Story: Northland region

Page 15. Creative life

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Visual arts and crafts

The Northland region has attracted and produced artists of all kinds. In the early years of European settlement, painters such as Augustus Earle and Charles Heaphy recorded their impressions of people and landscape. In the 20th century Eric Lee-Johnson and Louise Henderson also contributed the outsider’s perspective. Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser made his home in the region and produced distinctive buildings such as the public toilets in Kawakawa.

The renowned artist Colin McCahon found Northland unlike any other part of the world. He expressed its uniquely New Zealand atmosphere in the acclaimed ‘Northland panels’ and the ‘Ahipara’ series. Other artists of national stature who have roots in Northland include Milan Mrkusich, Ralph Hōtere of the Aupōuri tribe, and Shane Cotton of Ngāpuhi, whose works have featured people and places important in Northland’s Māori history.

The photographers G. Radcliffe, Tudor Collins and A. J. Northwood recorded the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries, while documentary photographers such as Ans Westra produced memorable work in the later 20th century. Craftspeople have always found the region inspiring: potter James Wright was one of the earliest. They now cater to a burgeoning tourist market.

History and scholarship

In the 19th century, Māori historians and genealogists – among them Āperahama Taonui, Himiona Kāmira and Te Riri Kawiti – wrote down traditions and knowledge, previously transmitted orally. Early European writers, including Joel Polack, William Yate and Frederick Maning, described the north’s life in the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s. In the 1830s the mission printer William Colenso produced thousands of copies of the Old and New Testaments translated into Māori.

In the 20th century Ruth Ross and A. H. Reed pioneered serious history writing about Northland, and Dick Scott wrote Seven lives on Salt River (1987), about settlers on the upper Kaipara Harbour. The publication of local history continues, and Northland’s past is exhibited at over 20 museums. Libraries developed early and some, such as the Whāngārei Library, hold major local collections.

Creative writing

William Satchell’s novels The land of the lost (1902) and The toll of the bush (1905) told of pioneering challenges in Hokianga, while Jane Mander evoked Kaipara’s kauri-felling days in The story of a New Zealand river (1920). Balladeer-poet Ante Kosovich voiced the often harsh Dalmatian experience, as did short-story writer Amelia Batistich in the later 20th century.

Fiona Kidman has used the north as the setting for several novels. The poet Hone Tuwhare, of Ngāpuhi descent, reflected on his Northland origins in some of his work, while Glenn Colquhoun, then a doctor at the small Bay of Islands settlement of Te Tii, won a national award for his first book of poetry, The art of walking upright (1999).

Pressure on the press

In 1840 at Russell, the English immigrant Barzillai Quaife published the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette – the second newspaper in the colony. But Quaife’s support of Māori rights and censure of government led to a clash with authority. The last issue appeared in December 1840. Two years later Quaife launched another, the Bay of Islands Observer, but his critical remarks soon led to his dismissal.

The press

Northland’s newspapers have helped build local identity. The Northland Age at Kaitāia had its origins in 1904. The Northern Advocate was launched at Whangārei in 1875. It was purchased in 1902 by Frank Mander, the father of author Jane Mander, who until 1906 was its junior reporter. Dargaville and Kaikohe have also had long-lived newspapers.

Performing arts

Theatrical and literary groups have flourished in some towns. Regular arts and music festivals are held, notably the biennial Bay of Islands Arts Festival based at Kerikeri. Northland has produced nationally recognised performers such as comedian Pio Terei, and Warren Maxwell, a vocalist with Trinity Roots and saxophonist with Fat Freddy’s Drop. Renowned opera singer Joan Kennaway trained Northland singers of international repute, such as baritone Kawiti Waetford.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland region - Creative life', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 April 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015