One of the places you explore in your book is Pukekawa, the hill on which Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland Museum stands. How much did working at the Museum influence this inclusion? What was it that initially captivated your interest in this specific location?
The book is based on a PhD thesis, which I began writing in 2013, before I began working as Curator of History at the Museum. But travelling through the Domain on the way to and from the Museum since I began working here in 2017, and getting to know the Museum collections relating to the Domain, has certainly helped with my thinking about it.
I wanted to write about Pukekawa because I was aware of histories there - including the building of a house for Pōtatau Te Wherowhero (the Waikato leader who later became the first Māori King), and the market gardens of the Ah Chee family - that have been overlooked and largely erased from the landscape but are important for understanding this city’s past and present. I was interested in resurfacing these histories and exploring how they interact with and challenge the carefully crafted 20th-century histories that now dominate the park, with the Museum and the surrounding leisure landscape.
What was it that inspired you to research these deep histories and write this book? How long has the process taken?
The process of writing this book began in 2013, when I started the PhD thesis, but its roots go back to the late 1990s, when I first started working as a public historian on places, sites, and landscapes around Auckland, including the Ōtuataua Stonefields and the nearby Pūkaki Lagoon, both of which I write about in this book. I found that there were deep, complex and difficult histories embedded in certain places in the city that still resonate in local communities and across the city yet have not made it into the city’s monuments, history books or collective memory. The stories that I came across as a public historian, as well as those I researched as a PhD student, and those I have come across more recently as curator of history at Auckland Museum, are all wrapped into this work.
What I wanted to do was write a history that starts with the ground and works its way upwards and outwards from there. Starting with rocks, lava flows, a grassy paddock, the remains of a garden, the site of a cottage, or a monument, it explores the histories that unfolded in these places, and connects them up with the broader historical context of the city, the nation and the globe. Looking at three places across time – from early human arrivals to the present day – it considers how histories told from particular places, at particular moments of time, might open up new stories and perspectives that can challenge and even change the way we currently tend to think about Auckland’s past and its present.
Your Auckland Museum colleague, Matua Bobby Newson wrote the foreword for your book. How did that come about?
Bobby provided a huge amount of guidance throughout the writing of the book. Not long after I started working at the Museum, Bobby and I went for a walk around the Domain and talked about some of the histories there, and since then he has supported me with many aspects of the book, including working with mana whenua. Working with Bobby has been one of the highlights of writing this book, and I am honoured and hugely grateful to have Bobby’s mihi karakia opening the book. His words capture the essence of what I am trying to do in this book, and they provide the passageway into the stories the book tells.