When I was a child there seemed to be a persistent idea that New Zealand had no history, no stories worth telling. Sure, I learnt about Kate Sheppard, Sir Edmund Hillary and The Treaty of Waitangi (never Te Tiriti note) but it was always as a brief overview. It never had weight.
When I went to high school the stories became even harder to find and somehow I found myself in agreement with a class who didn’t want to learn New Zealand history at 7th form. We’d rather learn about Europe, thank you very much.
University gave me an abrupt shock. I thought of myself as pretty well-informed but soon discovered that I knew next to nothing about the country that I called home. I dived into Maori politics and took a New Zealand Literature paper. I found myself ecstatic and disgusted at every revelation.
Then Eleanor Catton released The Luminaries. A historical novel that spoke of another time, right here in New Zealand. It seemed to come at a time of discovery for me. I soon found that The Luminaries along with Geoff Cush’s, Son of France, anything by Witi Ihimaera, Nancy Brunning’s, Hikoi and Hone Kouka’s Waiora would become missives of home. Stories that helped to tell me where I’d come from, stories that told me that where I came from actually had stories worth telling.
Last night another work joined their ranks. Wheels of Experience. A musical journey through stories of New Zealanders long gone. There’s an element of history and element of a bloody good yarn that takes us from the Burgess Gang to Don Buck. I found myself riveted (and heading home to have a good google).
The musicianship on stage was incredible. Peter Daube, David Ward and Dave Khan plucked away at string instruments of all kinds – mandolin, banjo, guitar, violin to name a few. The stories could have been bland as bats*** and I still would have found myself entranced.
Nick Bollinger of The Sampler is quoted as saying, ‘You hear about good performers bringing songs to life, but in this case, the songs seem to give birth to the performers.’ It’s a apt description. Between songs Peter, David and Dave were themselves. The songs would transform them, shifting us all into another dimension of times gone by.
I found myself wondering about the style of the stories. Wheels of Experience, like The Luminaries, like Bulibasha have an element of the Western. It made me wonder, are we so used to American story telling that this has coloured our interpretation of our own stories? In many ways it makes sense, early New Zealand colonisation was similarly a time of resource hunting and male dominated societies. It would have been wild and rough. Even so, the question lingers.
Should you want to find yourself contemplating this yourself, Wheels of Experience is on at Q until this Saturday. Buy tickets and be wowed