Tūrua Kahikatea, Waihou Valley (Where Water Once Was) is part of an ongoing research project about the Hauraki Plains. Tūrua meaning "twice seen,” refers to reflections in the Waihou river. The present day village is located on a historic Māori pā site; on the banks of the river Captain Cook named the Thames. Prior to colonisation the Waihou was fertile wetland with immense Kahikatea forest. Some of the richest resources of New Zealand were located around these floodplains; birds were attracted here for breeding and to eat Kahikatea fruit and native fish spawned in the fresh and seawater.
The floodwater of the present day plains is tightly controlled by stop banks, drains and pump houses, ensuring the land that was once covered in water, is firmly solid ground. Manipulated landscapes can be overlooked. It can be difficult to decipher how they were before. Environmental conditions (such as agriculture and infrastructure) become normalized because of this easy forgetting, not knowing or blindness.[i] In Postmodern Wetlands Rodney Giblett describes swamp drainage as a ‘colonial device for subduing an ostensibly recalcitrant, even rebellious, indigenous population and wetland environment.’[ii] Seen as a mark of civilization, draining swampland contributes to an imperialist sense of place and erasure of history.[iii] Hauraki is just one example where the watery fluidity of its natural state has been forced into straight arrangements - geometric fields of drains and ditches.
The Kahikatea forest fragments become island ruins. If the pump houses were turned off and stopbanks unmaintained perhaps once again they will be surrounded by water. The New Topographics[iv] discussed photographs of man-altered landscapes and an ‘aesthetic of the banal’ in the 1970’s. The present day farmland is banal referent but pictured as sublime scenes of devastation. Photographs do not depict reality or truth, as so much cannot be communicated through an image; framing, obscuring, leaving vistas beyond the edges to the imagination. It is with this critical eye, practiced at mistrusting photographs – that the landscape and its current manipulated functions can also be questioned.
[i] Geoff Park, "Swamps Which Might Doubtless Easily be Drained: Swamp Drainage and its Impact on the Indigenous." Environmental Histories of New Zealand. Ed. Eric Pawson, and Tom Brooking, University of Otago Press, New ed. 2013, 177.
[ii] Rodney James Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology. Edinburgh University Press, 1996, 114-15.
[iii] WJ Thomas Mitchell, “Imperial Landscape” Landscape and Power. University of Chicago Press, 2002, 5-30.
[iv] William Jenkins. New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Catalogue. Rochester, NY:
International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, 1975.