erased kapiti #1 : the memory of a territory






Botanical records began in 1839 with the comment "... covered with forest to the water's edge" by E. J. Wakefield (Wakefield, 1845). E. Dieffenbach visiting Kapiti on the same ship commented briefly, his most significant remark being, "The whole island is covered with a very vigorous vegetation, mostly of trees, amongst which are fine timber trees, especially the rata, kahikatea and rimu." (Dieffenbach, 1843)
- 'The Vegetation of Kapiti Island', A. E. Esler, 1967

It is a great pity that Kapiti was allowed to be used for sheep farming. Those engaged in this business would have had trying times getting the wool away and could not have made much money... Kapiti should, in time, become an interesting botanical museum, where plants from all over New Zealand can be seen.
- 'Kapiti Bird Sancutary', A. S. & Amy Wilson, 1952

...I have come to realise that just as the modern is the most ancient, the archaic itself is a function of the new - it is thus first produced historically, as the archaic, and to that extent it is dialectical in character and not "pre-historical" but rather the exact opposite. For it is precisely nothing but the site of everything whose voices have fallen silent because of history...
- Theodor W. Adorno, in a letter to Walter Benjamin, 5 April 1934


the clearing and burning of Kapiti's old growth forests, in small part by Maori and then extensively and systematically in preparation for post-contact pastoral farming, occurred in stages, it is reckoned in any case that the bush was mostly gone due to the farming of most of the island and uncontrolled fires before Kapiti was designated a nature reserve in the final decade of the 19th century. the highly managed nature of the island by various Government conservation caretakers since this time has ensured careful re-plantings progress toward forest regeneration and biodiversity, with donated trees and botanical memorials to shot-down airmen being part of this varied history. But this creation of a "tree museum" is not being enacted in a complete tabula rasa : a half dozen or so true Tane Mahuta survive in the deep valleys, along streams and on mossy damp ridges, where the fires couldn't reach them.


Searching out the locations of these ancient original canopy trees proved a difficult task, slogging through very challenging terrain, along former possum trappers' tracks and up rocky rivers of the island's many valleys. I mapped these forest giants' GPS co-ordinates and took various recordings with open air and contact microphones, with the help, firstly, of Rochelle, a Kapiti guide, and John, one of the island's two contracted stoat trappers, whose constant walking around this otherwise inaccessible area means he is literally the only person who has current foot-knowledge of whole of the the terrain these tracks traverse.



I started to engage with the textuality of these trees as it is documented (thin traces) and to write, as another way of recording, partly as an analysis of the current romanticism attending the idea that Kapiti is itself a vision of 'pre-human' or 'pre-contact' New Zealand', ("a place untouched by people", as someone recently posted enthusiastically on the Facebook page of Kapiti Island Nature Tours), and how this relates to New Zealand's wider nationalistic self-conception. these written and aural soundtracks will be gathered up, eventually, as a document that could be listened to as a sonification of the memory-traces of the old bush, amongst the fragmented materiality of the managed Kapiti forest, in its own status as a microcosm of the clear-felled forests of a pre-human New Zealand that only exists in the imagination.