Joanna Orwin – INNZ Spring Workshop 2012

I was thrilled to meet Joanna Orwin and hear her talk of her latest book Collision at the INNZ Spring Workshop. Collision is a fictionalized account of Marion du Fresne’s French expedition to the Bay of Islands in 1772, told from the perspectives of a teenage French ensign and the recorded memories of a young Maori who was there at the time.

As a landscape architect/historian, I’ve a keen interest in the stories of those early relationships between Maori and Pakeha in Aotearoa’s years of settlement. So it was great to meet Joanna and learn how she tackled this delicate subject matterand interpreted these interactions from today’s perspective.

In keeping with the theme of the Conference Hard to Tell, Hard to Sell, Joanna noted the apprehension many feel at telling these stories for fear of causing offence, not getting the story right or leaving out something important. Joanna insisted that it’s vital these stories are told despite the contention. She cited the importance of seminal works such as Ann Salmon’s Two Worlds and Between Worlds that provide significant insights into the thought processes and misunderstandings that have historically occurred between Pakeha and Maori, rich grounds for moving forward and understanding each other as people. As Joanna says, “Anything that can improve empathy and understanding is worth the risk.”

Collision is an historical novel for adults published in 2009. The story itself is a dramatic one, yet not that well known. Joanna came to writing this account having already amassed a wealth of background material for the story. However she was keen to gather more, in order to ensure the story could be told as accurately as possible. After making contact with a Maori acquaintance in the Hokianga, she spent 2 weeks immersing herself in the local environment, recording interviews with her acquaintance and accessing the extensive personal library of her host. Over the fortnight Joanna learnt much about the wider Bay of Islands history and the complexity of the politics in the area, much of which had been shaped by du Fresne’s expedition.

Joanna noted that stories are always told from a participant viewpoint, and so, using the two cultural perspectives, the story follows both French and Maori versions of the same events. While telling the story from a French perspective posed its problems, telling the story from a Maori perspective was also not easy. For the Maori perspective, she eventually struck on the idea of simulating a manuscript written by her nineteenth century Maori character, translating this into English. She felt comfortable handling the material in this way, in that it would provide a more convincing exploration of the actions of her fictional character. The story portrays the mature character looking back at his experiences as a teenager at the time of du Fresne’s visit. On completion of Collision, Joanna sent a draft of the story to her Hokianga friend who believed the story to be an accurate historical account, incredulous that the character was fictitious. Joanna described this as reassuring feedback and a huge accolade in telling a complex and difficult story.

That these stories are difficult to tell makes it all the more important that we do, according to Joanna. They allow us to create a climate of trust and respect, and improve understanding between Maori and European, as we are sensitive to each others cultural perspective.

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Can interp open your eyes?

Guest post by  Sue Hill, Senior Ranger, Northern Parks, Auckland Council

When my father turned 80, my partner and I flew off to the UK to celebrate with my family. We then spent the next three months travelling around Europe, mostly by train.

Concentration Camp Gate. We’re not photo people. But whenever I could tear my eyes from the view from the train, I scribbled in a book that is now as well-travelled as I am. And among those scribbles were my thoughts and impressions of some of the ‘hard to tell‘ interpretation we encountered.

I took a special interest in the huge variety of interpretation we came across. Jorvik in York was fun but almost like Disneyland with animatronics and slightly bored humans dressed as Vikings. The SS Great Britain display in Bristol took us under the hull of the ship thanks to a plate glass “ceiling” with 10cm of the River Avon above our heads. The sounds of scurrying rats and creaking decks and migrants’ voices made us wonder how whole families managed to remain sane in the weeks it took to get to Australia.

Prague was stunning. Paris was  cold. I’d live in Hamburg. Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp made us ashamed of humankind.

Anne Frank diary. Anne Frank’s house hit us like it must hit everyone and invited us to express our opinions about human rights and freedoms.

But the Warsaw Uprising Museum left us reeling. A heartbeat thuds from a central pillar reaching up through the converted factory building. All of your senses are assaulted. Machine guns, explosions, photos, film. The voices of ordinary people, who did not discuss whether or not it was wise to resist the invading Nazis, but just resisted – men, women and children alike. Then when the war neared its end and the Allies began to split Europe between them, Poland was handed to the Soviets and they endured even worse horrors.

The museum does indeed assault the senses, and I’d not  consider preparing displays like these – it’s just too much – but it does convey the suffering of the Poles in those extraordinary times.

We had something more walking around with us that day, the best sort of interp. Marak is 58, same age as me, so he doesn’t remember the war years. But his parents did, and he lived through the Soviet years when Pole was turned against Pole.

My mother was a child in an English village during the war. Evacuee children lived there, and she remembers watching planes performing above – not  acrobatics but dog-fights. But England didn’t face that sternest test – Nazi invaders. And speaking as one who was born there, I wonder whether the English would have reacted like almost every Pole did, or whether the cacophony the Museum tries to represent would have cowed us.

Can interp open your eyes? Yes, it can.

Note: Last days to register! “Hard to tell, hard to sell” – INNZ Spring Workshop and AGM in Christchurch close-off date is this Friday 7 September. 

How many cities you know roll like this – Canterbury Quakes exhibit

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The hip hop rapper sound of Scribe seems an incongruous choice of soundtrack for a museum exhibition. Let’s face it, museums do have a bit of a rep for stuffy, dusty places lamenting the past, rather than being up with the current state of play.

But then, this latest exhibition–Canterbury Quakes–put together by Canterbury Museum is no ordinary one, for many reasons.

How many museums you know could throw together a 300m2 exhibition in less than three months? Not many.

How many museums you know have put together a true living history – celebrating an event that is still being lived through, 16 months later? Not many.

How many museum exhibits are looking forward, presenting dreams and visions for the future? Not many. If any.

This one does. Opened on the first anniversary of the quakes that killed 185 people in Christchurch, it’s an exhibit that combines science with the community spirit that shone in the days following.

Sarah Murray and Lyttelton Timeball; photo Canterbury Museum.

Social history curator Sarah Murray in front of the Lyttelton Timeball.

But despite its opening date social history curator Sarah Murray explains that the exhibit is not meant as a memorial.

“Canterbury Quakes offers us a chance to reflect. We are only one year on and we are still experiencing earthquakes; there will be years and years of stories to tell of this event.

To get it ready by the anniversary was challenging but also heartening as people were so willing to help and so open in telling their stories. We couldn’t have achieved what we did without the help of more than ninety individuals and partner organisations. We worked with so many incredible people, including representatives from the University of Canterbury, the Christchurch City Council, Ngāi Tahu and our principal sponsors Hewlett Packard, to name just a few.

When visitors arrive, they are first guided through a section on the science of the Canterbury earthquakes. On display is a CUSP machine, produced by Canterbury Seismic Ltd. These machines were sent out to locations in the South Island from the 1990s onwards to measure the earthquakes predicted to occur on the Alpine Fault.

Because of those machines, Canterbury’s earthquakes are the most highly recorded earthquakes in the world.

CUSP machine; photo Canterbury Museum.

CUSP machine

Geology curator Dr Norton Hiller and museum staff teamed with GNS Science and Canterbury University to create three-dimensional models of fault lines. Dr Mark Quigley, who was often seen on the news, has helped create a series of videos to explain the science behind the earthquakes.

In our section on the Canterbury community we have an area called ‘Helping Hands’, which highlights the way people came together to help out- like the Student Volunteer Army and many others. There is also a collection of items that are so familiar to Christchurch; giving people a chance to get up close to things like:

  • The spire cross and bell from Christ Church Cathedral
  • Chalices stolen (then returned) from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
  • The Speaker’s chair and painted roof tiles from the Provincial Chambers
  • Mayor Parker’s parka
  • Booties worn by one of the search dogs
  • The memorial guitar from the Heart Strings project

We also have;

  • Stunts clips showing skateboarders interacting with the new Christchurch landscape
  • 30 minutes of  audio from the emergency communications centre from 22 February
  • Police and USAR photos taken within the red zone cordon and a moving interview with one of the forensic photographers that worked on the CTV site.

One of the highlights for me is an hour-long film featuring interviews with 15 different people. These people willingly shared their story of the 22 February 2011 with us and the film shows a diversity of experiences; it’s transfixing as the stories are so familiar.

For the final section we went to Canterbury’s city and district councils for a brief outline of what they see for the future of Christchurch. This section also contains information from CanCERN; what residents see as the future of their communities; and IConIC; featuring some of the lobby groups that have formed around earthquake- related issues. It’s a little bit of crystal ball gazing, which museums don’t usually do, but we wanted the exhibit to look ahead to the future of our region.

Photo Canterbury Museum.

There's a new normal in Christchurch - and its innovation!

There are some parts of the exhibit that will speak more to some than to others. But it’s about sharing a whole range of experiences. We have been careful to provide warnings as some content might be quite upsetting to people.

Personally, it was quite a challenging experience at times. Living through this event, then focusing in on the detail for the exhibition; at times I had to stop and distance myself for a while from what we were doing. That said, it was also an incredibly rewarding experience. There are so many stories out there that deserve to be told and I feel privileged to be a part of telling just a few of them at this time.”

How many cities you know got the skills to go and rock a show like this? Christchurch city.