Picture/Poem – The Hocken Gallery 18 April – 25 July 2015

Monday, April 20th, 2015 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post prepared by Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorial Collections

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Joanna Margaret Paul, Untitled [self-portrait], ink drawing, 299 x 229mm, acc.: L278. On deposit from the Estate of Joanna Margaret Paul. Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

The exhibition Picture/Poem: the imagery of Cilla McQueen and Joanna Margaret Paul that has just opened in the Hocken Library’s gallery brings together the creative works of award-winning poet Cilla McQueen and respected painter Joanna Margaret Paul. The pair met in Dunedin in the late 1970s and during the following decade their lives continued to intersect.

Both artists have strong ties with the University being past University of Otago Arts Fellows. Paul was a recipient of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship in 1983 and McQueen was Burns Fellow 1985 and 1986. McQueen’s first poetry collection Homing In (John McIndoe Ltd: 1982), included a poem Paul titled “Joanna”. She penned a second poem dedicated to her friend after Paul’s untimely death in 2003. McQueen credits Paul, who was also an accomplished poet, with showing her that McQueen herself was a visual artist.

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Cilla McQueen, Self Portrait, 1991, ink drawing, acc 92/1462, pen & ink on paper, 298 x 210mm. Gifted by Cilla McQueen, Dunedin, 1992. Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

 

 

 

 

 

The Hocken is home to hundreds of artworks by both Paul and McQueen, many of which have been gifted by them or in the case of Paul, her estate, who generously donated nearly 200 of her sketchbooks in 2008.

The exhibition focuses on works from the 1970s and 1980s, created while these artists were living in Dunedin. It includes twenty-eight artworks (predominantly works on paper), published work, musical scores, artist’s books and ephemera relating to the life and work of these two creative women.

Many of Paul’s works in this show have not been exhibited before. Most of the works are drawn from the Hocken’s extensive art collection but a small group of works have been borrowed from her Estate.

A double portrait by Paul (c.1970) recently gifted to the Hocken came from the collection of the late Michael Hitchings. The painting features Michael and his former wife, Maureen Hitchings. This couple, like Paul and McQueen, contributed to the shaping of Dunedin’s cultural outlook during this period. Michael was Hocken Librarian from 1965 to 1984 and Maureen ran the Dawsons Gallery where Paul exhibited in the 1970s.

The Hocken has a wealth of other material relating to both Paul and McQueen. The archives collection houses the literary papers of Cilla McQueen and the business records of Dunedin’s John McIndoe Ltd, the publisher of McQueen’s early poetry collections. There are letters from Joanna Paul to Deidre Airey, Ruth Dallas, Charles Brasch, Hone Tuwhare, Heather Murray and others, including to Cilla McQueen.

Despite working predominantly in different artistic fields their approaches have common features including an interest in juxtaposing pictures and poems and the visual arrangement of words on the page. In the 1980s it was not as common as it is now to create interdisciplinary work. In correspondence with the exhibition’s curator Natalie Poland, McQueen writes: “The works on display date primarily from the 1980s and show that both women were informed by experimental approaches that blurred the conventional boundaries between art, literature and music. Their pictures and poems celebrate the richness of the everyday experience and the local environment. The freshness of their drawings, use of collage and surprising combinations of images and text enliven ordinary language and convey a sense of living intensely in the present moment.” [Source: Unpublished memoirs, email to Natalie Poland May 2011, now in Hocken’s artist’s files.]

An artwork by McQueen called Sequestered (2009) was purchased by the Hocken in 2010. McQueen made it by scratching text onto a series of six outmoded computer floppy discs that contained a late twentieth century manuscript by McQueen. The texts, etched into the surface of the black circles, are partly occluded with red seal wax, an evocation of other modes of communication that are facing obsolescence – the tradition of handwritten letters.

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Joanna Margaret Paul, Untitled [The Stillness of the Rose] (detail), 1974, watercolour and pencil on paper, Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago. Dunedin

One series by Paul makes its debut in Picture/Poem – Untitled (The Stillness of the Rose . . .), 1974-1980, comprises seven water-colour and pencil works conceived to be viewed as a single creative work. Curiously each separate piece of this work was created on the same day over a period of seven years. Each part contains a fragment from the poem ‘The Rose’ by American writer William Carlos Williams. This work was purchased by the Hocken just this year.

What’s that thesis about?

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Blog post prepared by Dr Ali Clarke (Reference Assistant)

University of Otago History theses at The Hocken Collections

University of Otago History theses at The Hocken Collections

It’s always encouraging to see the final results of research carried out at the Hocken, from books and interpretation panels to newspaper articles and television shows. But undoubtedly one of our favourite things is to see the dissertations that post-graduate students have been sweating over, often for several years. 2014 was a stellar year for graduations of people who spent many hours poring over the treasures of the Hocken for their dissertations. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, some of these can even be read on-line.

Nister Kabir came all the way from Bangladesh to study at Otago. He made extensive use of our newspaper collection for his PhD thesis, New Zealand media constructions of Islam and Muslims: an analysis of selected newspapers between 2005-2006.  Also from the Department of Media, Film and Communication at Otago was 2014 PhD graduate Donald Reid, who made good use of our serials and books collections for his thesis Solid to liquid culture: the institutional, political and economic transformation of New Zealand state broadcasting. He also found the Hocken a peaceful place in which to write! Another PhD graduate who made good use of our serials collection was Trudie Walters, of Otago’s Department of Tourism. Her dissertation, An analysis of media representations of the luxury in and of second home ownership in New Zealand 1936-2012,  revealed the value of all those old home and building magazines.

Archaeologists dig out information from archives, books and pictures as well as from the ground, and a couple of 2014 graduates from Otago’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology used the Hocken while completing their dissertations: Peter Petchey’s PhD was titled The archaeology of the New Zealand stamp mill  and Megan Lawrence’s MA was Backyard historical archaeology: unraveling past lives through analyses of the archaeological remains from 26 St David Street, Dunedin.

Unsurprisingly, some of our biggest users are the post-graduate students of Otago’s History and Art History Department. We were delighted to see the completed PhD theses of Grace Bateman (Signs and graces: remembering religion in childhood in Southern Dunedin, 1920-1950),  Sarah Carr (Preserving decency: the regulation of sexual behaviour in early Otago 1848-1867), Daniel Davy (Lost tailings: gold rush societies and cultures in colonial Otago, New Zealand, 1861-1911),  Jill Harland (The Orcadian odyssey: the migration of Orkney Islanders to New Zealand 1949-1914 with particular reference to the South Island)and Jane McCabe (Kalimpong kids: the lives and labours of Anglo-Indian adolescents resettled in New Zealand between 1908 and 1938) last year, and also the MA theses of Nic MacArthur (Gold rush and gold mining: a technological analysis of Gabriel’s Gully and the Blue Spur, 1861-1891)  and Christine Mulligan (The Dunedin Hospital art collection: architecture, space and wellbeing).  All delved into our archives and publications collections – we saw a lot of Daniel, Jill and Nic in particular. Then there were all the BA (Hons) dissertations. History and art history students found material in our collections on a wide range of topics for these in 2014: pensions, shipboard writing, Smithells and physical education, women in the police, Philip Trusttum, Maori divorce, surveyor John Turnbull Thomson, US intelligence, female assisted migrants and Robin Morrison.

Of course, not all our student researchers are from the University of Otago, or even from New Zealand. We have met postgrads from Canada, the United States, Japan, England, Australia and the Czech Republic over recent times. In 2013 Hocken researchers completed dissertations in several Canadian and Australian universities. We aren’t aware of any who graduated in 2014, but we’re keeping an eye out!

Several students from other New Zealand universities completed theses based on significant research at the Hocken. Genevieve De Pont read lots of Hocken diaries for her Auckland PhD, ‘Tourists like ourselves’: New Zealanders’ international travel diaries and their journeys, 1919-1963,  and Joanna Bishop used our archives for her Waikato PhD, The role of medicinal plants in New Zealand’s settler medical culture, 1850s-1920s.  Claire Le Couteur also delved into our archives for her Canterbury PhD, Dentist, doctor, dean: Professor Sir Charles Hercus and his record of fostering research at the Otago Medical School, 1921-1958. Rachel Patrick of Victoria University of Wellington based her entire thesis – An unbroken connection? New Zealand families, duty, and the First World War  – on our large collection of archives of the Downie Stewart family. We’ve seen quite a bit of Vic post-grad students in recent years; others who graduated in 2014 were Nicholas Hoare (New Zealand’s “critics of empire”: domestic opposition to New Zealand’s Pacific empire, 1883-1948) , Erin Keenan (Maori urban migrations and identities, “Ko nga iwi nuku whenua”: a study of urbanisation in the Wellington region during the twentieth century),  Rebecca McLaughlan (One dose of architecture, taken daily: building for mental health in New Zealand)  and Richard Thomson (At home with New Zealand in the 1960s).  Material from the Hocken also appeared in the dissertations of a couple of Massey University graduates, Tupu Williams (Te Poihipi Tūkairangi: te poutokomanawa o Ngāti Ruingārangi/the central support post of his hapū Ngāti Ruingārangi)  and Annabel Wilson (From Aspiring to ‘Paradise’: the South Island myth and its enemies. A critical and creative investigation into the (de)construction of Aotearoa’s Lakes District).

Our hearty congratulations to everybody who graduated in 2014! We salute your hard work, your contribution to knowledge and the creative use you have made of our collections.

Winifred Betts – botany pioneer

Monday, September 8th, 2014 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

Post prepared by Dr Ali Clarke, Library Assistant (Reference)

This year the University of Otago Department of Botany is celebrating its 90th anniversary. In honour of the occasion, I’ve been looking back at the beginnings of botany, as revealed in the university’s archives here at the Hocken. Although the “department” is generally dated from 1924, when John Holloway began as lecturer, botany was taught as early as the 1870s. In the university’s early decades, when student numbers were small, there were very few teaching staff and they had a wide brief. The first professor of “natural science” – F.W. Hutton – taught geology as well as biology. The 1877 University Calendar offered a general introductory course called “Principles of Biology,” as well as papers in zoology and botany. This pattern was to continue for several decades. The 1877 botany course covered “the structure, functions, and distributions of the orders of cryptograms, and the principal orders of phanerogams,” as well as “the use of the microscope.”

Geology and biology were separated into two positions after Hutton left in 1880. Thomas Parker held the chair in biology from 1880 to 1897 and William Benham from 1898 to 1937. Both were brilliant scientists, but their chief research interests were in zoology rather than botany. As the university grew, the workload of teaching all aspects of biology to science, medical, dental and home science students became increasingly burdensome. Professor Benham managed to get an assistant – Winifred Farnie – to help with biology teaching from 1916 to 1918. In 1918 he suggested that it was time for the university to appoint a lecturer in botany, but the Council decided to delay for a year. The 1919 calendar notes that instruction in botany “is not provided at present” – presumably Benham had decided he was over-stretched and could no longer offer the course. He repeated his request for a botany lecturer to the council that year, and this time approval was granted. Benham already had somebody in mind for the post – his former student Winifred Betts.

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Otago University Graduates of 1917, including Winifred Betts and Winifred Farnie

Rather than simply appointing Betts, the council decided to advertise the post of botany lecturer. Were they, perhaps, reluctant to appoint a woman? As it turned out, they received three applications, all from women, and selected Betts as Otago’s first botany lecturer. For Benham, this was a long overdue development. In 1919, writing in honour of the university’s jubilee, he commented: “It is a curious fact that in each of the four colleges in New Zealand it has been expected that one man shall undertake to teach efficiently those two subjects [zoology and botany], which in England, even in fourth-rate educational institutions, have for many years been entrusted to two distinct individuals.” He was happy to report that Otago had now “set the example to the other University Colleges by appointing a lecturer in botany”.

Winnie Betts was just 25 years old when she commenced her new position at the beginning of 1920. Born in Moteuka, she was educated at Nelson College for Girls, receiving a University National Scholarship in 1911. She then came to Otago, graduating BSc in 1916 and MSc in 1917. She was clearly one of the more capable students of her era, and by 1915 Benham had selected her as a demonstrator in biology. On completing her MSc she received a National Research Scholarship – one was awarded at each university each year. This provided her with an income of £100 a year along with lab expenses so she could carry out independent research. In 1919, at a lecture to an admittedly partisan audience in Nelson, distinguished botanist Leonard Cockayne described Betts as “the most brilliant woman scientist in New Zealand.”

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Winifred Betts

 

In December 1920 Winnie Betts married another brilliant Otago graduate, the mathematician Alexander Aitken. Aitken, whose studies were interrupted by war service (he was badly wounded at the Somme), was by then teaching at Otago Boys’ High School. This was an era when most women left paid employment when they married, so it is intriguing that Winnie Aitken continued working as botany lecturer for some years. She joined a handful of women on Otago’s academic staff. As well as the women of the School of Home Science, there were Isabel Turnbull in Latin, Gladys Cameron in Bacteriology and Public Health and Bertha Clement in English; others came and went during Winnie’s years at Otago.

Winnie Aitken’s career as botany lecturer came to an end in December 1923. Her husband had been awarded a scholarship for postgraduate study and they moved to Edinburgh, where he had a long and distinguished academic career as a mathematician. Alexander died in 1967 and Winnie in 1971; they had two children. Various women have since taught botany at the University of Otago; indeed, it has been one of the more gender-balanced of the academic departments. As the department celebrates its 90th anniversary with Prof Kath Dickinson at its head, it seems an appropriate moment to remember the woman who pioneered it all!

NZ Music Month 2014

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Post prepared by Amanda Mills, Liaison Librarian – Music and AV

Music Month has rolled around once again! This year, to draw attention to the recordings and music-themed material we have in the collections, we have created six posters that illustrate our interesting (and often decorative) holdings.

Archway Hocken Poster A2 May 3 14

The posters are currently displayed in the University of Otago’s stone archway on campus. They represent the various aspects of the music collections, including The Dunedin Sound, locally-focussed music sheets, and early 20th Century Māori music released on major international labels (and the attractive sleeve that accompanies it). We have also included an image of some of our more interesting and rare formats: cylinder, mini-CD, and (intriguingly) a disc the size of a business card. Also featured are examples of our music posters and music ephemera: programmes dating back to the 1920s.

Some of the images are well-known: the cover of ‘Doledrums’ by The Chills is hand drawn by the bands founder, vocalist and songwriter, Martin Phillipps; while the cover of ‘Bird Dog’ by the Verlaines is by John Collie, local musician and artist. The sleeve for Columbia Records’ Māori Recordings would have been familiar in the 1930s, but is now mostly forgotten to all except collectors and music historians. Graphically designed in red and black, the sleeve speaks to the Māori Marae design on the disc’s label. This label was used for local Māori recordings on Columbia Records.

Archway Hocken Poster A2 May 5 14

The eye catching poster for the Royal Comic Opera ‘Our Miss Gibbs’ dates to 1911 and this production was described in the Otago Daily Times at the time as “…the Greatest Musical Comedy Success Of Our Generation.” The ephemera collection includes a large number of programmes for a variety of musical events in Dunedin from the late nineteenth century through to the present day. Some colourful examples of these are represented on one poster and they demonstrate a few of the musical genres included in the collection.

Inscription on UNESCO Memory of the World Register

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

We are delighted to announce that the papers of Charles Brasch have been inscribed on the New Zealand Memory of the World Register.

At a national function at the Hocken on Thursday (November 28), the Charles Brasch papers were announced as a significant new addition to the UNESCO register, along with the Sir Edmund Hillary Archive at Auckland Museum and the original score and lyrics of God Defend New Zealand held at Auckland Libraries.

UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Programme, which promotes the nation’s heritage stories to the wider community, in 1992. It sits alongside UNESCO’s better-known World Heritage List and Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The New Zealand Programme was established in 2010.

“The Memory of the World Trust is truly delighted to welcome these three inscriptions of such distinguished documentary heritage items onto the register. All three greatly contribute to the story of our nation’s heritage and are significant to the identity of New Zealanders today,” the Memory of the World New Zealand Trust Chair Dianne Macaskill says.

Professor of History Tony Ballantyne, UNESCO Senior Advisor Susan Isaacs, Auckland Museum Team Leader - Library Collections Theresa Graham, Chair of NZ Memory of the World Committee, Dianne MacCaskill, Hocken Librarian Sharon Dell and Auckland Public Libraries Manuscript Librarian Iain Sharpe

Hocken Librarian Sharon Dell says the Inscription of the Brasch papers onto the Register is also recognition of the national importance of the Hocken as a research archive.

“This is a huge advantage for University staff and students to have a resource like the Charles Brasch papers in their midst. As well as conferring a higher level of protection on this archive resource, this inscription from UNESCO also enhances the Hocken’s international profile,” she says.

Hocken Curator of Archives and Manuscripts Anna Blackman says after Brasch’s literary and personal archive was opened at the Hocken in 2003 (30 years after his death), the significance of his legacy began to be appreciated.

“We are very fortunate that the Hocken holds such a substantial collection – 25 linear metres of his personal letters and archives. The work, papers and journals of Brasch are now a significant resource for researchers focusing on New Zealand’s rich cultural and literary development during his life-time,” she says.

Charles Orwell Brasch (1909-1973) corresponded with over 600 individual people and this correspondence forms the bulk of the collection. People represented include Janet Frame, James. K Baxter, Colin McCahon, Frank Sargeson, James Courage, James Bertram, Rita Angus, Toss Woollaston, Alistair Campbell, Fred and Eve Page, Douglas Lilburn, Louis Johnson, Denis Glover, Ruth Dallas, Carl Stead and many more.

Brasch’s editorial activities and contribution to the literary scene, as well as the thoughts and opinions of his correspondents are documented through the correspondence.

A letter from James K. Baxter to Brasch (MS-0996-002/026)

“It is a unique insight into the opinions and activities of this group who created so much of New Zealand’s cultural life,” says Anna Blackman.

From 1938 to just prior to his death Brasch wrote a personal journal. These journals document both his inner life of thought as well as his opinion on many topics and his everyday activities.

Pages from Brasch's journal

“Brasch was an acute observer of the world around him and the journals include commentary on not just the arts and literature but also people, politics and contemporary events.”
Further information about Memory of the World and the inscriptions on the register can be viewed on www.unescomow.org.nz.

 

The Liquid Dossier. Nick Austin 16 February – 13 April 2013

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Bringing together a disparate collection of paintings and sculptures and combinations thereof, The Liquid Dossier showcases works that Nick Austin created during his 12 months as the recipient of the 2012 Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at the University of Otago.

Previous works by Austin referenced socks, fish aquariums and spider-webs and were inspired by formal structures derived from concrete poetry, ideograms, puns and crosswords. In The Liquid Dossier Austin adds the concept of the McGuffin, an object of desire that drives a narrative plot but which is ultimately unimportant to its resolution, to his art making tool box. The McGuffin in this exhibition is both the dossier of the exhibition’s title and something ineffable in each of the show’s works.

Bearing a keen interest in the tactility of language and the often-strange relationship between material and object, The Liquid Dossier also dwells on the Hocken’s function as a repository of papers and pictures. In the past year Austin’s inquiry has broadened to encompass the institutional structures of the library, archive and gallery.

Simultaneously concrete and elusive, Austin’s work is always open-ended and inconclusive. As with the contents of a dossier, the works in this exhibition are loosely bound to each other in a manner that draws our attention to overlooked or absent items. As a result his works trigger fluid, accidental associations and digressive meanings rather than convey any fixed or predetermined ideas. The disjunctive space between the titles of Austin’s individual works and what is visible in them delays the inference of meaning and creates a distance that enables poetic qualities to develop.  Austin likens his work to a poetry collection that dramatises the mysteries of the creative process.

Nick Austin, Homesick, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 1450 x 1850mm. Image reproduced courtesy of the artist and Hopkinson Cundy, Auckland.

Blog post prepared by Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorial Collections

The good ship Maheno, an ANZAC hero

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 | Anna Blackman | 4 Comments

This wonderful image is a photograph of the ship Maheno, which served at Gallipoli as well as elsewhere in the Mediterranean during the First World War.  Along with sister hospital ship Marama, it transported over 47,000 wounded soldiers to safety. For the winter months of 2012 the Hocken Library is using this image to promote the current exhibition – Ship Shape – an exhibition based on the idea of “portraits” of ships.
Maheno in her building berth, 1905, Cameron Family Papers MS-1046/422
Maheno was built by William Denny and Brothers at Dumbarton, Scotland but Dunedin was its home.   Joining the Union Steam Ship Company’s fleet in 1905, the Maheno was the first turbine-powered ship to work the Trans-Tasman route.  The vessel had a strong link with the University of Otago as well since the Ministry of Defence offered the institution surplus money from the Hospital Ships’ Fund to build a hall for the military training of medical students in 1919.  Maheno and Marama Hall (as it was originally called) was completed in 1923 and is now occupied by the Department of Music.  A roll of honour in the foyer lists medical staff who served on the ships.
Maheno’s elegant profile was much admired, as were its comfortable and beautiful interiors. Original photographs of the ship from the Hocken Archives Collection are currently on show as part of the exhibition:
For more information about the exhibition, follow this link Ship Shape
 
Blog post prepared by Assistant Curator of Photographs, Anna Petersen, with David Murray, Acting Arrangement and Description Archivist.

The Hocken will take the Kushana Bush exhibition on a national tour

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

Kushana Bush, Pieta (detail), 2011, gouache and pencil on paper


In an unprecedented move, the University of Otago’s Hocken Library will take works by 2012 Frances Hodgkins Fellow Kushana Bush on a national tour that will include the Pah Homestead TSB Wallace Arts Centre in Auckland. The Exhibition,All Things to All Men: Kushana Bush continues at the Hocken Gallery until 14 April before opening at the Pah Homestead TSB Wallace Arts Centre, Auckland, on 23 April.

The exhibition, Bush’s first solo (single-artist) exhibition at a public gallery, comprises thirty-one delicate gouaches, all created last year during her tenure as the 2011 Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago. This is an amazing feat considering the very time consuming method of applying gouache requires a high degree of precision.

Drawing on the passage in the Bible – To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22) –  the title of the exhibition puts forward a utopian notion that art can service the needs of everyone who views it. Often captured in deliberately awkward or sexually intimate poses, her ordinary folk reveal a wealth of human sensibilities and spiritualties. These intricate gouaches suggest proximity between everyday life and the spiritual realm, a feature she shares with the British artist Stanley Spencer, whose work she admires. The everyday activities that Bush’s figures perform invariably take on a ritual-like aspect.

Inhabited by a multi-cultural cast of actors, Bush’s cosmopolitan images are rich mosaics of cultural difference that unsettle Eurocentric art histories. Her satirical and often disarmingly intimate gouaches bring together constituent elements from all over the world. Many portray domestic scenes or characters engaged in daily activities including bathing, gardening and worshiping.

Bush paints exclusively with gouache (pronounced ‘gwash’), a medium first used in the 13th century in illuminated manuscripts and Persian miniature art. It is a water-based paint which has either an extremely high level of pigmentation or a chalk-like substance suspended in it. Gouache has an opaque character and, depending on the colour used, can appear very vibrant.

Visit Channel 9 online and get a virtual tour of the exhibition: http://www.ch9.co.nz/node/16967

Read the ODT feature by Charmian Smith online:
http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/arts/198702/artists-world-inspiration

Blog post prepared by Natalie Poland, Curator of Pictorical Collections

‘Although my country is against you […] I still remain the same to you as before’. Words of gratitude and uncertainty: Thai students’ wartime communications in New Zealand

Monday, December 5th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | 2 Comments

‘I am going to be shifted from Somes Island in a few weeks. I don’t like to go away from the old place. I enjoy the sea and watching ships steaming pass [sic] the island. Although it is rather windy and unhealthy, its scenery soothes our weary hearts to some extent.’

(excerpt from a letter by Bira Kalayasiri to Mr Gerald Francis Shiel, dated 19 December 1942)

So wrote Bira Kalayasiri, a Thai national, to his New Zealand guardian Gerald Shiel from the Somes Island Internment Camp in Wellington Harbour. This letter is the final item of correspondence we have between the two. Within a year, Kalayasiri would be dead, one of the victims of an undisclosed accident that took place during his forced repatriation to Thailand in 1943.


Letter to the Shiels from the internment camp

Kalayasiri and two of his compatriots, Aun Apibalsree and Yuwan Saraniyama, arrived in Dunedin to start study at the Otago School of Mines late in 1940. The trio appear to have received financial support from the Thai government and the firm Kampong Toh Tin Ltd. Patrick Shiel, the Singapore-based brother of Gerald, was connected with this company, and asked his Dunedin brother to take an interest in the students. A close association between Gerald, his wife Ina, and the Thai students developed; to the extent that the students suggested Gerald assume the role of their New Zealand guardian.

The folder of correspondence mostly holds letters written by Kalayasiri, Apibalsree and Saraniyama to Mr or Mrs Shiel (referred to by them as ‘Ma’) from their time spent carrying out work experience for their studies at the Wallsend Mine, near Greymouth, through to their internment at Somes Island. Although Kalayasiri tends to voice their experiences and predicament most vividly, all three initially express gratitude and affection to the Shiels for their goodness in Dunedin, and describe some of their working conditions and impressions of their workmates. As time progresses, the trio’s letters refer increasingly to the war underway and how they feel about it, and eventually move into expressions of frustration, conflicted emotion, and despair.

‘[…] although my country is against you but I still remain the same to you as before. Your generosity and kindness towards me are still impressing in my heart. I will never forget until the end of my life. So please consider me individually. What happens in my country should not be mixed.’
(excerpt from a letter to ‘Ma’ Shiel from Kalayasiri, December 1941)


‘Regarding my home in Thailand, I wonder whether I lost my father and mother or not. They stay in the fighting zone. I have lost my country. I do not know what will happen in future. I have lost my future. I have lost everything. Only thing I have now is only my poor humble soul waiting for the time when death calls upon me. I have to struggle for my life to see the future misery. I think what will happen in future will be worse than it is now. When I think of this I want to do something which will end my life.
I want to join the army here, but I do not expect to get it because I am an alien.’
(excerpts from a letter from Kalayasiri to Mr Shiel, December 1941)
Letter to ‘Ma’ in Dunedin from Greymouth

Each of the group expresses a desire to join the New Zealand Army early on, and Saraniyama in particular made a concerted effort to enlist with the allied forces. All endeavours to sign up were futile, due to their status as enemy aliens. Their frustrations were amplified in their attempts to establish contact with groups that may have been able to provide them with advice or assistance, such as the recently established Free Thai Movement. Any ventures into overseas communication were thwarted by misinformation, lack of reply, and eventually censorship.

Few of the conditions of their internment are revealed, no doubt partially due to the censorship of letters written by those held in the camp. All three express boredom and frustration with their situation, but are able to continue with their studies, and financial support from the Thai government still reaches them, albeit with increasing delays. It is unclear exactly when in 1942 their internment commenced, or the point in 1943 that their fateful repatriation took place.

The Shiels, too, must have been aggravated with the situation the trio faced, and equally exasperated by the limited official information they eventually received after the youths lost their lives. A letter from the Minister of Defence to Mr Shiel states that ‘an accident occurred while in transit, as a result of which they died,’ and that ‘it is not desired that publicity be given to this matter and it would therefore be appreciated if you would treat this information as confidential.’ Compounding this tragedy, Gerald Shiel’s brother Patrick went missing, allegedly having met his death in an accident while fleeing Singapore in 1942; but the family had still not received any confirmation of his death by 1945.
Official notification of the trio’s deaths

Information regarding the internment and death of the Thai trio sits in Ministry of Defence files held at Archives New Zealand. The files are restricted to preserve the personal privacy of those concerned, however, researcher may make application to the Chief Archivist for permission to view the files.

Kari Wilson-Allan

Assistant Archivist
Sources: AG-870/015 Correspondence relating to and with Bira Kalayasiri, Aun Apibalsree, and Yuwan Saraniyama and AG-870/016 Correspondence relating to the disappearance of Patrick Ormond Shiel, (Singapore 1945)

1941 School of Mines photo, Bira, Aun and Yuwan are in the back rows



Ruck It! How Otago Shaped Rugby History

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 | Anna Blackman | No Comments

What do Sir Peter Buck, Chris Laidlaw, Vic Cavanagh and Greg McGee have in common? Yes – rubgy for one but you’ll have to visit the Hocken Library find out the full answer!

In collaboration with Hidden Dunedin, and the University’s Design Studies Department the Hocken has put on a display that examines the contributions made by Otago people to the development of rugby by showcasing a sample of this rich history. Drawn from the Hocken’s own collections, the show features rugby memorabilia, early rugby publications, official team photographs and personal scrapbooks. A version of the display will also be installed from 17 September in The Link next to the Central Library of the University.

Highlights of the display at the Hocken include:
Tom Ellison’s The Art of Rugby Football (1902). Ellison is known as one of the game’s great innovators and was introduced to rugby by his Taiaroa cousins at Otakou around 1881. He was a prominent member of the New Zealand Native Football Team, which toured Great Britain and Australia in 1888 and captained the 1893 New Zealand team on their tour of Australia. It was his suggestion that the New Zealand team should adopt Native team uniform of the black jerseys with a silver ferns. The 2-3-2 scrum formation that he developed for his Poneke club team in Wellington became the dominant style of All Black play until the 1930s.
Billy Stead had an enduring influence on Maori and All Black rugby. Stead was a member of the first official New Zealand tour of Britain and France in 1905-06. He was the team’s vice-captain and chief tactician. He wrote regular columns for the Southland Times and at the end of the tour, combined with captain David Gallaher to write one of the earliest rugby classics, The Complete Rugby Footballer. He played 32 games for the All Blacks, 12 as captain, he was part of the first Maori team and was later a referee, coach and manager. On display are a photo of the team, victory telegrams, and a copy of his book.
Ned Parata, from Puketeraki, Karitane, is widely regarded as the father of Maori rugby. The parallel development of Māori rugby was one of the defining characteristics of New Zealand rugby. Wiremu Teihoka (Ned) Parata organised the first Māori team in 1910 and persuaded Billy Stead to come out of retirement to play for it. Parata, who underwrote the cost of touring from the profits of his motor car business, continued to organise Māori rugby for the next 20 years, climaxing in the 40-match tour of Europe and Canada over the summer of 1926-27. An visual display features a selection of images from his scrapbook; it contains photographs, letters and newspaper clippings relating to the tour.
J W Stewart’s album features the celebrated Maori rugby tour of France, Britain and Canada led by Ned Parata and contains photographs, newspaper clippings and ephemera relating to the New Zealand Maori rugby tour of Great Britain, France and Canada, 1926-1927. It also has photographs of Palmerston, North Otago and South Island Maori teams. J. Stewart appears in many of these photographs and has been attributed as the creator of the album.

Still wondering the answer to the question at the start of this post? A hint is that the display contains a selection of team photos from the Otago University Rugby Football teams over the years.

To hear Dunedin sports historian Ron Palenski on Otago and the ruck listen to this interview with Jim Moira.

To see some of the display content and hear yours truely on my favourite items watch this clip from Channel 9.

The exhibition team comprised Dr. Noel Waite, Senior Lecturer; Michael Findlay, Professional Practice Fellow; Ryan Gallagher and Jon Thom, students, all of the Department of Applied Sciences and Sharon Dell, Hocken Librarian, working with Mark Sharma, Studio 3, Dunedin and Ron Palenski, external advisor, NZ Sports Hall of Fame, Dunedin.