WW1 Centenary project reveals artists' feelings about the box that gambled with Kiwi lives video

CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ.

Conscription Ballot

It's often referred to as the "death box" and, for many young men and families, it literally was.

This week the wooden box used initially for the first World War's conscription process resurfaced to encourage young New Zealanders to consider the time that devastatingly changed so many lives just a century ago.

Wellington-based Kauri Hawkins was one of seven artists aged 18 to 25 who were invited to present their exploration into what conscription meant to them as part of Luck of the Draw, a new online project by the First World War Centenary Programme (WW100) in partnership with Nga Taonga Sound and Vision.

Wellington-based artist Kauri Hawkins, 22, with the ballot box, file number GH003641,
CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF

Wellington-based artist Kauri Hawkins, 22, with the ballot box, file number GH003641,

"My project is about the Maori contribution to World War 1 and also its resistance, its playing with the duality of those two mind frames, different iwi thought of the crown in different ways and I'm just trying to consolidate that," Hawkins, 22, said.

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Hawkins created a video for his project that captured the construction from the Kapiti Coast toward Wellington. Layered over top was haunting music from traditional Maori instruments as well the voice from Dr Monty Soutar, who read The Maori War Effort at Home and Abroad and Puawai Cairns with her talk on Forgotten grandfathers - Maori men of WW1.

The ballot box used for inscription for WW1 from 1917 signifies some somber memories for many New Zealand communities. ...
CAMERON BURNELL/STUFF

The ballot box used for inscription for WW1 from 1917 signifies some somber memories for many New Zealand communities. The ballot box, file number GH003641, stays with Te Papa's storage facility.

"For me it was a good way of testing some new work as an artist and also expanding my artistic practises but also as a Maori, as a man, who is in the age range of being conscripted it's kind of eye opening in terms of who Maori communities sent away," Hawkins said.

"(It was) some of their best men -  young, educated - they sent them to war and many of them didn't come back and that had great affects on their family later on, especially in generations to come."

Other artists used dance, illustration, song, and play writing. 

In 1916, two years after the First World War began, the number of men volunteering to join New Zealand's military forces overseas had fallen dramatically.

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To make up the shortfall, in August of that year the New Zealand Government introduced conscription. 

Three months later, on November 16, 1916, the first monthly ballot was held in Wellington at the Government Statistician's Office where it was filmed by Government cinematographer Sydney Taylor for historical purposes. 

Between 1916 and 1918, 134,393 men were called up under the monthly ballot system. Of these men, 32,270 were sent to camp and 19,548 embarked for service overseas.

They represent almost 20 per cent of New Zealand's First World War soldiers who served abroad.

Te Papa's history curator Kirstie Ross said the first marble that was pulled out of the box was dropped on the floor because the man was so nervous.

All of the staff dropped to their knees to hunt for the marble.

"It was a big responsibility to draw out a man's number," Ross said.

"From the film, it looks very sombre and it was a collective process so everybody wanted to make sure there were no mistakes."

 - Stuff

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