‘ They are already there, waiting to be released from the dementia wing of history, the bony archive beneath our feet. ’
— Rachel Buchanan
Since the mid-nineteenth century Pukeahu has been the location of a prison and a gaol where men from Parihaka and later conscientious objectors during World War I were confined, of a Chinese community, of an early police station, an army barracks, Mount Cook School, a school of design, a technical college, the Dominion Museum and National Art Gallery, the National War Memorial and Carillon, the New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Wellington High School, Wellington Polytechnic (which included a pioneering Māori language immersion school), Polyhigh Childcare Centre, and Massey University. Most recently, with construction and then commemoration going on all around us as we finished putting together this anthology, it has become the site of the new Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, opened on the centennial Anzac Day 2015.
Pukeahu is the name given by Ngāi Tara to the small hill in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, that rises between the Waitangi and the Waimāpihi streams. The area and its surrounding slopes stretching down to the harbour were once the site of extensive kainga /gardens. The hill itself may have been the location of a pā. Morris Te Whiti Love (Te Atiawa, Taranaki, Ngāti Ruanui), Chair of the Wellington Tenths Trust, tells us that Pukeahu (‘sacred mound’ or Tuahu), may have also been a burial site or spiritual place with no human habitation.
Pukeahu has also been lowered 25 metres, having been literally dug away at in two major building and excavation projects in 1848 and 1883. Where I am writing from now would have once been inside the body of the earth.
The Pukeahu project, of which this anthology forms a part, seeks to engage with some of the complexities of one particular place. Those involved, led by human geographer Robin Peace, set out to ask how experience of a particular place might be ‘deepened’ or ‘thickened’ by making connections to that place’s contested histories, its topographies, its inhabitations and uses, and above all, its stories. It is not quite a local history project, which might suggest a fixed, stable location and a chronological account of events that have occurred over time. Nor have we sought to set up Pukeahu as a representative microcosm of the wider nation. Rather, we have approached Pukeahu as a place made from multiple constellations of activities, meetings, and movements, and ‘place’ as something always under construction, always being re-imagined, always in the process of becoming.
Pukeahu: An Exploratory Anthology presents some of the writings and stories about and from this place. It follows on from a semester of writing and walking as part of a third year paper on creative nonfiction I teach on Massey’s Wellington campus. At the end of the paper we wanted to keep going. A small group were given Pukeahu Awards to curate a collection of new and historical writing as well as to create new work of their own. Two creative nonfiction students, Lena Fransham and Thomas Aitken, were joined by design student, Rosie Percival, while writer Lynn Davidson, then completing a creative writing PhD, was appointed to help supervise and develop the project.
What we found were writing of all sorts connecting to this place. Some works, such as the selections from Robin Hyde and Katherine Mansfield, come from inhabiting the place or writing the everyday walking of its streets; others, such as those by Archibald Baxter and Witi Ihimaera, come from experience or stories of imprisonment here. Elsdon Best’s work is deeply involved in recording histories of this location, while Rachel Buchanan places Pukeahu at the centre of contested histories, challenging what has been memorialised and showing us how very much is still left out. The piece by Angela Kilford, the artist who took us all on one of our later walks, as well as those by Lena, Thomas, Lynn, Robin, and Alice Te Punga Somerville, were all written in direct response to the anthology project, and are alive with the complex memories of this place.
The anthology as a whole works by juxtaposition and layering rather than chronology, evoking snippets of stories and moments of memory rather than a clear or singular history. It opens with three new pieces of writing that we hope will help to welcome and orientate the reader. By assembling a collection of voices and stories we wanted to evoke a sense of one particular place as mobile and living, and of the unsettled imaginaries of those who have moved through it. We hope that such unsettlement might also provoke readers to pause, breathe, and then find some ‘ways in’, not just to encountering this place, but other places as well.
Ingrid Horrocks, Massey University, Wellington, June 2015
‘ When I write, I don’t feel like a craftsman influenced by earlier craftsmen who were themselves influenced by earlier craftsmen. I feel like a member of a single, large virtual community, in which I have dynamic relationships with other members of the community, most of whom are no longer living. ’
— Jonathan Franzen
One remarkable aspect of working with the research team on this anthology was sharing our discoveries of what is here, on this elevated piece of land in Wellington. And it is a sense of what is here, not what was here. Histories, even if they are redirected underground for a while, are still present and influential. Histories that are memorialised so determinedly that the memorial becomes a landmark, are still fluid and impressionable. This is something that novels, essays and poems understand, easily or uneasily; they understand the dynamic relationship between present and past.
The researchers I supervised (Lena, Thomas and Rosie) were ahead of me in their knowledge of the histories and versions of Pukeahu / Mount Cook, having already walked the area and discussed its histories. Quite early on in the researching process Thomas took me on a walk around Mount Cook to orient me in a place he had come to know well. We walked up the steep Rolleston street off Wallace Street and then further up to Prince of Wales Park where we could see a panorama of the city, including Victoria and Massey Universities, the harbour and the hospital. From there we walked along Nairn and Hankey Streets and over to Mount Cook School (traversing construction sites) to look at their beautifully illustrated Pukeahu War Memorial Park timeline. Thomas knew the place by foot. He knew its crazily steep streets, its colourful histories, the architectures of some of the older buildings and their crisscrossing, intersecting and layered stories. Thomas brought his walking knowledge of Pukeahu / Mount Cook to the group. Lena pointed to where the Mount Cook Prison had been and we looked at and through the Dominion Museum building to imagine the even more imposing edifice of Mt Cook Prison looming gloomily over Wellington. A structure still gothically present in Katherine Mansfield’s story ‘Ole Underwood’ and in Witi Ihimaera’s The Parihaka Woman. Lena stood still and listened out, bringing an intelligent empathy to her research, uncovering stories and their intersections. Rosie, our web designer, was part of the project from its beginning. She took enthusiastic part in discussions and debates, taking on board the idea of a dynamic multiplicity of history and, after trialling various templates, reflected the anthology’s developing kaupapa in a beautifully clean and simple design of interactive layers.
The process was to an extent organic. As we gathered material we looked at the changing shape of the story of place that we were telling. We reflected on what each new element meant for our understanding, or understandings of the area. We noticed what a difference placement made; how setting certain pieces of work side by side created something else, a third presence, that we initially did not expect, but over time we began to anticipate. We saw how ‘conversations’ about place emerge. Sitting Elsdon Best and Rachel Buchanan’s pieces side by side in the ‘Contesting Histories’ section was one of our last arrangements of material. We held several of our meetings in Te Kuratini Marae on campus. In one of our last meetings we spread out the collected poems, stories, articles and essays on the floor of the Marae. We needed to ‘see’ them, literally, and move them around. We created section headings and arranged the material under the headings. Lena, Thomas and Rosie walked around and around the spread-out material. They knelt down and shifted an excerpt from Witi Ihimaera’s The Parihaka Woman to a different section heading, they moved Janis Freegard’s poem ‘Alice in the Eighties’ into close proximity with Vivienne Plumb’s ‘To the Woman who Bought my House’. We changed the arrangement of the work right up until the last minute. What began as a kind of chronological order turned into clusters of work about contested histories, confinement, inhabitation and migration. We wished we’d managed to get more early Māori stories of the area. We let a piece go because we couldn’t track down the author, she had moved to another country. Different people would have arranged things differently.
We believe that this anthology is dynamic and fluid and each reader will make their own unique way through the material. We anticipate that Pukeahu: An Exploratory Anthology will evolve and grow as new students and new readers and writers get to explore Pukeahu / Mount Cook and find other stories, poems, art and articles to add to this opening conversation.
Lynn Davidson, June 2015