Brigid Magner Reviews Kerry Hines

By | 1 August 2015

Photographs of the early colonial era generally feature unsmiling people standing stiffly, not betraying any emotion. Similarly, the group of figures in front of a wharenui in Tuhara appear ghostly and remote, bearing virtually no relation to the present day. In Williams’s work there are images like this one which conform to conventions of the period, but there are also photographs which are strikingly modern in the way the subjects look at the camera, especially those featuring intimate friends and family. In parallel, Hines’ poems perform acts of empathetic identification with distant figures, rendering them perceptible, if only fleetingly. The female voice in ‘Uncos’ is matter of fact about the losses of migration:

We have no seasons,
Only tides

Most people die of drowning or
Are missing, presumed drowned.

Neither the same, nor opposite –
Somehow perverse –

Like studying your husband 
in the mirror.

We are living out of boxes,
Re-ordering what we’ve lost

The image on the opposite page is of a woman dressed in black sitting on the verandah of a small post office, patting a dog with her husband standing nearby in dirty farming gear. While the image and poem are not exactly in synch, they are mutually suggestive. In Young Country Hines’s poetry – placed alongside Williams’s photographs – provides the reader with a sense of the human texture of life in late nineteenth century New Zealand, a site which has obvious resonances with the Australian experience. Reminiscent of Laurie Duggan’s epic history of Gippsland The Ash Range (1987), Hines’s Young Country draws the reader’s attention to the historical artefacts informing the literary text, encouraging a dialogue between nineteenth century images and twenty-first century words. It’s a work of meticulous scholarship and creativity that deserves to be discussed on both sides of the Tasman.

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