Looking after that vital heritage

Last updated 17:42 11/10/2011
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JOHN NICHOLSON/The Dominion Post
MAN OF MANY WORLDS: Gavin Reedy is a shearer, teacher and poet among other things, but it's his work at Te Papa that's currently making a big difference.

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If anything happens to a marae, the building can always be rebuilt. But often what can never be replaced are the photos and paintings of family members which get added to the walls generation after generation.

One of Gavin Reedy's jobs as an iwi development officer at Te Papa has been to help come up with a workshop to teach people how to photograph all the pictures so, if anything happens, there is an archived record to replace them with.

"A marae had just burned up just north and there was no record of the photos within," he says.

"They were pretty emotional, and they said to me 'You go back to Te Papa and you come up with a workshop that you can roll out to iwi around the country and teach them how to take photos of their photos."'

So Te Papa came up with the photography workshop and so far they have run 12 of them around the country, from Mr Reedy's home area on the East Coast to Ngapuhi country in the north and out to the Chatham Islands.

"Our mission [at Te Papa] is to help museums, art galleries, any sort of heritage museum, and my job is to specifically help iwi."

He got the job four years ago and says he hit the ground running. He did about three days of background reading then hired a car and "drove up the guts of the North Island".

"I went to places like Taupo, Rotorua, Wairoa and Gisborne, meeting and greeting on the way, keeping my ears open.

"From that we picked up an idea of what iwi wanted.

"Everything we do is responsive to iwi needs," Mr Reedy says.

"If there is something people want protected, from precious family jewellery, to a family Bible, the Te Papa teams can show them museum best-practice.

"Rangi Te Kanawa [a Te Papa textile conservationist] does a workshop where people bring their old treasures and we teach them how to wrap, and pack and roll and box them.

"The taonga could be weapons, such as taiaha and patu, it could be feathered cloaks, tikis - anything they think are treasures.

"A lot of the stuff the old boys brought back from the war from Egypt, the papyrus stuff, is pretty popular.

"We teach them how to nest them museum-style."

With all the contacts he's made, Mr Reedy also has the job of creating links between people who can help each other, whether it is running tourism ventures or cultural centres/museums.

"That's a new thing that's come up. It's where iwi will look after their own treasures and tell their own stories. And they farm out people to their ventures such as mussel farming, fishing, kayaking, concerts and fine dining and food for overseas visitors."

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He says it's about "connecting the dots", not only linking iwi with their ventures, but things such as artists and people who make the kind of high-end souvenirs that appeal to tourists wanting something authentic.

But plenty of other projects have spun off from museum projects that Te Papa has initiated. For instance Toi Houkura in Tolaga Bay got some funding to help the group create a database of its treasures in the region, as well as nationally and internationally. As a result of this work, they then linked up with a German museum which has a meeting house from the area.

"They don't want to bring the house back because apparently it was sold in good faith, so they're happy with that, but they want to bring it back as a hologram, that's the modern twist.

"You turn a switch and the house grows in front of you, people can walk in and walk and around and have a look at the whare."

Other iwi are looking at sending students to Australia to do a specialist science course which specialises in fibre preservation.

"They call it growing their capacity in their own backyard so you're looking after the next generation."

Mr Reedy, 52, has come to his Te Papa role in a fairly roundabout way.

Home was originally Wainuiomata where his mum and dad (Kate and Tua), both Ngati Porou, moved during the urban drift of the 1950s.

"I still love the place, mum's still there . . . our house has been there for 53 years." [His dad played rugby for Wainuiomata from 1958-64.]

When he left school Mr Reedy was a furniture mover around the Hutt Valley.

["You'd always keep 20 bucks in your pocket because you'd never know . . . if someone was moving overseas they usually couldn't sell both the TV and the fridge, and you'd get 'em both for $20."]

He then moved into central Wellington and loved being part of the city in the 1970s, which is where he had a brief, but important brush with poet Hone Tuwhare.

But first, he met his wife Denise and moved up to her home area of Halcombe in the Manawatu where they've now been for 32 years.

"Her big family is there and I slotted in with them. We lived in a house truck and brought our kids up in there for a while as we were learning the culture."

They spent a lot of time at the marae there, Poupatate. "That's the focus of our existence really. Whatever we do we always go back there."

It was in Halcombe that Mr Reedy started to learn carving. He did it for about five years - six months of each year carving and six months' making money. "Carving doesn't pay the rent, so I used to race off and do seasonal jobs and then go back to carving."

It was also in Halcombe that Mr Reedy joined in a movement to "chase the language" in the 1980s.

"A lot of the old people started passing away, and I don't think any of us, when I was in my 30s, could speak the language.

"We were being looked upon to keep the marae going and to fulfil cultural obligations. So we all left our jobs and took off for a year and started learning the language at the Palmerston North College of Education."

He then decided to go to teacher's college, did a bridging course to prepare him for study, and became a primary teacher.

"That's another hard job," he says. "As hard as shearing!"

He's also taught at a youth justice institute, Hato Paora College, Palmerston North Girls' High, lectured at the teacher's college and UCOL and Te Wananga o Aotearoa, leaving there about 2006 and he has been at Te Papa since.

But he is never away from Halcombe for long.

He travels down to Wellington each Monday with Denise and their youngest child, who is four, in a campervan, and they go back up on the weekends where he often works in a shearing gang.

He's usually working on the wool press but, if they need him, he can grab the handpiece to do his 120 sheep a day.

He says that, while shearing has got to be one of the toughest jobs in the world, he's never allowed to show how knackered he gets.

"Where I come from it's no complaints, no crying, you just go hard. At the end of the day I can barely stand but I don't say a word! That's what my mates are waiting for so they can say 'Reedy, you useless bastard!' - so you just handle it.

"But they're my biggest supporters, my working mates."

And if his working in a museum the rest of the week raises their eyebrows, he's got a new career as a poet that might draw a few comments as well.

Mr Reedy's first book of poetry and photography from inner-city Wellington is being launched on October 17 at Deluxe Cafe next to the Embassy Theatre. The group Nga Hau Manu, which plays traditional Maori instruments, and which Mr Reedy also belongs to, will kick it off and there might even be a celebrity reader or two.

The poetry is his, and Michael Hall has added the gritty photographs.

His poetry career started the day poet Hone Tuwhare died. Mr Reedy says he saw him once, for just a minute or two, many years ago.

Mr Reedy was with a mate, looking for a pub and wandering around with his big affro. He says Tuwhare mistook him for a radical, and came over to them. They hongi- ed, shook hands and then:

You looked deep in me and said

stick it up them mate, stick it up them!

I knew you weren't talking of women.

(It's actually a very sweet poem, and the book is called City Eyes.)

It also includes a poem he wrote while in the Chatham Islands while on a Te Papa workshop which ends with the lines:

Tears shed

Seeds

Memories

Falling

Floating

Softly

Don't mistake peace for weakness.

They're the words of Maui Solomon and, when Mr Reedy wrote it, he says the people of the Chathams were touched enough to ask that the poem be hung on the wall of their whare. It will go down for the Peace Festival there in November.

As he says, it's all about connecting the dots.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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