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Agathis Australis
Author: Jon Primmer, Curator These endemic, ancient giants ventured further south than any other species in their genus Agathis, leaving them solitary in Aotearoa. The ancient conifer Araucariaceae family was once widespread in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, now represented in a few regions of the southern hemisphere. Nowadays you’ll typically find Agathis australis clustered in groups in the forest, though sightings aren’t what they would have been a few centuries ago. They wear an armour of large flakes or scales, blue/grey in colour, which drop away easily to shrug off an attack. As the juveniles become adults, they drop their lower limbs, pull up the ladder, and become untouchable. Their crown towers over their neighbours. Commonly known as Kauri, their tactics remain largely unchanged for millennia, incorporating a crucial competitive advantage. They can inhabit low-nutrient soils, and drain them even further, inhibiting any competition. Vegetation in the area can be stunted long after the trees are removed. However, in many ways they are a victim of their own success. The timber has a straight grain, with immense strength to weight ratio and rot resistance, making it an ideal material for shipbuilding, house construction, furniture, and panelling. The heartwood is a light yellowish brown, while sapwood has a lighter tint. They’re the third largest conifer in the world, and the trunk of Taane Mahuta alone has a volume of 244.5m³. The largest surviving ancient groves reside in pockets too inaccessible to have been worth felling. The sap forms precious gum, from fresh resin to semi-fossilised and on the way to forming amber. A whole gum-digging industry formed. It was predominantly used as varnish and became Auckland’s main export for fifty years. Our remaining groves are now susceptible to a new threat – Kauri dieback disease. It is caused by a fungal pathogen called Phytophthora agathidicida, which infects the root structure and disrupts the nutrient flow, essentially starving the rest of the tree. Their extensive root structure means a hiker with just a few spores on their boot can irreparably damage a mature giant. There is no known cure, so we are all responsible for protecting our giant taonga.
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Valintines' Fire
On the 30th July 1978, Hamilton’s Bryce Street Market building went up in flames. Occupied as a flea market with no sprinkler system installed, the fire quickly spread through to the roof, then licked up the wall to the adjacent two-storey Valintines' Government Surplus and Appliances Store and the neighbouring six-storey Rural Bank building. The fire was reported in a Waikato Times article on 31 July 1978 (Reid, 1978): "A fireman on a turntable ladder battled to save the banking building. But flames swept up almost to the top before they were brought under control. The entire building was damaged by the intense heat. Even in areas the flames didn’t reach, plastic light covers sagged and paper turned crisp and brown. In the rest of the building telephones melted into blobs of plastic-coated metal and tables charred as if swept by a blowtorch. Government records were lost in the fire." The family-owned Valintines' store, a major Hamilton retailer and mail order specialist, was completely gutted in the blaze, as were the offices of Yorkshire-General Life Insurance and General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation Limited in the storey above. Demolition of the building occurred two months later, in late September and early October 1978. Buildings on the river side of Victoria Street, between Claudelands Road and Bryce Street, were also damaged or destroyed. The Rural Bank and the State Advances Corporation building were badly damaged but not demolished. Day’s Building, which housed Porterhouse Meat Parlour and “Bridge 500”, a stationery and book shop, were demolished alongside Valintines. Reference: - Reid, C. (1978, July 31). Blaze-swept market opened in defiance of fire-safe regulations. Waikato Times, pp. 1–3.
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Author: Maree Mills, Curator Our relationship with the mighty tree has never been more important. Through collection items held at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato, we revisit our dependence on wood: its continued use knowing no boundary but the inventive human imagination. Understanding the forest would provide everything needed for survival; Maaori genealogically identified with forest deity Taane Mahuta, forever intertwining themselves with the environment. Pacific explorers found Aotearoa New Zealand’s coast glowing red with poohutukawa, with a dark interior created by the canopy of gigantic Jurassic trees. They set foot to collect samples of these new plant species to share with the world. Motivated to return for the profitable kahikatea spars and flax fibre trade with Maaori, the ensuing wave of colonists desired access to woodlands that in Britain now existed only as the hunting grounds of royals. Colonial settlers’ reaction to the dense forest however was primarily to clear it for agriculture. Maaori too had cleared land before Europeans arrived. Between 1840 and 2000, 8 million further hectares were cleared and by 2000 most native forest existed only on mountainous land. While population growth produced an insatiable need for timber to provide housing, furniture, tools and fuel, industry also had enormous impact. A startling example is the 13 large kilns operating at Waikino in 1894 for roasting ore from the nearby Martha Hill mine. Each kiln held 25 tons of timber, which was added each time a kiln was loaded. In just that year 10,484 tons of native timber was consumed. Despite contemporary technology presenting opportunities for a paperless society, consumption of paper and other wood product is on the rise. Stockpiling of toilet paper during recent Covid-19 lockdowns illustrate our reliance on this resource. One tree produces about 200 rolls of toilet paper, and 83 million rolls are produced per day. Global toilet paper production consumes 27,000 trees daily! Paper and pulp manufacturing significantly contributes to air and water pollution and it is alarming to learn how many products we regularly consume that derive from wood pulp. The impact of deforestation includes the change in global climatic patterns we are seeing right now. Scientists are suggesting that our native forest is far more effective at counteracting toxins in the atmosphere than any other world habitat. Perhaps we should be reinstating our endemic species as a carbon sink rather than planting exotic pine trees? These suggestions, and others regarding the properties of our native trees, are making us reconsider deforestation. Note: - *Rootbound* the exhibition was shown at Te Whare Taonga o Waikato from November 2020 to February 2021 - Waikato Museum uses double vowels in te reo Maaori to represent a long vowel sound as it is the preference of Waikato-Tainui
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Margot Philips (1902 – 1988)
Author: Dr Nadia Gush German-born Jewish artist Margot Philips (1902 – 1988) is one of the Waikato’s leading twentieth-century artists. Born in Ruhrort, in the German city of Duisburg, Margot moved with her family to Cologne following World War One. Attitudes towards Jewish people hardened with the rise of the Nazi Party, and Margot fled from Germany to London. Margot and her brother then sought refuge beyond Europe, moving to Kirikiriroa Hamilton in 1938. Determined to become an artist, Margot enrolled in adult art classes. Kirikiriroa Hamilton’s Geoff Fairburn and Campbell Smith, and Auckland’s Arthur Hipwell were amongst Margot’s earliest teachers. By the early 1960s Margot had attended nine summer schools under Colin McCahon. Finding it difficult to replicate traditional drawing methods, Margot flourished under McCahon’s guidance. In the 1970s Margot looked back at her early paintings – some of which are included here - with disdain, gifting them to long-standing Waikato Society of Arts (WSA) member Enid Claris (1923 – 2017). So harsh was Margot on her own work, she intended children at WSA classes to re-use the backs of the paintings, removing these still lifes, early explorations in abstraction, and experimental scenes painted en plein air, from the historical record altogether. Instead, Claris retained the paintings, eventually donating almost 100 to Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato in the 1980s. Looking back on some of these works two years before her death in 1988, Margot said, “I never thought that I could do that”, exclaiming, “Oh Margot, you didn’t do so bad after all”.
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