To celebrate NZ Archaeology Week this year we asked young people of Aotearoa to share their stories of a favourite historic place.
We would like to congratulate winners Daniel Lovewell and Sarah-Kate Simons for their fantastic contributions. We have also shared entries from Liliana Mountford and Kaitlyn Lamb, which we are sure you will also enjoy.
New Zealand Archaeology Week (24 April – 3 May 2020) celebrates New Zealand archaeologists and their work. It highlights the importance of protecting our country’s historic places.
You can read more about the week on the New Zealand Archaeological Association website or find content on social media at #nzarchweek2020.
Winner – 8-12 years: Daniel Lovewell, 11 years
On The Whanganui River
The untouched paradise of the Whanganui RIver
Gives a glimpse of the Aoteroa of long ago
A jurassic wilderness where the moody sky changes
From dark obsidian, to shining sapphire
The river, stirred up by the torrents flowing from Mount Ruapehu, Is the colour of caramel fudge
The trees lining the canyon are as green as dewy grass
All we hear is the sound of the Keruru’s heavy wingbeats
Echoing down the valley
And the roar of hidden waterfalls cascading down
As a cacophony of nature’s teardrops
I have found my peaceful connection
I chose to do a poem about the Whanganui River because it is such an interesting place.
In many parts it is untouched since the time of the Moa. In other parts there have been Maori settlements, places for trade and early settlers, places for poets like James K Baxter, destinations for tourists, and more. It used to run steam boats but now you are more likely to see canoes and kayaks. And it is likely to have more stories in it’s history as more people visit it in the future.
It is special because even though it is a river it is known as one of NZs “Great Walks” and is part of the Te Araroa Trail. I was lucky to do a canoe trip and it was the most magical thing I have ever done even though the weather was very wet and we got trapped at a campsite for a couple of days as the river was too dangerous! I wrote about how the river feels to me.
Winner 13-16 years: Sarah-Kate Simons, 14 years
The birds have left. In the dawn, feathers drenched with dew, they took off into the sunrise. They abandoned feathers in their wake, and I watched them dance in the salty breeze.
The fish have left. In the twilight, they swam out and hid themselves in the depths, among the rocks, and now the bay is empty of shimmering scales. When I went out to wade, no silver-finned shoal came to nibble at my toes and now they’re nothing more than a ripple on my memory.
The animals have gone away. There used to be a wildcat that would mew at my door in the evenings, in search of a saucer of milk. For two days, she did not appear on schedule, and I picked at the tufts of ginger fur caught in the decking, and hoped that where ever she was, she’d been well-fed.
The doctors went away. They had tired of this life perhaps, of their frequent trips to Solitude for the sake of sick strangers. In their rowboats, they went out past the foaming breakers to where the tall ships anchor. The ships couldn’t flee fast enough, and I stood on my porch and waved them goodbye. Later, I made the long trip down to old quarantine hospital. I don’t know why I went, perhaps to check the doors were really closed, that it was really over.
The people have begun to go away. We buried one poor soul a couple of months back. Well, the men buried him, and I watched from further up the slope, holding my hair from my face. If it had been my choice, I wouldn’t have chosen somewhere so exposed, so empty for a grave and after a while I tired of watching them, of feeling the sores on my hands ache in sympathy for those wielding the shovels, and I went back home bitter.
My mother’s grave lay by the corner of our hut, unmarked, and the hot sun had choked the life from the plants I’d tried to cultivate around it. The sight made me purse my lips, thinking of that man’s luck—dead sure, but with a cross that would endure, that would remind those to come, while my mother would be forgotten, memory by memory.
Frustration and pain from the long walk kept me inside for the next three days, and when I returned to my game of watching the men, I found no one to watch. The beach sand told tales of a boat, come to gather them all up and take them away, no doubt to some other godforsaken place to continue their living death. I could muster up no envy for their fate, preferring to remain in the comfort of familiarity, even if my island now knew only my voice.
I am left behind, alone.
Once they were gone, the others came back. My wildcat tiptoed onto the porch and sat waving her tail, meowing for her milk. In the bay, the fish swam back into the light, and the birds folded their wings to rest the night in their clifftop roosts. I wish I could’ve seen them.
By the time the cat returned, I couldn’t fight the sickness anymore. Too weak to move, I lay still on my bed struggling to divide reality from dreams, when a ginger paw slid into the gap in the door and batted it open. In the semi-twilight, she wound her way across the floor, and joined me on the bed, curling up with a nudge of her soft head. Her purr told of good hunting, and traversing the island, of watching fish in the deeps, and the faint masts of ships in the far off harbour.
“Thank you,” I whispered, wishing I could stroke her, or offer a last saucer of milk as payment for her loyalty. With a rough pink tongue, she licked my hand.
“Goodbye,” I murmured, closing my eyes. In my heart, I knew that in death I wouldn’t go far.
Islands have spirit caretakers you know.
Highly commended: Kaitlyn Lamb, 16 years
“Whoosh”. A Kereru flies above my head, deeper into the Redwood trees. Another youth member points out a fantail, which like every time we come here, follows us twittering while checking the traps.
Another rat caught, another bird saved. Every Saturday we come here and I know that everyone gets really excited when we catch something. But for me, my favourite part is hearing and spotting the birds amongst the native ferns and trees. I find it hard to believe that only a couple hundred years ago these trees did not exist. In fact, this whole forest was just a farm.
With every step I take, I like to imagine what lied in this very spot hundreds of years ago. I now know it was a farm thanks to Planet Bike, but was that very tree over there, here? I mean the Rimu tree. Or was it a cow? A cow that ate the grass and was killed for us to eat. These things I wonder…
But what about further back. Before Europeans arrived in New Zealand and cut down the trees. Was this already a forest? Probably not a Redwood Forest but perhaps a native one; with Kauri trees, Rimu, Matai and maybe even Tawa! My imagination is the only limit. I can even imagine seeing Kakapo roaming around and Huia flying with the Kokako and the Saddleback. Imagine those days. When you could actually see a Huia without having to look it up on Ecosia.
Which brings me back to reality. The reason why we are here today. Another trap is checked and there is nothing in it. This could be a good or a bad sign. But at least we know that we are trying our best and aiming high with our predator free goal by 2050.
And then I hear it… it’s the sound of the Kakapo roaming the Redwoods. Free at last as there are no more predators keeping them confined.