Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
(by Fiona Garlick)
On the eastern bank of the Waihou river, near the bend in the river opposite where State Highway 2 meets Hauraki Road, there is a newly reclaimed and planted site called Ferry Road Pond. It's not much to look at now, but fighting for dominance amongst the re-growth are some 300 native plants, predominantly young kahikatea. One day they will become a small forest of these majestic trees, a reminder of days gone by when this area was thickly forested with the ancient giants.
This small corner of regenerative planting was sponsored and planted by The Art for Trees Project (with the help and support of Environment Waikato), an art project that began in the gallery and will end up hopefully with the permanent legacy of a future forest. Over the course of several months I slip-cast 400 ceramic milk and cream bottles, each embossed with the name of a native plant that once thrived in the area and which has since been displaced by dairy pasture. Displayed on the gallery floor, the bottles resembled a small forest, and, for each one sold, a tree was planted.
The Art for Trees Project began its life when I was researching a project for my final year at Elam School of Fine Arts. I was interested in the first contact of Europeans with the New Zealand landscape, the people, their journalised accounts, the context in which they were written, and the eventual impact of their words once they made it out into the world. I was fascinated by the journals of Captain James Cook, Joseph Banks and the botanists on the Endeavour.
Of great influence was the book by the late ecologist Geoff Park, Nga Uruora: the Groves of Life, in particular the chapter "The Immense Trees of Ooahaouragee" in which he retraces the wake of Cook along the Firth of Thames and up the Waihou river. I too followed the Waihou to the spot where Cook is supposed to have landed but my gaze was met not with magnificent native swamp forest, but acid green pastures stretching away between stop banks and willow and macrocarpa shelter belts. Of the vanished giant Kahikatea there remains only a few scrappy fragments.
In essence The Art for Trees Project alludes to what Captain Cook saw that day in November 1769. His journal entry tells of " lofty trees which adore its banks.... a tree that girthed 19 feet 8 inches 6 feet above the ground....its length from the root to the first branch to be 89 feet...as straight as an arrow... ( J.C Beaglehole, 1955) and that of Joseph Banks describes ...the finest timber my eyes ever beheld ....thick woods of it were everywhere upon the banks, every tree as straight as a pine and of immense size..... we cut down a young one of these trees; the wood proved heavy and solid. Too much so for mast but would make the finest plank in the world." (J.C Beaglehole,1962).
Both saw the trees not for their majesty, but for their potential value as timber, and the land for its productivity, their words were prophetic indeed.
The Art for Trees Project pays homage to what Cook saw on that day, and the idea is that one day we and our children will once again see tall kahikatea from the site on which he stood. Over the course of several exhibitions, I sold all the bottles, and the first and primary planting took place in July, 2009. The planting gang consisted of friends, family, people who had bought my work, and the team from Environment Waikato led by Rien van de Weteringh, who had secured and prepared the site for me. A second planting will probably take place in the next year as the seedlings mature.
To fully realise the project I would like to see the Cook's Landing Memorial restored and its surrounds regenerated to its full potential as a place to stop and picnic. I hope also to install a sculptural work that alludes both to the historical significance of the site, and to The Art for Trees Project's future forest across the river.
For more information on The Art for Trees Project go to the website http://artfortrees.blogspot.com/
Fiona Garlick has exhibited at many outdoor sculpture exhibitions including Stoneleigh Sculpture in the Gardens, NZSculpture OnShore, and E:Scape Sculpture in the Landscape, and has a work installed at Brick bay Sculpture walk.
· Park, Geoff. Nga Uruora - The Groves of Life : ecology and history in a New Zealand landscape Victoria University Press,1995
· J.C. Beaglehole ( ed.) The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768-1771, Volumes 1 & 2 Halstead Press, Sydney, 1962
· J.C. Beaglehole (ed.) The Journals of Captain James Cook on his Voyages of Discovery Volume 1: The Voyage of the Endeavour Parts 1 and 2 Hakylut Society, 1964, reprinted N.Y 1988