PALE HISTORY:   : : : : :


Mid winter, around June, a cluster of seven stars – the Pleiades - appears in the southern sky. For Maori, this cluster is known as Matariki, and it signals the start of a new year celebrating renewal and change, and a time to reflect upon and honour those who have died and gone before.

The fatal confrontation in the Wairau on June 17, 1843, between Ngati Toa and the settlers of Nelson in which 26 people lost their lives, was triggered by a report from John Cotterell, a surveyor with the New Zealand Company. A raupo hut containing his equipment had been burnt down by Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha who, for the third time, had tried to evict Pakeha surveyors from the Wairau. The event that subsequently unfolded irrevocably changed history and relationships in this area.

I live on Cotterell Road on the edge of the Waimea Plains, near Nelson, and often used to reflect on the life of John Slyvanus Cotterell, after whom this road is named. He was killed at age 23 in the Wairau Incident, despite being a quaker and a pacifist.

An information board at the end of Cotterell Road outlines his life, and features  a watercolour of his guide Piki Wati, painted by Isaac Coates. This gave me the idea of recreating a historical narrative of the Wairau Incident, using Coates’ watercolours as a reference for the Maori figures.
Cotterell Road runs out past Pearl Creek to the Waimea River near where it meets the estuary. Winter storms bring wood down the river to the estuary and coastline around Tasman Bay and this resource of driftwood was my starting point for Pale History. Washed by water and time, these ‘bones of trees’ evoke the people who were at the Wairau on that fateful day and form the structure for each figure.

My other primary medium, tapa cloth, is made from the beaten bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera) from the Pacific Islands of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and  gives the work a South Pacific context. Tapa cloth has been used to create the heads, hair and clothing of each person depicted. The map, cannon and phantom waka painting are also on tapa cloth supports.

Pale History provides people with the opportunity to reflect on the facts, question who they are and where they belong. Just as the old people who saw the phantom waka Te Awatea out in Tasman Bay as the symbol of the passing of the old ways, the survey chain and survey peg star-mirrors represent Matariki and the start of a new era and new beginnings.

Sally Burton, 2017

Sally Burton and Arthur Wakefield

Sally with Arthur Wakefield