If whenua is so important to our artists, what happens when they cross the Tasman? Jewellers from Aotearoa New Zealand make a unique contribution to Australian culture through their sensitivity to place.

By Kevin Murray


As fellow ANZACs, Australia and New Zealand have a long history of rivalry. While Australia sought the international stage for its jewellery, Aotearoa New Zealand attempted to be true to its own place in the world. In 1984, Australia launched Cross Currents, which hoisted itself into the art jewellery world by organising a major international overview of the field, itself included. By contrast, in 1987, New Zealand's Bone, Stone, Shell (1987) placed its jewellery in the local context of the Pacific. This trans-Tasman relationship is reflected in popular culture. In Flight of the Conchords, Australia is shown through its neighbours eyes as over-confident and a wee bit dumb. By contrast, through Australian eyes, Kiwis can be typecast as provincial.

Seeding the Cloud (from 2012)

Roseanne Bartley © All Rights Reserved

Go west

Thanks to the migration of key figures from northern Europe, Australia developed tertiary courses in jewellery before New Zealand. This was augmented in 1980 with the creation of the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia (JMGA), which hosted biennial conferences, often featuring leading international figures.

The important NZ jewellery group Details was formed at the 1984 JMGA conference. From 1995, Melbourne based Gallery Funaki, provided a nearby stop for the international circuit, regularly showing Warwick Freeman and later Lisa Walker. In 2004, the Craft Victoria's the South Project offered an alternative lateral trajectory for New Zealand in connection between other countries of the south. This featured the Cross-Pollination (2004) exhibition, which was curated by Anna Davern and Vicki Mason on the basis of a common reference to nature in the contemporary adornment of both countries. And from 2015, Melbourne’s biennial Radiant Pavilion jewellery festival, notionally a “Schmuck of the South”, has enabled New Zealand jewellers to test themselves out in unfamiliar Melbourne audiences.

Kirsten Haydon has produced a series of exhibitions at Gallery Funaki emerging from her travel to Antarctica in 2004

Kirsten Haydon © All Rights Reserved Te Papa, 2011-0024-2

Australian Pākehā

Some didn’t come back. Many New Zealand artists became key figures in the Australian scene. But their work can still be read in terms of abiding concerns with whenua. Many Australian artists pursued an international formalism or issue-based practice dealing with gender and class. It is those of New Zealand background who demonstrate the capacity of jewellery to express a sense of place.

Despite leaving the “land of the long white cloud", many New Zealand jewellery artists find a way of re-creating whenua in “a wide brown land”.

Header image: Flowering grey gum, Vicki Mason. Materials: Powdercoated brass, linen, cotton, fabric pen. 2019. Dimensions: 9.2 x 11 x 4.5 cm. Photographer: Andrew Barcham. All rights reserved.

Crafting Aotearoa 

This article is part of a collection of 52 essays that form an online companion to the book, Crafting Aotearoa. Spanning three centuries of making and thinking in Aotearoa New Zealand and the wider Moana (Pacific), this book looks at the artistic practices that, at different times and for different reasons, have been described by the term craft. Crafting Aotearoa tells previously untold stories of craft in Aotearoa New Zealand, so that the connections, as well as the differences and tensions, can be identified and explored. This book proposes a new idea of craft – one that acknowledges Pākehā, Māori and wider Moana histories of making, as well as diverse community perspectives towards objects and their uses and meanings.

Edited by Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Māhina-Tuai and Damian Skinner

Hardcover book published by Te Papa Press

RRP $94.00

Buy now


Murray, Kevin. 'Engaging the Indigenous', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 11/11/2019.

More information

John Scott, Stone Bone Shell: New Jewellery New Zealand. Crafts, issue 24, 1988.

Power House Museum, Sydney, 1984. Cross currents : jewellery from Australia, Britain, Germany, Holland