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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Week 13, 15-19 June 2020

Last week of semester to focus on Art Studio final submission and an investigation of the 2003 Waitangi Tribunal report of Te Whanganui a Tara me ona Takiwa: Report on the Wellington District.


The Eastbourne Beautification Society established a nursery in the late 1890s/early 1900s to grow seedlings to beautify an area left devasted by early European settlement attempts to farm the beech-forested eastern hills of Te Whanganui a Tara, Wellington harbour. The densely forested beech-clad hills had been left a scarred landscape within 30 years of European settlement. Along the eastern hills these farming attempts proved futile as the land was too steep to sustain livestock; only one farm remains at Burdans Gate.

Photo: [Wellington From Kelburn] 1870 by Barraud, Charles Decimush. Watercolour. National Library collection

In a effort to beautify the landscape, more than a hundred pōhutukawa trees were planted around Muritai during 1900-1920, some by returned soldiers from WW1 and others by school children to celebrate Arbour Day. Over one hundred years later, these trees are now beginning to be removed. During the last five months 6 pōhutukawa have been cut down; 2 from St Albans, 1 from a residential property in Puriri St and 3 from the pōhutukawa grove by Rona Bay Wharf "to make a grass picnic area"! (J Horrocks, Eastbourne Community Board). There has been no community consultation and the resource management act offers no protection for these trees.

The community board is considering making a cycle track through the grove to link from Point Howard to Baring Heads and placing the old Muritai police cell by the wharf where the trees have been removed.

I found the comments of removing established trees to create a grass area disturbing. In today's environment of climate issues, why is green grass still a priority over trees? It seemed to echo discordantly with early settler efforts to create green fields for farming. These settlers were driven by a desire for the landscape they had left in England which they believed was a productive use of a resource that would ensure their future prosperity i.e. green fields with livestock. Did anyone in the settler community mourn the loss of the large tracts of beech forest they removed? How did taungata whenua Te Atiawa, and Ngati Ira before them, feel witnessing this devastation of the land they loved and had lived on for a thousand years?

In response to the 3 pōhutukawa removed from the grove beside Rona Bay wharf, I posted an invitation to the Eastbourne community (via its Facebook page) to decorate 3 trees in the pōhutukawa grove on Sunday 14th June 11am-12pm. I have spoken to Murray Gibbons (a community board member) and he said the board is happy for this artwork to go ahead and we discussed retaining the grove as a woodland room. He mentioned he would come to the participatory art project, which would enable discussion with the community (sadly he didn't come).

Five people came to help decorate, one who's granddaughter works for Zealandia and Port Nicholson Trust (hopefully we may be able to meet up). Carl from the Eastbourne Herald came and took photos so it may be reported in the community newspaper. I prepared 3 boxes with materials (pōhutukawa stamen, cicada shells, yellow fabric and wool for decorating). Each box had instructions on the process to follow (inspired by the instructional art used during Covid-19 lockdown).

Here are photographs from the participatory art project -

I was grateful that people turned up as I had imagined doing it by myself! First weekend at Level 1 and I thought people would be out and about. I was disappointed that Murray didn't turn up so we could have had a discussion but I will ring and chat with him again. I left the display up for another hour and watched as people engaged with the area and stood and observed the display. No one sat on the stools!

For me I hope this project raises 3 points for discussion among the community -

  1. Should the community develop a strategy and plan for all pōhutukawa planted in Eastbourne ?

  2. Could the pōhutukawa grove be celebrated and redesigned as a shaded woodland grove rather than sacrificed for a cycle track that may endanger the trees ?

  3. Is this an opportunity to speak of the history of this land beyond the last 180 years ?

Carl suggested I apply for a local grant to submit ideas for the grove.

These are some contemporary ecological artworks that offered inspiration -

(a) Gaia Mother Tree by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto made of hand-knotted cotton strips

(b) & (c) Untitled (Cader) 2008 by Zander Olsen is part of an ongoing series of constructed photographs rooted in the forests in Surrey, Hampshire and Wales

(d) Reservoir by American artist John Grade looks like a huge fishing net suspended among the trees. But as rainwater falls, it turns into a splendid outdoor chandelier.

(e) & (g) Cloud Piece from Grapefruit (1963-4) by Yoko Ono is an instructional art piece of whimsical, imaginative tasks for anyone to do. Instructional art took off in the 1960s with the advent of the Fluxus movement and has inspired the 2002 Hans Ulrich Obrist’s long-running, online Do It project which enables schools and artist-run spaces to stage museum-quality group shows, with each organisation making exhibits under instruction. During Covid-19 Lockdowns globally, projects like Now Do It have moved instructional art practice into the home, taking the work straight to the people. Obrist says: “It’s an outlet for experimentation, to bring art where it would not normally be. A few weeks ago, I suddenly heard about people in Italy revisiting Do It during the lockdown. The project changes as the world changes."

(Photos from

(f) The Wish Tree by Yoko Ono

(h) & (i) Wheatfield - A Confrontation: Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan (1982) and Tree Mountain - A Living Time Capsule, Aerial View on vellum (1995) by Agnes Denes


This Waitangi Tribunal report, released May 2003, found that sales of huge blocks of land surrounding Te Whanganui a Tara, Wellington harbour, to the early-settler 'New Zealand Company' were never valid. Their report acknowledges, after 16 years of tribunal hearings, the Māori tribes "were wrongfully dispossessed of vast tracts of land, including in the capital, and are entitled to substantial compensation from the Crown" (TVNZ May 17, 2003).

Overall there were 13 different claims covering 83,500 hectares of land including Wellington City, Eastbourne, Wainuiomata, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt. The Waitangi Tribunal report outlines their findings on these claims, while attending to "the complex process by which this land was acquired from Māori, and with issues relating to the administration and alienation of Māori reserves in the inquiry area" (Te Whanganui a Tara me ona Takiwa: Report on the Wellington District 2003). It is a worthy and sobering read.

This is their findings for Heretaunga (the Hutt Valley) ...

  • "Another issue covered in the report is the conflict over Heretaunga (the Hutt Valley). In the early 1840s, parts of Heretaunga were occupied by Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama, who had close ties with Ngāti Toa of the Porirua area. Crown officials did not recognise the rights of Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama in Heretaunga, where they were living on land claimed by the New Zealand Company and its settlers. Both groups were pressured into leaving the valley by Governor Grey in 1846, Ngāti Rangatahi leaving only under threat of attack by Crown forces. The Tribunal found that the Crown failed to recognise or protect the interests of Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama, who were required to surrender their land without their free consent, and who received either inadequate compensation or, in Ngāti Rangatahi’s case, no compensation. In addition, the Tribunal found that the Crown failed adequately to recognise Ngāti Toa’s interests in the Port Nicholson block." (Waitangi Tribunal)

I am left a little floored by this history of colonisation of the land that I live on and love, its not the first time, but wonder why I am. Ignorance? A desire to attend to only those things that matter to me? A refusal to reconcile my ancestor's role in the settlement of Aotearoa New Zealand?

I can't imagine the agony of being forced to leave a land that you loved and to witness that landscape being devasted as all trees were removed. It makes nonsense of my feelings toward the loss of the pōhutukawa.

I will reflect on these things over the semester break.

Photos from National Library collection circa 1870-1903


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