Written by Jonathan Jones
In February 2018 I was lucky enough to visited Ōtepoti (Dunedin, NZ) to research a new site-specific work for Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Part of my research process was to create a work that had meaningful connections. While in Ōtepoti I meet with the local hapu at Ōtakou and Puketeraki, not only to makes connections but to seek cultural approval for the work. The trip also enabled me to connect with Wiradjuri objects held at the local Otago Museum that I had been researching.
These objects, along with a much larger collection of Aboriginal and Papuan New Guinean material had been exchanged in the 1920s by the Australian Museum in Sydney with the Otago Museum for two Maori carved amo (house panels). Included in the traded collection was a Galari bargan or boomerang from the Lachlan River. Today the boomerang is identified by its registration number, D21.281.
The amo are from a wharenui that was collected by Dr Thomas Hocken. The wharenui had long been misattributed as Tumoana-Katore originating from Ngāti Porou in Hicks Bay. The wharenui is today understood to have been commissioned in the 1870s by Chief Karaitiana Takamoana of the Ngāti Te Te Whatuiāpiti and Ngāti Kahungunu from the Hawkes Bay region, although it was never completed and assembled.
In the 1940s, in order to fulfil government funding requirements, which stipulated that all Maori wharenui must be carved, the local Ōtakou community made moulds of the Hawkes Bay amo to create a concrete wharenui and church of their own. Today their beautiful concrete wharenui and church stands uniquely on the Ōtakou peninsular.
Other components of the wharenui were exchanged around the world, including to America and Europe, with what remains currently displayed at the Otago Museum. The ripples of colonisation, imperial collections and the trafficking of taonga (cultural tressures) have had impacts around the world. Colonisation has created new global networks and relationships between Indigenous peoples. How our people make sense of these new relationships is central to decolonisation.
The bargan (boomerang) is undecorated, which suggests that it was functional. But within these new cultural constructs it moves beyond its functional use to connect the Wiradjuri and Maori peoples. This artwork, untitled (D21.281 Galari bargan), is a physical manifestation of ancestral forms and new relationships. While based on the shape of the bargan it speaks also to the form of the wharenui. Thrown by an ancestor long ago, the bargan has returned with a story to tell.
The project was opening in June and was greatly assisted by the knowledge and guidance of the Ōtakou and Puketeraki Iwi, in particular Ron Bull, Megan Ellison, Suzanne Ellison, Simon Kaan, Natalie Karaitiana, Tahu Potiki, Vicki Lenihan, Nathan Pohio, Megan Tamati-Quennell, Phyllis Smith, Rachel Wesley and James York.