54. Hundertwasser in Kawakawa

Just a short blog to say we’ve been to Kawakawa and seen the toilets! I’ve been hearing about them for years, as they were designed by world famous artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. There’s heaps you can read about this artist on the internet if you’re interested. He’s quite an interesting fellow; during the second world war he and his Mum, being Jews, had to pretend to be Christians to keep themselves safe. Imagine the stress of going through the war keeping up with that facade, and trying to stay out of the limelight when you are not a shy and retiring sort of person. As he wasn’t. Thankfully he made it through to the benefit of the arts, architecture and several cities and towns including little old Kawakawa, near where Hundertwasser spent a lot of time towards the end of his life.

Before reaching Kawakawa, we stopped off at the Jack Morgan museum in Hukerenui. This was focussed around early Pakeha settlers to the region and how they set up farming in the new land and climate. Only cattle are farmed this far up the North Island as it’s too wet, all year round, for sheep. Sheep, with their thick wool, get flyblown rapidly in wet climates.

We were given a small piece of kauri gum – stoked!!

Most of the museums up this way charge $10 or $15, but it’s well worth it for what you learn. This museum is fairly new; everything was dusted and sparkling and in perfect order!
The museum had a section with kauri gum artefacts and curiosities – check out the christmas cake and the loaf of bread! We were told the loaf had been at local council offices, but they didn’t want it there anymore so now it’s in more caring hands at this museum.
I bought a book called ‘Kapia’ which is Maori for kauri, written by local author Diana Menefy who we met as she was right there, sitting in the back office of the museum. She signed the book which was nice.
I learned from reading this book that gum is the label given by early gumdiggers, but really, as it comes out of ancient swamps it’s fully fossilised, making it copal or resin rather than gum.
The kauri gum from local swamps rendered good incomes for gumdiggers in the past, with Maori and Dalmatians doing a lot of the work. Of course there’s very little left today and the swamps have been drained and turned over to cattle pasture and citrus orchards.
We are seeing a lot of Dalmatian names as well as Maori names as we travel around now – every time we see a name that ends in ‘…ich’ we say, ‘There are Dalmatians living around here.’ Of course, they are seasoned New Zealanders now, just with Dalmatian ethnicity in their past.
Many examples of kauri gum were found in past times that contained inclusions of insects and leaves, and studies of these have helped pin down evolutionary sequences of certain species through the age of the kauri forest.
At, and inside, the toilets in Kawakawa. They were very clean.
Dead tree trunks on the hill behind are dressed in fabric and pebbles.
There were other great artworks around the town…showing Maori, Hundertwasser and Pakeha influences.

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