakareao’s warriors. There were only 14 of them left and there was a chance that they were about to finished off.
“Panakareao has his wife here Erenora – Ati. She was influential in the district – both she and Panakareao signed the Hobson’s Treaty of Waitangi. Puckey, who’d lived in NZ all his life, translated the treaty for the local Maori when it came to Kaitaia for consultation. Also the story says that Victoria Valley was named of Ati, but from what I’ve been able to gather, she wandered from the church for many years but then returned. On her death bed she cried out “Victory, victory!” – returned to the Lord and that’s where the name Victoria Valley comes from.”
Like a lot of history, stories evolve through different interpretations of events. Another version is that Panakareao nick-named Erenora Victoria – after the British monarch – and bestowed that name on the valley in her honour.
“With the signing of the treaty people started flooding in. The treaty was a signal to Europeans that this was a country, an empty land – theoretically – that was ready for a huge influx of people, so they arrived in numbers. One of the things that brought them to the Far North was the famous Subritzky s schooner, The Greyhound. It was famous in the north and one of the main means of transport in the early days, both for passengers and for cargo.”
“On the other side here… Once the mission had been established, Industry was… just amazing! The early settles worked, and worked and worked, and they built and built and built, and they cleared timber at a massive rate. Everything was done by hand. Done below you’ll see a picture of Puckey’s famous land yacht. He built a hospital in Te Kao, and to get there quickly he’d take his cart to Ninety Mile Beach from Kaitaia, un-hitch his horses, put up a sail and ride the winds to The Bluff, where he’d ride inland again. He was a canny man.”
“Here is a picture of a surveyor at work. New Zealand is unique in that it was the only country in the world that was settled after it was surveyed. The first Europeans to see most of New Zealand were in fact surveyors.
“Access was always a big problem for the Far North Pakeha Society, and this here represents the opening of the road across the Mangamukas, which was pretty harem-scarem . For many years the main road went around through Herekino and Broadwood, so this new road was quite significant.”
The Mangamuka Ranges – a unified barrier of high-rise forests – are an imposing geographical feature that separate the Far North from the rest of country. It has yet to be breached by rail.
“Here we have a picture of my genetic connection to the pou-pou. This is the M.V. (Motor Vessel) Anglia which brought the wireless cable to Cable Bay (from America) and connected New Zealand to the world for the first time. My grandfather was the bosun on that ship. I’d always known about it, but when I did some reading recently, it brought home just how familiar he was with this area. I came here 35 years ago which was quite by coincidence.
“This is a picture of Main street of Kaitaia as it had developed by 1926”
“This gentleman is Colonel Alan Bell, who was very influential in the early days of the township of Kaitaia. He ended up as a Member of Parliament and was very much a big name in the town. Now we go back to the bottom of this panel. This illustrates the hard work and hard times of the Pakeha of Kaitaia needed to pass through. This represents a woman outside her shanty home feeding the pigs – I’m sure not too happy about it! While she was doing that, her men-folk were out clearing forest and using bollocks to drag huge amounts of timber to the various mills in the north. There is one modern mill in Kaitaia now, but in the past there were up to six in the district.
“This is a representation of some of the amazing engineering that was used in the forests surrounding Kaitaia. This illustrates a bogie carrying a Kauri log across a viaduct down to the mills. There was a large one down in Kaingaroa. A very dangerous operation – if the log got to the bottom going too fast, the man had to jump off – so it was pretty spooky I think.
“At this stage we come to the wars that New Zealanders have been involved in. Over here is the voluntary militia, which began in the 1890’s and was in operation through to the First World War, when vast numbers of New Zealanders and their horses went to Europe. Out of 25000 horses sent, only 3 returned. New Zealand lost many in both world wars. In WWII Flight Officer L.A. Trigg was decorated with the VC and DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for bravery over the Atlantic, where he flew his plane into a German U-boat, sinking it. The U-boat’s captain was one of the few survivors and recommended the VC to Trigg. This is quite amazing as he is the only New Zealand combatant in history to be recommended for a commendation by an enemy officer.
“The district nurses kept a lot of people alive and comfortable throughout the district – much of the time from horseback.
“And of course he have farming, farming – farming! Once the trees were cleared off the land it had to be turned to grass. Farmall tractors were a big part of that. They were the first relatively effective tractor of the Far North – very popular up here with their steel wheels on the soft ground.
Farming defines the Far North. You are never far from a paddock or crop.
“The World Wars of course resulted in the formation of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA), which is an important and influential group in Kaitaia as it is throughout New Zealand.
“The return from the War saw farms being developed. Small holdings, milking has developed in rotary sheds and tankers on the road. This has changed as time’s gone on, and nowadays cattle are milked by the hundreds in single sheds and their product is taken by truck to distant factories.
“The Co-op is representative of the best of NZ business. Fonterra is still a co-operative, which means its profits are owned by the country and its people – it is held and used by the shareholders.
“This here is a picture of Mike Beardsley who discovered the whereabouts of three of the anchors that were lost by de Surville on his expedition to NZ. This anchor is in the new museum after originally being installed in the old museum in 1974.
“Across this side you can see some of 90 mile beach and some of the events that took place there. Kingsford-Smith and his aeroplane, Wizard Smith and his car, and further up of course Star MiniTours, one of the real initiators of tourism in the Far north. Down beside them are the pine trees of the Aupouri Forest.”
Pine is still one of the major industries in New Zealand. The pine in the Far north is the fastest growing in the world and is mainly exported to Asian markets. The laden trucks that ply the roads around Kaitaia are un-missable.
“The genealogical lines that run up through the pou-pou join here to become a bouquet of the flowers of all the nations of the world. There’s Dutch and Chinese and Japanese, South African, Australian and all sorts. That bouquet is backed by the fruits of the Far North which include avocados, oranges, peaches and corn, the last two being classic fruits of the north. All this sits upon the Mamaku – the fern of the far north.
“We have then the capital, which is a slightly modified traditional design. That in itself has a heading of natural timber, which reminds us that we are within the natural world.
In the final few days, before the pou-pou left Long Flat Bottom, some finishing touches were added in typical Kiwi style. Pete whips the chainsaw out, bringing the snarling machine down into his work. For a worried second I thought his talk of wanting the carving out of his workshop had spurred him into drastic action. But no, he gently brings the whirling teeth down on the back side of the pou-pou, cutting a channel that runs along the holes bored to dry the wood out. “To facilitate the drying process once it’s erected.”
After over a year of having his workshop occupied by these massive logs, Pete has a farewell party with some mates to see off his monumental work. The following morning the two sections are secured on the back of a flat-bed truck and driven into town. A gang of big, strong guys help wheel the two halves into the atrium of the new centre. Glass walls circle a stingray mural on the floor, birds hang from the ceiling. Pete’s pou-pou is the first of the seven to go up. It’s long, delicate work manoeuvring the two cumbersome halves into place. After a hitch with the chain pulley system, and an over-night delay, the two parts become one.
A couple of weeks later they’re officially unveiled to the public in a dawn ceremony. Once the other carvings are installed the atrium will offer a power greeting to visitors. Pete’s legacy and work of history now stands tall.