Last year the production ‘All Roads lead to Ngatapa’ by the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust played to packed houses around the East Coast in the inaugural Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, and I imagine their follow-up production Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey will do the same.
‘Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey’ might be described as a contemporised version of ‘All Roads lead to Ngatapa’ with a new chapter and some slam poetry, audio visual components, puppetry, dance, mixed media and youth voices all added into the mix. It carries the weighty description as a piece of theatre aiming to propel our society into an equitable future.
“Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival – here’s a platform, we’re all artists, we’ve all got stories to tell, let’s learn about each other” Teina Moetara
When the team first got together in August last year, there were no preconceptions as to what they were setting out to create. What they did know was the Tuia250 commemorations that were about to take place all around the country, had presented them with a task. The task, producer Francis Hare says, was to present another side to the dominant narrative of this country’s history.
The story of the Rongowhakaata Iwi is not well known, except perhaps for certain bits that involve their ancestor, Te Kooti. Moreover, or perhaps because of that, as Director Teina Moetara puts it “we’re an iwi that often comes out as a bit contentious or with a bit of punch” so the group knew that in presenting their side of the story they would need to create something a little bit different, and approach it in a different way.
Teina describes the contradicting, conflicting narratives that besiege every so-called history as both “the power and the beauty of it all”, which seems to me an incredibly gracious starting point for this task they had faced themselves with. Nevertheless the paramount consideration for all who were to be involved in this sharing of Rongowhakaata’s story was that “people would walk out from the experience with their mana intact”, including themselves.
“It was a chance for us to share our story from our perspective. History has been told to us from another perspective and some things have been left out. They are heavy stories, but they’re beautiful stories as well” Marcia Akroyd
While the Arts are intricately woven into the whakapapa of Rongowhakaata, the group’s quest to find a different way to tell their story led them to the very ‘English’ medium of theatre. Within this new medium however, the group utilised the ‘devised process’ – a process as old as Theatre itself, which describes a way of working, which is collaborative and improvisatory, and which Teina describes as aligning very closely to “the way we work on the marae.”
“As artists with our whakapapa in the arts, it’s all about the process – not just the content” Teina Moetara.
In talking to all of the different members of the crew, it becomes clear that this approach to creating the works has been huge, providing both the starting point – the space from which different members of the group can speak their own truth – as well as the end point – allowing the resulting production to come together in a way that “people will walk out inspired and empowered, rather than belittled and scared by the history that we have learnt before now”
The cast describe the process as enabling them to find greater meaning in what they create, because “so much more of ourselves has gone into the making process”.
Actor Rahera Taukamo-Bidois describes having to prepare herself each morning to find the growth or learning in whatever will occur that day. She describes the process as “a Māori way of making”, where everything is done as a group, through wānanga, co-creating and making.
“Whatever we make, whether it lands or not, may have triggered something in someone else – everything is a stepping stone. You have to be brave and build your confidence in yourself, even if you think something is dumb, you still offer it up, because it might draw something out of someone else” Marcia Akroyd
Raiha Te Ata Hapara Moetara, another member of the cast, talks about the “intense moments” but mostly about returning to the room after those intense moments, “the work is juicy” she says, “it’s mean to watch, it tests and challenges you so much”. The upshot of using this kind process Rahera reckons, is that everyone has that “much more connection to the piece, and are able to perform it in a much more impactful way”.
It is the constantly evolving nature of this way of working which has seen more rangatahi brought into the cast this year. Raiha talks about how important it is for her to be showing the next generation that ‘we’re not in that stage anymore, we’re moving through it. Our young people can be proud of our history and not scared of it anymore’.
“This is about healing intergenerational trauma from the past. It’s important to heal that part of ourselves to be able to move forward in a stronger way” Marcia Akroyd
Everyone involved in ‘Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey’ hopes that their work will encourage and inspire other Iwi to tell their own histories. “We are giving this as a koha to our community and if we can be an example to other Iwi, that would be massive” said Marcia.
All of the cast also spoke passionately about the impacts of being involved in something like this in their own lives “through this process, we learn things we can apply in our daily lives, in terms of being resilient, vulnerable and standing up when something doesn’t align with our values”, as well as of knowing now what it feels like to be excited for a day’s work, and to leave at the end of the day fulfilled, “this is how I want to spend the rest of my life” says Rahera.
“I think we are definitely changing the world doing this kind of mahi” said Raiha and I wholeheartedly agree. Make sure you check out ‘Tūranga: The Land of Milk and Honey’ on October 9, 2pm & 7pm at Lawson Field Theatre, the Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust bringing their stories into the light as a part of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival 2020.
Story & photos by Sarah Cleave.
It’s no secret our city centre needs some tender tough-love and care – Buildings hang about like vacant-eyed drop kicks making trouble. Last week I sat down with Mayor Rehette Stoltz to hear from a person with power why this place is feeling like a ghost town. And reassuringly, in a comforting sort of way, she shared her fears of empty shop fronts looking like ‘someone who’s lost some teeth.’ And, as you would expect, she said the council has an answer.
But first, let me set the record straight – There’s a lot I have in common with the past American President George Bush Snr and there is a lot I do not. We both gained a Bachelor of Arts degree and flirted with the newspaper industry. However, I can tell you I am not a Republican, nor was I a member of the Yale Cheerleading Squad. But nine words of his in 1989 put me and Bush in the same proverbial box:
“Buildings should not stand empty while people lack shelter.”
Yes, our homeless are housed for this moment of pandemic, but will it last? We have empty buildings and a chronic need for housing. We have a city that rattles when the wind blows and our unfortunates once slept on the streets after they were evicted from long-empty buildings. Is that what we consider fair?
And the kick that hurt came from behind, after I fell on an article dated 2015 in The Gisborne Herald ‘Mayor Foon calls for low-cost apartments for Gisborne.’ The title had me tickled, was inner-city development on the way? I picked up the phone and got a hold of ex-mayor Meng Foon, now New Zealand’s Race Relations Commissioner.
“Five years ago I said the CBD was declining. I suggested that we should make it as easy as possible to have residential buildings in the city and to turn some of the different commercial buildings into apartments to create vibrancy. I thought it was a good idea.”
However, my phone call with the commissioner and Foon’s pitch both had equally patchy reception. “There were snide remarks,” Foon recalled, they said, “‘our city will turn into a slum’ – which is not true, many cities around the world have inner-city residential properties and they’re vibrant places.”
And now, Foon is gone. Is this council any different? Having had a moment in the leading role, I spoke to Mayor Rehette Stoltz to hear what she wanted for the heart of the city. “Empty buildings are not unique to Gisborne, the way we shop and the way we do business has changed significantly over the last 20 years,” Stoltz said over a coffee at the Tairāwhiti Museum.
“A lot of our CBD buildings are Historic Places that cost an arm and a leg to do it up and earthquake strengthen, I know millions of dollars have been spent in the CBD, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford to do that – fabulous. But unfortunately not everyone is in that position to quickly whip out a few million bucks to earthquake strengthen – and that’s why some of our buildings are standing empty.”
And here a comment about the council from my conversation with Foon comes to mind. “Council is a philosopher, it’s not in the ‘doing’. Its role is creating the environment and the rules that enable people to do things as easy as possible,” Foon said.
And in a similar, yet more practical sort of vein Stoltz seemed to agree. Because Council is not in the business of getting involved in our business – it does that enough. Stoltz repeatedly said, “We do not want to interfere in private business, we want to enable it.” So if the council will not earthquake strengthen our buildings, who will? Trust Tairāwhiti perhaps?
Meekly, I pushed forward asking about my inner-city dreams of development. Is the council going to develop our empty downtown? “Yes,” Stoltz said, “there is definitely a push for us to start looking at what we can do with those spaces. “Our new spatial plan is an integral part of us growing and changing the whole feel of the CBD, there’s a whole chapter on the development of the CBD.”
But Stoltz argues the council needs to create downtown energy to attract inner-city life before putting up apartments willy-nilly.
“You can’t just say ‘let’s make a few apartments.’ You need to make people want to live there, you need to make spaces that they can hang out in, have their lunch in the sun and cycleways to connect it up. So one of the discussions we have had going forward is that we might have to look at compacting the city.”
But the thing that perked up my ears, nose and eyes was Stoltz suggested a town square may be on the cards. A place for a few benches, a patch of grass for people to congregate and catch up with a coffee. May I suggest paving over Peel Street?
And I think she is right, ‘Build it and they will come.’ The boardwalk along Waikanae beach is constantly peppered with people every hour of the day. You need delicious and desirable ingredients for punters to make the move and live the city centre life.
But as Stoltz said, our habits have changed and the city centre is no longer the shopping destination it once was. The city needs to provide for the twenty-first century shopper. “A lot of our planning is archaic and needs to be addressed, and it’s a fair comment that we need to tidy up our district planning requirements around developments not only in the CBD, because it’s not always fit for purpose.” She says our district plan may not give us the best outcomes. “Our zoning is not prohibitive as such, but it’s not encouraging it either.”
Stoltz gave the example of a laboratory requesting consent just outside of Gisborne which was required to have seven parking spaces under the current district Council plans when the only visitors they had was a courier driver.
She says the council staff do not have the discretion just to say ‘Oh that is silly, let’s just go ahead,’ because they are required to follow the plans. “So then we tie people up with the red tape, because then they need to get a planner involved, ring the mayor’s office, and in the end, they can do it. But if our plans were permissive and our plans were modern – our plans would make sense.”
“I believe the most important thing we as a Council can do is to get our plans modernised and address the needs that have evolved over the past 20 years.”
“But in the past five or six years, so much already in the town has happened that lifted the overall feeling, like the new council building, the new library, the new theatre, new cycleways, so even though it’s not targeted directly at the CBD, we shouldn’t forget about the things that connect at all up.”
And as much as locals love to moan, the revitalization is visible. The beach boardwalk, cycleway to Wainui, Fox Street mountain bike tracks, the port beautification and a new Gladstone Road bridge. There is change and we can follow the right track if we choose it. There’s no reason we cannot be like Porto, Barcelona and the seaside cities along the Mediterranian that tout cosy apartments dressed with balconies perfect for peering down at life below. Cities where you can stumble to a drinking hole one minute and fall in the door of a dinky restaurant outside your apartment the next.
The same is possible here. We have the port, the cityscape, sunshine and a lively bunch of locals. Combined, Trust Tairāwhiti , Gisborne Holdings Limited and the council have over a billion dollars in assets – It may be time they put some of that to downtown use, and maybe, we can buy this city a new set of teeth.
Story by Jack Marshall
Photographs by Tom Teutenberg
My neighbourhood has come alive these past couple of weeks.
The roads are busy with humans and happy dogs. People pause to look at things that catch their eye and to chat with their fellow walkers and bikers, and people out in their gardens. All at a safe and respectful distance, which has so quickly become our new norm. I’m proud of our neighbourhood for that overly-cautious distance, often spanning the width of the road, but I’m perhaps even more proud of the stopping and talking and getting to know each other – it’s one of the most important things that will come out of this all, I think.
I have noticed this new openness amongst us. We’re openly joyful and appreciative of the opportunity to connect with each other – it’s as if we have remembered how much we need each other.
Our family sent out a letter to the other residents of our road at the beginning of the lock down. None of our neighbours said they needed any help, but over the last few days emails have been going back and forth and we’re getting to know all sorts of things about each other. I had thought we were a pretty connected street before, but I realise now that we’d only just begun.
Everywhere in our neighbourhood there’s evidence of people getting stuck into their Things to Do lists: People stacking firewood, pruning trees, weeding, people just being outside, because they know they need it for their own sanity.
Everywhere, there are teddy bears and other small creatures peeking out through windows. They are signs of our unity, our kindness and encouragement towards each other. Some are holding bottles of wine and signs, one down our road has a giant pumpkin as its princely bed.
Without all the cars, you can hear the leaves, starting to crackle and colour up, rustle in the wind. You could probably almost hear them land on the ground if you tried. You can even hear the distant roar of the ocean some days, even though there’s a hill between us.
A few days ago I met my favourite bird for the first time ever; a bird whose song I have listened to my whole life, but whom I have never ever managed to catch sight of, no matter how hard and often I have looked. A few days ago I opened our front door and there it was – a Riroriro, or Grey Warbler, singing its song so nonchalantly, as if it didn’t even know it’s the most abiding sound track to my life.
It was one of those moments I tell myself I’ll never forget, just as it feels as if none of us will surely forget this extraordinary moment in time – confined as we are to our homes, our bubbles, our neighbourhood, and the reaches of our own minds.
I’m not sure whether my memories of this time will sustain or not, filled as it is with the simplest of things. The rustling leaves, the smiling conversations across our street, watching the kids try out new tricks on their bikes and the rope we’ve slung up in a tree, if we’ve managed to get them both out of their pyjamas and the house that is..usually by lunchtime, but not always.
Whether I remember this time, or not, right now I am so grateful that this neighbourhood is my home, and the people in it, my neighbours.
Story & Photographs by Sarah Cleave.