Published November 06, 2020 2:25PM
New Zealand historian Tony Ballantyne had Tairawhiti in his sights when he set about researching his latest book.
The University of Otago professor has been spending time in places and talking to people who he thinks have much to contribute to an understanding of Captain James Cook.
His book, Remembering James Cook: the afterlives of empire in New Zealand, is about the way people living in Aotearoa New Zealand have made sense of James Cook from the early 19th century to today.
Prof Ballantyne visited Gisborne last week to meet with Tairawhiti-based artist and historian Nick Tupara to learn more about the Puhi Kai Iti Cook Landing Site.
He wanted to include stories about Turanganui-a-Kiwa. Mr Tupara, he said, had been “very prominent in commentary about how we understand the past”.
“Last year there was a lot of debate because of Tuia 250.
“One of the things the book shows is that there has always been debate about Cook, he has been subject to controversy and competing interpretations right through the whole of history.”
The first general history of New Zealand, published in 1859 and written by Arthur S. Thomson, was “fiercely critical of Cook,” Prof Ballantyne said.
“We often think of earlier generations celebrating Cook. That is not necessarily the case.
“But by the 1950s you do get a positive narrative of Cook which we have had to work really hard to think about, unpack and put alongside other critical views.”
Prof Ballantyne has been working on the book for four years but started thinking about it 12 years ago after talking with Tim Beaglehole, the son of renowned historian John Beaglehole.
Tim Beaglehole was a New Zealand academic and chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington. He was also a scholar of Indian history.
At that time Prof Ballantyne’s field of learning as a historian was India and one day he and Tim were talking about how great it would be to write a story on colonial memory in India.
“I said hang on a minute, what would be even better would be writing a book on colonial memory in New Zealand and Cook would be the perfect lens for that,” he said.
“Cook is everywhere, when you think about it — coins, stamps, tea towels, playing cards — he keeps popping up again and again.”
It is a story about political debates and where Cook turns up in New Zealand culture.
Coming to Turanga and visiting key sites related to Cook’s legacy was important for Prof Ballantyne’s work.
“For me one of the key things in the book is how we understand things in different ways in different places.
“For instance the history here (in Tairawhiti) is quite different from Uawa and different again from Totaranui, in the South Island.
“People have different kinds of investment in Cook stories and those stories have different weights in different locations.”
Mr Tupara said the significance of the meeting was being able to share iwi stories with an academic storyteller who would share it to the world.
“He does this work with a scholarly academic rigour which I think is important to us if we want to utilise these stories as a resource for the New Zealand history curriculum for our children.”
Mr Tupara said it was a unique experience to be able to share his commentary with someone who had a passion for storytelling.
“We have all kinds of stories to tell — ones that conflict with each other, but we need to take a moment and share them.”
“My hope is to give an outlet for our tipuna korero at the highest academic level our country can provide,” Mr Tupara said.
Puhi Kai Iti: Professor Tony Ballantyne met with Nick Tupara at the Puhi Kai Iti Cook Landing Site to learn more about it to help with writing his book Remembering James Cook: the afterlives of empire in New Zealand. Picture by Liam Clayton