new zealand electronic poetry centre


Kendrick Smithyman

about Kendrick Smithyman



Judith Binney

Originally published in brief 26 (January 2003): 87-91. 

18 July 1993: the phone rings. Kendrick says, "Good morning." I wait. "At Hokianga, Queen Victoria's footprint is caught in the clay of the riverbank, when she returned there to re-sign the Treaty. They cut it out, and kept it, marked in the clay. It will be revealed in the proper time, they say."

Mad, early morning phone conversations with Kendrick were part of my life for as long as I can remember. Hand-written notes about oddities wended their way through Auckland University's internal mail system, most undated. At Oturei, where Kendrick grew up and where the Hokianga prophet Aperahama Taonui is buried in exile, Kendrick reported that the Rainbow Warrior's mast was brought to rest, after the ship was destroyed by the French government's saboteurs. Kendrick knew his cemeteries: he photographed all the nineteenth-century carved wooden grave markers found uniquely in the north, mostly around Hokianga. With his bright magpie-eye, he searched hidden corners of his world for ambivalent iconography and quixotic dreams.

He and I combed through the manuscript of the early Hokianga trader and settler, John Webster, held in the Auckland City Library, which Kendrick transcribed and which we once thought of editing together (but never did). It was an important source for Kendrick's masterly poem-cycle, Atua Wera. Webster revealed, to our mutual delight, that there were two contemporary Hokianga prophets living near Omanaia in 1847, one young and one old: Papahurihia (also called Te Atua Wera) and Te Nakahi (The Serpent). All historical accounts amalgamated them, and the editors of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography determined to keep it that way, overruling exploration of possible multiple identities. As the plot thickened and editorial obstinancy continued, Kendrick's pleasure intensified.

At Oturei, Aperahama Taonui, ‘successor’ to Papahurihia but who was not Te Nakahi, lies buried under a layer of broken bottles to prevent his exhumation and return to Omanaia. His religious teachings were rejected there during his lifetime but his footprint is depicted, stamped onto a black marble bible on a monument at the marae. Fascinated by Aperahama who, as judge F.E. Maning observed, was probably ‘a little too crazy’,1 Kendrick went in search of Aperahama's missing ‘twelve’ prophetic books. At Omanaia, he met the Titore brothers, who were the guardians of the archive in the collapsing washhouse, and also Mrs Harama, who had been a member of the movement since her childhood. In 1987, Kendrick sent a copy of his earliest published version of ‘Night Riding and other Papahurihia Poems’ and commented:





When he came to Atua Wera, Kendrick said:

Judi prefers to think of him as sign of fiery return: ‘God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!’

…  Behind Waima
behind Omanaia
the district’s tall point,
Ngapukehaua the tops which are angry
because that’s their way.  
A high place most suitable
for a god of wrath 2

Then, in 1988, Kendrick commented, as he studied a draft of my essay on Papahurihia for the Dictionary and forgetting that he had already mentioned Mrs Harama,


Later came Kendrick's songs for Te Kooti Arikirangi. Kendrick sent me this poem in 1991. It was based on a small textual note buried in J. A. Mackay's vast work, Historic Poverty Bay.3 Kendrick noted, and delighted in an oral ‘memory’ of the 1860s shaped by a fashion in clothing from the early 1880s. The poem, published in Redemption Songs, was included posthumously in Atua Wera.4


 Shortly after Redemption Songs was published in 1995, there was another early morning phone call: the collectively-owned Maori schooner, the Queen, on which Te Kooti had sailed during the 1850s and entered in the shipping register as 3500 tons, was, he noted, nearly as big as the old Wanganella. Kendrick commented, perhaps I should check the placing of a decimal point?

There are no more early morning phone calls. But to find the unexpected detail, and especially the improbable and the impossible, is always to remember Kendrick.


1   Maning to Native Department, [2 October 1882], NZ MSS 68, Auckland City Library.
‘Atua', Atua Wera, Auckland, 1997, p.65.
2nd ed., 1966, p.236
J. Binney,, Redemption Songs, Auckland, 1995, p.542; Atua Wera, p.187.


Last updated 28 March, 2003