Inspired by the immersive digital storytelling of Van Gogh Alive, Motat’s Rachel Bush talks about capturing Aotearoa’s aviation story in Te Kōtiu and her own love of flight.
I grew up in the windswept, salt-drenched suburb of Tapu-te-Ranga/Island Bay in Wellington. Perched precariously on the cliff, my family home, known as the Crow’s Nest, looked out to Cook Strait and the Kaikōuras. From there, I’d watch the seagulls catch thermals and updrafts or battle the southerly sweeping in, marvelling at their ability to hold steady.
Driving around the bays to the airport, we’d see planes taking off and landing at one of the smallest runways in the world. In the 1970s, it was to drop off Dad [legendary photographer Peter Bush] as he joined an All Blacks tour of the UK. Grappling with multiple camera bags, he’d plead for a bit of lenience at the check-in. Oh, how I wished I could be on that plane flying somewhere.
Then finally, it was me, on my OE to the United States to work at a ski field in the northwest. “Grab that adventure — you’re only young once,” I remember Dad saying, as I cried walking up the gangplank.
Now in his 90s, he’s still nestled in the Crow’s Nest above the rocks and churning sea. When I fly down from Tāmaki Makarau to visit him, I can almost see the house before the aeroplane turns as it descends for a smooth landing, or occasionally a terrifyingly bumpy one.
The manu [birds] — mostly seagulls and now tūī, kōtare and once even a kākā from Zealandia — soar above the South Coast whenever I return. But none as impressive as the kuaka [bar-tailed godwit].
From a Māori and from a science perspective, the kuaka is extraordinary, not only because it has the longest flight path of any bird [an 11,000km non-stop migration from Alaska to Aotearoa], but also because of how they gather together to create a V formation, protecting their young in the middle and illustrating flight in its most efficient form.
It was a wonderful kaumātua from the Kaipara, Hone Martin (Ngātiwai, Ngātiwhatua, Ngāti Tautahi, Te Uri o Hau), who brought those parallels to our attention and how the kuaka could help us tell the story of flight in Te Kōtiu, the stunning new immersive digital experience in Motat’s Aviation Hall.
Te Kōtiu, which means to swoop or dart like a kite, highlights key moments in Aotearoa’s aviation history, projected against the fuselage of our two flying boats, the Short Solent and the Sunderland. Watching old footage of the Short Solent taking off across Evans Bay and the Waitemāta makes me appreciate how ambitious our early aviation and powered flights were. Seeing those boats lift off the water reminds me of giant clumsy swans.
We’ve got the aviation trailblazers, of course, with Richard Pearse, Jean Batten, George Bolt and the Walsh brothers, and Battle of Britain fighter pilot Keith Park. Then the regional airlines began popping up across New Zealand, flying people around even before some of the roads were properly formed, and Union Airways [which began operating in the 1930s] transporting sheep and whitebait. With Teal [as Air New Zealand was originally called], we wanted to highlight the Coral Route to the Pacific Islands and the beauty of that.
We also wanted to celebrate the diversity that’s coming into aviation. Angela Cronin (Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata) was the first Māori wahine pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. She’s flying for Air New Zealand now. Jean Batten is one of our leading aviators and there are many others now, but when we did a test run with Te Kōtiu, one of the little kids watching it said they didn’t know that women flew!
— As told to Joanna Wane
- Rachel Bush is Motat’s senior exhibitions content developer. Featuring the digitised manu aute kite works of artist Nikau Hindin (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi), Te Kōtiu traces New Zealand’s aviation history from “lady aeronaut” Leila Adair, a hot-air balloonist who performed aerobatic tricks in the late 1890s, to the modern aerospace industry. The projection runs hourly in the Aviation Hall from 10.30am.
- On October 12, Michelle Noordermeer, the co-founder of enviro-tech business Carbon Click, will discuss ways to reduce aviation carbon emissions as part of a series of free evening talks in the Aviation Hall. Register at motat.nz/events.