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48-59_Helensville_NZT61_Final CAM monica's last look

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48-59_Helensville_NZT61_Final CAM monica's last look

  1. 1. Gibbs Farm where an Anish Kapoor sculpture peeks out of the meadow, horn of plenty invites exploration Photo courtesy Gibbs Farm NZTODAY Helensville 48 NZTODAY ISSUE 61 ISSUE 61 NZTODAY 49 Auckland Helensville -36.680025, 174.449290 Historic Helensville is well worth a daytrip or twin coast detour A n aerial view of historic Helensville resembles the title page of East Enders; more than a century ago the Kaipara region was on the map as Kairi harbour and gumdiggers El Dorado complete with river boat trips and spa retreats. These days its landscape hides sculpture parks, pioneer collections, a gannet colony and the New Zealand skydiving school. For the day-tripping window shoppers and foodies, the cafes and treasure shops alone are worth a detour. Follow the footsteps of our PM, the Helensville MP and discover the scenery seen from sea, from the air, from the river or by train.  at 40 minutes’ drive from Auckland Parallel worlds discovered Story Monica Louis Photos Maurice Louis
  2. 2. ISSUE 61 NZTODAY 51 NZTODAY Helensville height into the air for no apparent reason. In a pond a brick Loch Ness monster seemed to be frolicking just above water level and from the angle where we were standing, one of the sculptures looked like Casper the friendly ghost, poking his white sheet head over a hill top. With a bit of asking-around, we discovered that we had been traveling past Gibbs Farm, a world famous sculpture park featuring mainly abstract art by world famous sculptors from New Zealand and abroad. The farm does have open days in spring, summer and autumn but when we tried to make contact, we soon found out those days are booked solid and we had to accept that only a lucky few may find their way past the gates. But the moment had worked its magic and Maurice and I spent a few hours exploring the surrounding area for good angles to take photographs. We decided there and then that we had to come back and that sentiment deepened when we strolled though Helensville and met with John Perry who was packing up displays outside his ‘Global Village Empire’ about which I’ll tell you more later. NZTODAY editor Sarah was made enthusiastic by my babbling on about real magic and twin realities and hence we returned some weeks later to delve into the heart of historic Helensville. Historic homesteads and War Memorials Keeping in mind that this edition of NZTODAY is dedicated to the commemoration of the ANZAC landings in the Gallipoli Peninsula 100 years ago, we make a point of stopping at the War Memorial Hall which is housed in the same complex as the Helensville library on the main shopping street. In the Library I find some books on Helensville history and learn that the name Do you ever get the feeling there may be parallel worlds existing side by side to ours in a different dimension? It is a fantasy that highly appealed to me in grammar school, when I read a Jean Paul Sartre novel titled ‘The chips are down’ for the French literature assignment; it’s the story of a man and a women who were destined to be soulmates but they only meet in the afterlife due to a bureaucratic error made in heaven. They are given the chance to return to the world and have a second go at fulfilling their destiny. For weeks I was in the mood of the book and searched for reflections of silhouettes in shop windows hoping to catch glimpses of kindred spirits from ‘the other side’, quixotic energy pumping in my veins. Recently, I had that same sensation hit me like a deja-vu. Maurice and I were travelling south from the Northland Peninsula and decided to detour via State Highway 16 to suss out the other side of the twin coast discovery highway. Half dreaming and with my eyes on the horizon, close to Kaukapakapa just north of Helensville, I spotted a bigger-than-life giraffe grazing in some broad, well-maintained rolling meadows. I saw that Maurice had noticed it too and we had to pinch ourselves, happy to be travelling together because, for a moment, we both thought we were losing a few marbles. A little further, a giant red horn of plenty was half buried in the landscape, both ends sticking out urging an invitation to wander in and explore its underground chambers. Next, a water organ was spitting fountains of varied Two giraffes but who is the impostor? Jeff Thomson corrugated giraffe with mate, spot the difference… Photo: Rory Thomson Casper the friendly ghost, or more correctly Neil Dawson’s sculpture “horizons” Photo courtesy Gibbs Farm A rare Loch Ness monstersightingnorth of Helensville Photo courtesy Gibbs Farm Helensville comes from the villa John McLeod built for his wife Helen in the 1860s. The McLeod brothers John and Isaac, were early settlers who had come from Nova Scotia to New Zealand and who built the first Kauri sawmill on the Kaipara harbour. I also learn that there is a war memorial cemetery and statue as well as the war memorial hall and I head out to find these while Maurice scouts the streets to shoot some first impression photos. Studying a plaque with the names of Helensville citizens who were amongst the fallen soldiers, victims of the ‘great’ wars, brings home the ANZAC Day meaning to me; here, engraved in the copper plate are the names of E.W. McLeod – Official Number number 412945 and 32434 D.C. McLeod , two of the casualties of WW2. Real people, real descendants from Helensville’s founding fathers! I ponder the far reaching effects of war; a small town in New Zealand probably seeing most of it’s able bodied young men marching off to a battle at the other side of the planet; maybe they fought in Egypt, Tunisia or Italy. The Helensville War Memorial Hall, statue and cemetery remembering ANZAC Pioneer Helensville started with the McLeod brothers-and at every occasion the town dresses up
  3. 3. NZTODAY Helensville 52 NZTODAY ISSUE 61 ISSUE 61 NZTODAY 53 Before moving to New Zealand I had visited Monte Cassino, south of Rome. It is the site of an ancient monastery where the order of St Benedict was founded in the early Middle-Ages; I had been to the abbey when I was living and working in Italy. But it wasn’t until 2010 when my friend, Margerita Giampietri from Whitianga, was selected as one of the artists for the Legato Exhibition that was held in Cassino that year, that I learned of the connection of the Italian town with the second New Zealand division in WW2. I wonder if this is where one of the McLeods lost his life in the futile attempt to break through the German’s Gustav line. During my visits to the war memorials, Maurice discovered the Railway Museum and the Ginger Crunch Café. So we opted for brunch at the Ginger Crunch and I can recommend their crunch-cookies as the perfect comfort food after all my serious ANZAC musing. After lunch, I succeeded in persuading Maurice to check out the hot mineral pools at Parakai. In pre-European times, when Helensville was known to Maori as Awaroa, the hot springs were known and already valued for their healing qualities. Originally they were natural mud pools in the plains but in the 1920s, the Helensville domain was known far and wide as a regular hotspot for Spa visitors and there were times when the boarding houses couldn’t cope with the demand from tourists coming to soak in the healing waters. These days, there are several pools to choose from; the municipal hot-pools in the Parakai domain have large public pools and are a favourite for families thanks to the giant water slides. Opposite the public pools, Palm Springs Spa has recently refurbished and the upmarket Parakai Spring Lodge and Spa uses the natural mineral water to supply their pool and Jacuzzi. I deeply regret not having more time because I would have loved a soak, but duty calls. Parakai, which is simply Kaipara switched around a bit, also has an airport and I had made an appointment to meet Fiona McLaren the manager of New Zealand’s only skydiving school where in under a year you can get your diploma in commercial sky diving. Housed in the same venue as the Auckland Sky Diving Company, the school is the only place in New Zealand where you can learn to become a qualified DZ Operator (drop zone) and there are plans to school skydiving instructors in the future. For that you need more than 700 jumps! In New Zealand today, skydiving is a popular adventure activity and booming tourism business but if you want to jump without an instructor, you need a licence. It isn’t surprising that there are stringent health and safety regulations governing sport and recreational skydiving. For your basic licence, you need a minimum of 25 jumps including consolidation jumps under the guidance of an instructor, before being allowed to go it alone. After that, you can make your own jump plan and be unaccompanied at any DZs but you do need to become a member of a parachuting organisation. There are several DZs in New Zealand, but I was surprised to hear this is the only school in preparing for a commercial skydiving diploma. The popular 32-week full time course includes 200 jumps, as well as modules about freefall camera and video operation, spotting, accuracy, and meteorology as well as a business model on how to operate a DZ. Fiona got her licence in the UK and worked all over the world in skydiving. Before moving to Parakai, she was in Taupo and Motueka. There are about 10 permanent staff in the school of whom six are jump staff and the atmosphere with the team is cool and laid-back – an ambiance symbolised by the large bean bags on the lookout deck from where one can leisurely watch the multi-coloured parcels drop from the big blue. I guess this is another bucket list item; learn how to freefall. Cool down in cool bean bags before or after jumping Parakai Helensville in the distance Fiona McLaren, not related to the racing car driver Parakai Spring Lodge hot pool An ambiance symbolised by the large bean bags on the lookout deck from where one can leisurely watch the multi- coloured parcels drop from the big blue. Mineral springs and New Zealand’s Skydiving School
  4. 4. ISSUE 61 NZTODAY 55 Trash art and collector’s chaos Maurice and I both have a bucket list as long as Auckland’s A to Z but let’s not complain; better to die in the middle of learning something new, rather than to be found seated in an armchair waiting for the days to turn over. On the top of Maurice’s list, is learning to sculpt with trash. In the South of France where he grew up, there is an art movement sometimes referred to as l’Ecole de Nice. These artists wanted to bring down the boundaries of art as untouchable museum pieces validated by experts and instead, create a direct connection between the spectator and the artist. Ben, Niki de Saint Phalle and her husband Jean Tingley and Cesar Baldacinni can be said to fit in this movement. (If you’re interested Google them and l’ecole de Nice and Fluxus) Maurice greatly admires Cesar whom he met. Cesar sculptures are often made from scrap metal or polyurethane creating destructively figurative images from crushed cutlery or cars or melted foam turds. While roaming through Helenville’s streets Maurice spotted the plaque outside Kiwi sculptor Jeff Thomson’s studio and peaking over the fence he became an instant fan. Jeff Thomson is probably best known to most of us for the Taihape gumboot or for his corrugated-iron ’73 HQ Holden, now in the permanent collection of Te Papa. Jeff would fit in the Ecole de Nice just like that (to quote Tommy Cooper) not least because he is utterly approachable and easily agrees to meet us for a tour of his workplace. And there it is again; the parallel-worlds phenomena; as soon as I’ve set foot inside the gate I feel like the child who wants to move in with her best friend’s family because their home feels so much more like the place where she belongs. Jeff’s wife Shona welcomes us in what could be called the antechamber, a room the size of a large alcove with a wall filled to the ceiling with beautiful bent metal objects. The front courtyard has a little patch, like a corrugated iron version of LEGOLAND, assembling a deckchair, cactus, various trees and giant bird topiary, all made from iron, woven, patched, stacked, braided, moulded, curled or stringed and mingling with live greenery to melt into a fantasy world. The sun shines and I would happily have taken a book from the library and nestled in the deckchair with a corrugated cocktail and waste some time … Corrugated rubber Photo: Rory Thomson Jeff and Shona
  5. 5. NZTODAY Helensville ISSUE 61 NZTODAY 57 Jeff’s story is fascinating – creative talents discovered and nurtured early on during high school, yet for a year or so he drops out of ELAM art school, searching for a direction and he initially strands up in Dunedin. Here solitary weekdays are alternated with weekends hanging out with a mate after walking four hours into town and walking back to solitude after the weekend. Those walks are the start for longer walks, the first one being a 13 day stretch from Dunedin to Christchurch. I imagine Jeff, like a Hansel without Gretel wandering through New Zealand’s countryside in order to find himself which, of course, he does. On his path he finds ‘roadside jewellery’ – beads, tin caps and pieces of coloured metal which become one of the inspirations for his personal aesthetics. Road signs, post boxes, typography on advertising boards; he records, draws and photographs what he saw, and he started dropping marketing flyers in the post boxes of farms offering to create personalised artwork for them. Working with corrugated iron dates from this period, post boxes decorations and small objects, and to this day he is in his own words still discovering new ways of making the material speak. His commitment goes from sourcing curving rollers to do his own corrugating to painting and decorating the material with his own screen prints – which were in fact the two primary disciplines from his time at ELAM School of Fine Arts (painting and printmaking rather than sculpture) Jeff did return to ELAM after his wandering, followed by awards and scholarships and artist in residence fellowships. And more travel. He went overseas for months at a time and we discover he spent time not far from where I was born in Holland. Family circumstances brought him back to his father’s farm in Kaukapakapa, near Helensville which is not that far from Castor Bay, North Shore where he grew up. In 2013, the Tauranga Art Gallery published a catalogue/textbook on the occasion of an exhibition which is presently still travelling New Zealand; Corrugations – the art of Jeff Thomson. The book is well worth having and still available for ordering online from the gallery. While Jeff, Shona and I chat, Maurice snoops around like a kid in a lolly jar – the huge shed is stocked like a hoarder’s den with numerous collections, toys, masks, a large jar of roadside jewellery and the muchness is almost hiding the Jeff’s many works of art the way trees are hidden by the forest. We meet his loyal assistant, recognise the style of the new Helensville public toilets in the big water tanks in the back yard and are tempted to enquire about the price of a smaller one which doubles as a corrugated fish tank complete with goldfish swimming past the portholes. We have to leave feeling wanting more but in awe of the sheer undeniable talent. And guess what; the giraffe on Gibbs Farm is an original Jeff Thomson. Jeff has to get to work on his installation for the opening next week of Waiheke Island Sculpture on the Gulf and we are meeting next with John Perry, a colourful character who really merits a story all by himself. Director of the Bathhouse, Rotorua’s art and history museum for 20 years, curator, private and professional collector and now proprietor of Global Village, John greets us on the doorsteps of the former Regent Cinema turned antique shop. He is just packing up the outdoor displays for the day. We have an appointment with John Perry whose Global Village Antiques reside in the former Regent Cinema Nature and man made garden - woven, moulded, shredded or twisted iron Helensville public toilet – a Jeff Thomson original and inside a Jeff Thomson water tank Early work - Holden, Post box art Photos courtesy Rory Thomson
  6. 6. NZTODAY Helensville ISSUE 61 NZTODAY 59 We are invited up for a cuppa tea on the balcony and on our way upstairs John explains that his life is an ongoing fight between chaos and structure, which is immediately illustrated as we squeeze our way past objects of beauty waiting for their 15 minutes of fame. Artist, gallerist and style inspiration for others, he really is the quintessential collector and he himself is quick to bring up the question of the fine line between hoarder and collector. We find we share a passion for naïve art also called folk art and John can’t wait to take us up the ladder John’s treasures are sought after by collectors of cinema memerobelia flyers in the mail box will be worth collecting. Just like matchboxes and postcards they represent our era and everyone throws them in the trash. Two generations[40-50 years] from now they will become valuable and looked upon with wonder and amazement. Shipwrecks and Kauri mills For a small town, it is amazing that there is a pioneer museum as well as a railway museum housed in the railway station. Helensville is proud of its history and many volunteers help to keep memories alive. Early European settlement in the area was lured by the prospect of prosperity; the Kaipara harbour seemed to offer an easy entrance to the Kaipara River winding into the hinterland. The shores were lined by tall Kauri trees, valuable material for ship’s masts and other repairs. In those early days, easy access to waterways would have been what the M1 is now; in 1845 Ernest Dieffenbach, a surveyor for the Wakefield Land Company described the area as a potential place where labour and capital may be profitably employed (from - Tall spars, steamers & gum by Wayne Ryburn) – but when Maurice and I meet with the volunteers at the Helensville Pioneer Museum, we soon learn that the harbour is littered with many shipwrecks. A big map shows their position. The museum houses several collections illustrating the history of the milling period, with a recently added shed full of tools and bush memorabilia. There is of course ample information about the founding families, about gum diggers and the harbour and the railway allowing development of the dairy industry. The annual A&P show held the last Saturday in February is still going strong, 115 years since it was inaugurated. These days, Auckland day- trippers find their way to Helensville to do a spot of shopping, maybe take a boat trip from Riverhead, visit the gannet Colony at Muriwai or simply enjoy a Sunday brunch. The iSite is a quirky meeting point –part café, part bookshop, part art gallery and a place for WiFi access. Maurice and I have last refreshment there before setting off for the other twin of the Twin Coasts. It was a complete eye-opener and I am reminded of a favourite quote by former UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold; only he who keeps his eyes fixed on the far horizon will find the right way. Well … off the highway we certainly found a new byway. to where one of his latest groupings has just returned from an expo called ‘Outsider Art’ – the folk art of New Zealand. Turns out John is quite an expert for Pacific folk art which also includes tribal art from the islands, Maori art and work done by the early pioneers who were not schooled artists but all the same they captured the impressions of their environment like a Paul Gauguin or a Vincent van Gogh. John shows us his collection of movie memorabilia which includes posters, magazines and tickets and shares his tip for budding collectors; I predict that the free advertising Objects of beauty waiting for a collector The museum is a work of love for the many volunteers