Plant Collection Trip to Pouto

Plant Collection Trip to Pouto

It is so special to sit and feel and be able to ‘see’ the old ship captains visiting and settling in New Zealand in the 1790’s – 1830’s. I’ve seen and touched these special places all around the Kaipara Harbour over many years: Batley, Whakapirau, Kaiwaka, Matakohe, Tinopai, Ruawai, Dargaville, etc.

I’m sitting on the wooden deck of Logan Forrest’s bach at Pouto which at high tide has water under it, looking across to the site of possibly the first European settlement on the Kaipara. The site was the home of Captain Sheahan, a retired sea captain who settled there in 1850 and built a trading store to support those who followed him. The original trading store is still there, albeit in a different spot, and many of the trees he planted are there to be seen today, including osage oranges planted to provide dowel like wood to repair and build boats. The site of the old slip where the boats were repaired is still there and the mullet still swim and jump right up to the slip and the lawn where they played and worked. A new home sits there where the old one sat, but it is very easy to imagine it how it was in 1830’s.

The main items traded from this post were fresh water, food and ship repairs. The story of the food traded is our story, the story of our ancestors… of who they were, of their likes and dislikes, their memories of home,  their traditional food, the food plants and animals their own ancestors co-evolved with, and of their excitement with new and unusual plants and animals that were being discovered around the world at the time of their immigration. The 1790’s through the 1830’s was a time of incredible discovery and trading and movement of all kinds of seeds, food plants, and animals all around the world, and they all came here. The remains of these old plantings aren’t so common any more and they are fast disappearing. It has been my privilege to have seen a great many of them and to have known the families who were connected to those plantings.

The stories, the remaining trees, and seeds feel sacred to me, and it almost feels like stealing, taking wood from these old trees, blackberries now gone wild, the wild peach seedlings whose grandparents remember the ship captains, the flowers that still strongly carry memories of home and families torn apart forever… I collect this plant material in the hope and with trust that the taking, growing, loving, and creating a new paradigm – a new way of living with the land, the ocean, with the memories and Taonga of our ancestors of this land – can be part of a new beginning, a time of regeneration, of being responsible, of standing up for the earth and our home.

I have spent a lot of time in the Pouto area with Logan in the past. It’s one of those very special areas where many trees have survived, and some have even naturalised, like the 200 year old olives and the peaches that grow from seed so easily. It has almost become a centre of biodiversity in New Zealand for olives, peaches, figs, and all of those species that came in with the early ship captains and especially the early Dalmatian gumdiggers. We were particularly focusing on saving a good range of the naturalised peaches and olives, but also came back with special Dalmatian fruit and vegetable cultivars including Jerusalem artichokes, apples, plums, and pears.

The heritage fruit trees in the Koanga  Collection are treasures from somebody’s garden, somebody who valued them and brought them to today. We are here to hold them, awhi them, and bring them to a new beginning. I would like to make a special thanks to Logan and Joice Forrest who have once again shown us their family treasures and endlessly shared the stories which gift us all a link back tour own stories.

Kay Baxter