Photographer to bring pioneers’ stories to life

Bluff photojournalist Maree Frewen-Wilks will use her love of black-and- white film photography to document Southland’s culturally diverse past and present.

FUNDING is being sought for a photographic project which will document Southland’s vast and culturally diverse history.

Photojournalist Maree Frewen-Wilks, of Bluff, is appealing to councillors and other prominent people in the community to endorse her project before she reapplies for national funding.

The social documentary project will take form in a book or exhibition and will tell the story
of Southland’s history through pictures and interviews with the people who have made the
region home.

Her first proposal was rejected by the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage last year, after it failed to meet specific guidelines.

She said for her second proposal to be accepted, she would give it a much better shot.

Frewen-Wilks spoke with the Southland District Council about her project in January, and
was granted permission to use the Southland District Archives for her research.

‘‘The meeting was really about securing a letter of support from the council. I believe they’ve got other things they want to put their money into, but if I can get letters of support from councils around Southland and prominent people, I can then go to national funding through Creative New Zealand and Art Heritage and Culture.’’

One of her official endorsers is Southland Museum & Art Gallery manager Wayne Marriot, who has been aware of Frewen-Wilks’ work since 1996.

‘‘This is an opportunity to do something we should have undertaken in the 19th century when migrants first arrived in New Zealand — the first wave since the arrival of Maori around the 12th century. We also had several waves of migration post World War II, and also the arrival of Pacifica communities during the 1960s,’’ he wrote.

As most funders require applications for projects that haven’t yet begun, Frewen-Wilks said she was waiting on funding before taking the project beyond the conceptual stage. Once started, she intended to travel across Southland to photograph and interview descendants of migrants who settled in the region.

‘‘I was talking to a lady the other day whose ancestors were Norwegian sailors who settled in Bluff five generations ago. Everywhere I go, there’s people with similar stories,’’ she said.

‘‘I want to go back to the 1800s and see how many generations are here, then I want their story to be recorded so they can remember about their grandmother or grandfather or stories in the family. If there’s any story about coming over here on a ship, any about being a pioneer woman — I want to develop it so there will be a place in the museum or in the archives that will forever have the story at home in Southland, where our story begins.

‘‘It hasn’t been done before, and it needs to be done.’’

Frewen-Wilks said she also planned to meet first-generation migrants who had settled in Southland in recent times.

‘‘There are a lot of seventh-generation people living in Southland like the Naismith family on Stewart Island — he [the patriarch] was a teleclerk from Scotland.

‘‘There’s people from Yugoslavia and Italy who built the Manapouri tailrace and the Manapouri dam project, and their families are still here.’’

Frewen-Wilks said the timeframe of the project depended on funding and working around Covid, as while she would be able to conduct interviews over the phone and internet, the photography aspect would require being able to travel.