Shooting from Te Maketu
thanks for taking me on the shoot for the Great South Road doco last Thursday and Friday. Why didn't you tell me, though, that my face was getting ruddier and ruddier in your viewfinder, as we moved from location to location? I spent the weekend under a wet towel, cursing my bald head and missing hat.
One of the recurring motifs of the doco seems to be surveillance - you and Ian have spent a long time, after all, shooting the CCTV cameras at Conifer Grove and elsewhere - so I thought that I ought to record you and your fellow lensman at work. Here, then, are some shots from our visit to Te Maketu pa on Thursday, along with some jottings...
A couple of puriri holed by moths, or by Von Tempsky's tipsy sharpshooters. Half a dozen rimu flaking brown paint. Mast-thin totara trunks, which supplejacks climb like rigging monkeys.
Why are these natives unfallen? Their comrades-in-arms died more than a century ago, either slowly, after offering passive resistance to an axe, or swiftly, along with scores of others, in fires set by exhausted scrubcutters. Why do these survivors stand, in a windy circle, beside the razorback ridge of Te Maketu pa?
From the curve of Pratts Road, where we left our car, the trees resembled swagmen recently risen from sleep, shaking their arms warm around the tall pale flames of grass.
The wind rips Paul's answer away. We step onto the ridge, into the grass, which is no longer fire but a sea, swelling against our hips and the smalls of our backs, slipping dissolving fingers into our pockets.
Ragwort bob in the swell like jellyfish. It would be untrue, I tell Paul, or Ian, or the wind, to say that the descendants of Von Tempsky's invaders have lacked martial spirit. For decades my father devoted himself to a holy war against ragwort, patrolling the back paddocks of his farm with a curved machete, ambushing the enemy in gullies or tomo or holed troughs, severing stalk from soil in one sweep of his arm, coughing and spitting at the poisonous golden petals that the wind blew into his face.
I was raised to hate and hunt ragwort. Was I Von Tempsky, pursuing Rew Maniapoto's tomahawk raiders through these hills, or one of Rewi's men, slashing at the aliens who so quickly rooted themselves in this soil?
The war became unwinnable, as more and more dairy farms were subdivided into lifestyle blocks for insurance salesmen and vets from the city, who liked to sit on the balconies of their faux-Tudor mansions on warm evenings, admiring their plantations of picturesque weeds over glasses of wine cooler. Ragwort farmers, my father called them. Calls them.
I stumble down a small slope, scramble up a small slope, realise that these waves of grass have submerged the kumara pits Waiohua dug on this ridge. Near the end of the ridge the swell suddenly recedes, revealing a seam of splintered pipi shells in the face of a low terrace.
The ridge ends brusquely with a cliff. As Ian kneels in a shock of grass, unfolding and steadying the stiff legs of his movie camera and opening its eye, I imagine him as a father encouraging a nervous infant to stand and admire the view of the flat lands that pour across the Great South Road and the Southern Motorway towards the Manukau harbour. Is this where Rewi's guerrillas had their observation post in 1863?
The turned-over fields of Bombay and Patumahoe are as dark as Freiburg bread. In the middle distance a glasshouse leaks light, like a badly-cut diamond. The shadow of a low cloud hollows a paddock.
Steady on its legs now, aimed at the invader's country, Ian's camera resembles a bren machine gun. Paul aims his own, hand-held camera. I am almost ready to cover my ears, but Ian's camera makes only a soft whirring sound, and Paul's weapon clicks quietly, like a distant cricket.