“I am now going to put up a V hut on the country that I took up on the Rangitata, meaning to hibernate there in order to see what the place is like” - Samuel Butler
In 1860 almost all the land in Canterbury was completely bought up by new settlers. After months of searching Butler laid a claim on what he called Mesopotamia at the headwaters of the Rangitata. Here he fantasised about the founding of a new utopian civilisation in the middle of nowhere. Erewhon (Nowhere spelled backwards.....almost) was born here. But like many fantasies of utopia there was a dark reality, and eventually Butler like his protagonist desired to escape - "My plan was this - that Arowhena and I should escape in a balloon together".
Was Butler as "hard-headed" as the few men he worked alongside in these lonely reaches, far away even from the closest settlement of Peel Forest where he spent many a night playing the piano at the Tripp homestead? Were there aspects to the "hard men" of early European settler Canterbury that unsettle our myths about them and our requirements of these men today? Butler writes that "men here are much fonder of cats than they are at home". Mrs Tripp however found his “peculiar nature and wild theories upsetting” and “did not like it when Butler tried to convert the maid to his ideas”. These ideas probably included the revolutionary new theories of evolution espoused by Darwin and Butler's reasons for fleeing to the other side of the earth to escape his father's plans for him to become a Clergyman.
“I am forgetting myself into admiring a mountain which is of no use for sheep. This is wrong” - Samuel Butler
Malcolm Prouting whose family has owned the station for three generations flew us up Forest Ck to the site of Butler's first hut and over the remarkable rock formations that surely inspired his protagonist's dream of an organ which "seemed to grow and grow amid a blaze of brilliant light, till it became like a golden city upon the side of a mountain, with rows upon rows of pipes set in cliffs and precipices, one above the other, and in mysterious caverns, like that of Fingal, within whose depths I could see the burnished pillars gleaming. In the front there was a flight of lofty terraces, at the top of which I could see a man with his head buried forward towards a keyboard, and his body swaying from side to side amid the storm of huge arpeggioed harmonies that came crashing overhead and round".
Afterwards we talked to Donald Aubrey long time resident and former Manager of Ben Mcleod Station whose religious views are mirrored in utopian Christian vision of Butler's protagonist upon his discovery of Erewhon as an "expanse as was revealed to Moses when he stood upon the summit of Mount Sinai”. Mesopotamia is a spiritual birthplace for Aubrey. Sheep farming has changed a lot since Butler's time he told us and while some may rightly "eulogise" him as an artist "he was no farmer" in the eyes of those who farm there now. Aubrey explained that this is because back then it was in the farmer's economic interests to "rape and pillage" whereas now farmers look after the soil with the intention to make it profitable for future generations.
"Lit a fire, and was grateful for its warmth and company" - Samuel Butler
Paul Maunder film-maker and director was our native guide during our time in Blackball. In 1908 Pat Hickey was fired by his Manager when he refused to finish his pie after a lunch break of only 15 mins. Lucky for him and his 6 supporters who were also fired, the rest of the miners went on strike in support. After three months of collective resistance from the miners and their families the company gave in. This kind of radical resistance can still be seen in Blackball, although judging by the signs on people's fences, it swings to both the right and left.
Paul founded the Blackball Museum, took us through Blackwater to the historic Waiuta mining town, and introduced us to the members of his Drama Group in Greymouth and Runanga, where we had engaging discussions about the kinds of communities that are possible on the Coast.
We also visited Roger Ewer in Barrytown who told us tales of the founding of the Fox River Commune and his own experiences living on the Coast and running a music venue in the Settlers Hall.
#Blackball #Waiuta #Blackwater #Greymouth #Rununga #Barrytown #erewhonproject
Castle Hill Station (Kura Tawhiti) which translates in Te Reo Māori to ‘the treasure from a distant land’ is a site of significant historical and cultural importance to Ngāi Tahu. In the novel the guide abandons Butler during the journey, just after they encounter the ‘circle of gigantic forms, many times higher than myself….a sort of Stonehenge’. One of Butler’s inspirations for this scene may have been Castle Hill.
"It's kind of a lonely place, but if you like that kind of feeling, it's a beautiful place to live"
Last week week we went to Te Mata Hapuku (Birdlings Flat) to visit the home of our friend and collaborator Aaron Hapuku. We asked him why he and his family chose to live here and what this isolated place means to him. #erewhonproject
When Samuel Butler arrived at the wharf in Lyttelton, he went straight to the table d’hôte at the Mitre for dinner - “so foreign and yet so English”. During his four years here he barely mentions Maori other than something to be “passed over unnoticed”, however in his novel, it is a Maori guide who accompanies his protagonist on his journey ‘over the range’ to Erewhon. Last week we met with Hohepa Bowen, a Lyttelton based artist who discussed his pounamu carvings and his perspective on Erewhon with us. #erewhonproject
“How many men at this hour are living in a state of bondage to the machines? How many spend their whole lives, from the cradle to the grave, in tending them by night and day?” – Samuel Butler.
Sometimes you go to the Gallery to see one thing, and you end up seeing other things in new ways… Louise Henderson’s ‘Addington Workshops’ (1930); Shane Cotton’s ‘The Haymaker Series I-V’ (2012); Simon Palenski, Tjalling de Vries and Peter Vangioni’s ‘Pathways of the Flats’ (after Samuel Butler’s A First Year in Canterbury Settlement) (2019) @kowhaipress #erewhonproject @christchurchartgallery
In our nearly 2 years working at Waldheim, Seven Oaks we’ve gotten to know the Waltham community better, working alongside them on recent events. Waltham is full of passionate people who care about community and work hard to nurture community spaces like Seven Oaks which we’re privileged to be able to share with them. We interviewed some neighbours about what their own versions of ‘Erewhon’ might look like. #erewhonproject #waldheim#sevenoaks 🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲🌲 #homeinthewoods
“Sheep will be the one idea in your mind; and as for poetry, nothing will be further from your thoughts.... Were you to shepherd too long your wits would certainly go wool-gathering, even if you were not tempted to bleat”
Butler most likely wrote this poetic reflection in his hut by the light of this tiny candle stick. His sheep brand also took the motif of a candlestick. One allowed him to write, read and play music by the fire in the evenings, the other to make money during the day. This tension exists as much in Butler’s work as it does for artists now. Among the artefacts kept in Canterbury Museum, is a portrait by Butler of Thomas Cass. Thanks to Curator Julia Bradshaw for showing us the artefacts. #artistandfarmer #erewhonproject 🐑 🏔
"Sheep cannot be too closely watched or too much left to themselves. You must remember they are your masters and not you theirs; you exist for them, not they for you" - Samuel Butler, A First Year in Canterbury Settlement
Sheep farming in New Zealand was Samuel Butler's ticket to escape a career in the clergy that his father had planned for him in England. Last week Neville and Sue Sinclair invited us into their home in Scargill, North Canterbury where they have lived for 42 years, built their home, raised their family, created and collected art, and farmed their East Friesian rare breed sheep. Sue who grew up on a more traditional sheep farm, wanted to explore a different way of raising her sheep, which doesn't value them simply as numbers. They live almost entirely self sufficiently. While the fruits of their hard labour are easy to see, they acknowledge the huge amount of work and commitment involved in creating the lifestyle they believe in.
Like theatre - experiencing paintings in the real world can bring them to life in a way that viewing them online can't. Butler's 1873 oil painting 'Self Portrait' is very alive. Thank you Christchurch Art Gallery for inviting us in to view it.