Hard News by Russell Brown


Maoriland Calling

Something a bit lovely turned up on the nets this week: 30 of the novels of Maoriland. These 19th century works, the first written fiction of and about New Zealand, were largely ignored by our cultural nationalists last century -- didn't fit with the project, you see -- so it's nice to see them retrieved, in all their political incorrectness.

They have been republished online by the Electronic Text Centre at Victoria University, in conjunction with the Alexander Turnbull Library, where many of the works are held. The centre scanned the old books then re-keyed all the text, which is displayed alongside the original page scans. I've interviewed the centre's director, Alison Stevenson, for Public Address Radio (5pm tomorrow on Radio Live, here on the podcast next week).

Jane Stafford and Mark Williams have provided a scholarly essay of introduction, but I think what this collection also needs is for someone to go through it with some joy in their heart and fetch out some choice passages for the edification of the public. Someone like, say, a Public Address reader …

Staying with culture, I watched The Big Picture again, on TVNZ 6. Interestingly (alright, it may not interest you) the widescreen picture was properly framed in the Freeview broadcast (and looked great), whereas on Sky Digital it had black bars at the sides. Anyone know why that might be?

Not so interesting: TVNZ's cursory web page for The Big Picture. I realise there's no clear rule on who should provide online resources for a programme like this -- broadcaster or independent producer -- but it's a real missed opportunity.

And it's not like it's a lot of work. It takes about 30 seconds to search the National Library's Timeframes database to bring up a number of images from the work of Abel Tasman's onboard artist Isaac Gilsemans, including this one, featured in the programme, which depicts the waka that came out to meet Tasman's ship off Golden Bay in 1642. Gilseman, who did not exactly shirk from detail, depicts its occupants as entirely without moko.

There are also images from Cook's artist, William Hodges, whose work is remarkable not least for its sheer range.

And there is more at the website of the main repository of Hodges' work, the British Ministry of Defence Art Collection (Hodges' original commissions came from the Admiralty). Hodges' thunderous painting of the sea off Cape Stephens, in Cook Strait, which Hamish Keith compared to Colin McCahon's Storm Warning, is here.

There was a huge fuss in 1999 when Victoria, which had been gifted Storm warning by the artist in 1981, sold it to a private collector. The purpose of the gifting, many people felt, was that the painting could be maintained for public viewing.

I think that's an important principle. I was glad when the Turnbull stopped vandalising its small online images with "sample" watermarks, but I feel bound to note that institutions in other countries don't feel the need to run copyright warnings under every image on their websites.

Indeed, if publicly-funded archives hold out-of-copyright works, I can't see why they cannot make high-quality images available to the public on a non-commercial basis. Te Ara, too, is niggardly over the quality of image it will provide. What's the point? It's not as if the originals will get grubby.

Anyway: back to the Big Picture. Yes, you can buy the book, but isn't there a huge missed opportunity in the failure to co-operate with or galleries and archives to curate accompanying online and real-world exhibitions? If TVNZ is going to promote the "public value" of its new digital channels, shouldn't someone be doing something like this? Where is the enterprise?

Also, being non-commercial doesn't mean no breaks in programmes in TVNZ 6's Showcase hours, but the first cut from Hamish standing reverentially with the Maori rock paintings to a blaring BSA message was jarring. And why isn't The Big Picture listed in the Sky Digital EPG for Sunday evening? Honestly, it needs to at least look like someone cares …

Interesting blogosophere trivia: The British MOD Art Collection was once under the care of Mr Litterick of The Fundy Post, who happens to have an amusing account of last Saturday's EFB protest for your, well, amusement …

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