A new seven-part video series explores what it means to be Pākehā, 250 years after Captain Cook's arrival in New Zealand.

If you see Captain Cook striding through the streets of Wellington with a group of tourists tagging along, get set for a colonial history lesson with a difference.

Director Jo Randerson and actor Tom Clarke's walking tour of the city, Captain Cook Thinks Again, takes aim at New Zealand's icon of colonisation and asks participants to rethink how they view Cook's arrival to this country and the lasting impact it has had.

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In the final episode of NZ On Air-funded online documentary series Land of the Long White Cloud, Randerson explains: "As Pākehā we sometimes try to distance ourselves with 'oh that was Cook and his ways back then'. We ignore how much of that thinking we still carry in us."

Clarke, who plays a humorously merciless Cook in the walking tour, says that putting on the colonial garb for the performance "feels so horribly loaded". But award-winning playwright and theatre producer, Randerson, explains "I was really using [Cook] as a vehicle for us to unpack what colonial thinking looks like."

Actor Tom Clarke, who plays Captain Cook on a guided walking tour of Wellington. Photo / Mint Suite
Actor Tom Clarke, who plays Captain Cook on a guided walking tour of Wellington. Photo / Mint Suite

Geared as much to New Zealanders as it is to international tourists, the tour guides participants around significant historical sites at Wellington's waterfront, and asks them to consider how the events that occurred there have been framed historically and how that is often inaccurate. As Clarke's Cook puts it "Bing, bang, bong, history everywhere you look."

Randerson and Clarke created the show in response to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage's announcement of a plan to spend $23 million to commemorate 250 years since Captain Cook's arrival in New Zealand.

The decision proved controversial, particularly among Māori who have suffered under colonisation. After 250 years, Māori make up more than half of New Zealand's prison population, are less likely to receive adequate medical care, have low home ownership rates, high unemployment rates and lower median incomes than non-Māori.

But the Ministry promised that the Tuia 250 commemorations would provide an opportunity to "hold honest conversations about the past, the present and how we navigate our shared future".

Randerson argues that we need to acknowledge that "we're racist here" and that Pākehā "have some work to do" to make it better.

Clarke agrees that Pākehā need to face the issues in New Zealand that have resulted from colonisation: "If you've got a problem in your relationship you have to talk about it rather than ignoring it."

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Actor Tom Clarke, who plays Captain Cook in a one-man show, and director Jo Randerson. Photo / Mint Suite
Actor Tom Clarke, who plays Captain Cook in a one-man show, and director Jo Randerson. Photo / Mint Suite

When creating Captain Cook Thinks Again, Clarke says he was horrified to learn how violent Cook's first encounters in Aotearoa were. He describes how his own thinking around Cook was shaped through school and a widely accepted national narrative that disregarded Māori: "I would say that Captain Cook 'discovered' New Zealand and I wouldn't think more broadly about why that was a problematic phrase."

Last month, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand history would become a compulsory part of the national curriculum in 2022. The government is seeking consultation with "historical and curriculum experts, iwi and mana whenua, Pacific communities, students and ākonga, parents and whānau, and other groups with a strong interest in shaping how New Zealand history is taught", according to Education Minister Chris Hipkins.

Director Kathleen Winter says she never thought she would be presenting Captain Cook on screen but that she chose Captain Cook Thinks Again because she felt the show "spoke truths to Pākehā that we desperately need to hear, and that needed to be shared more widely". She explains that Randerson and Clarke have "somehow managed to blend humour with historical honesty to present an incredibly confronting performance".

The documentary ends with Clarke's Cook putting the onus on all New Zealanders to take action: "I hand it over to you. And to me. And to all of us. What are we going to do?"

Watch all the episodes at nzherald.co.nz/captaincook