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“Twelve Days” - making the short film about Captain Cook and Whitianga.

By Stan Stewart.

In 1998 the Mercury Bay Historical Society approached me and asked would I make a short film about Captain Cook’s stay in Mercury Bay in 1769. They had heard of some documentaries I had made. James Cook stayed in the Bay for twelve days and there are excellent records of what happened here during that time. Primarily, he came to observe and record the transit of Mercury after recording the transit of Venus in Tahiti prior to coming to these waters.

I was pleased to do the project and became very immersed in the history of the time. For one year we worked preparing, writing and producing the documentary. Deciding on a title was easy – ‘Twelve Days’. This was the length of time James Cook, with his crew on the Endeavour, stayed anchored in Mercury Bay.

In the beginning, I asked the Society for whom was I making this film – who was the audience they were wanting to view ‘Twelve Days’?

‘Older children and teens’ was the response. For me, that set the scene. This film could not just be about dry facts. It had to be more than a visualisation of the records from James Cook and Joseph Banks that are to be found in the expansive archives.

I decided to create the story around two old men - fishing mates who spent much of their time arguing. One would be Pakeha and the other, Māori. Living in karangahake Gorge, I knew of relationships like this and I asked two of my good friends, Keith and Harry to be the actors. With some trepidation, they both agreed. Then, here in Whitianga, the Historical Society found me a first-rate BBC voice to provide narration at certain points (apologies – name forgotten) and I had my cast. The project obtained permission to use footage of the Endeavour replica ship in New Zealand waters. After some research, I found wonderful musical recordings by a Māori artist which we purchased.

My camera man and digital editor was Dean Jackson. Dean and I had successfully worked together on other projects. To do the necessary tasks of scene setting and assistant production, I had the help of my good friends, dairy farmers but also artists, Willem and Carla Van de Veen.

The film interweaves the arguments of the two old friends, with historical records primarily from the journals of Cook and Banks and other historic, astronomical and scientific sources.

My overarching aim was twofold.

Firstly, I wanted to make it plain that the arrival of Cook was and is, perceived from two different perspectives. The first of these is the Māori understanding of Cook’s arrival and its subsequent consequences. The other is the British and European concept of colonization. These two different views are alive and well debated in our culture today.

Secondly, there was the issue to do with the ownership and development of the Coromandel, in our time and in the future. The final scene with the two old guys in their dinghy being tossed about by the wake of a passing launch is my way of raising a warning. “Watch out!” Harry calls. I felt it necessary to raise this as a warning. It seemed to me then, as it still does now, that money and private investment could dominate and lock up the beautiful Coromandel. ‘Watch out!”, be on your guard to see that does not happen. Also, “Watch out!“ is another kind of warning about Māori and from Māori – New Zealand is a multi - cultural country, the need for real partnerships and not token partnerships is coming!

It was my intention that the video be accompanied by a discussion booklet. The aim of this booklet would be to provide a framework for class discussion of these two issues: 1) The Māori and the European different views of Cook’s arrival. 2) How much should monied interests from New Zealand and overseas be allowed to own the Coromandel. What about partnerships between races- how does it work out in a new century? This booklet was never produced and as far as I know the video was not screened in schools.

However, I was pleased to see it was available for viewing on request in the Mercury Bay Museum for around 20 years. On a visit a couple of years ago, I noticed “Twelve Days’ was advertised on a permanent plinth outside the museum. At the entrance desk to the museum, I was delighted to see a stack of digital copies of ‘Twelve Days’ for sale. “It’s a very good film,” the Museum receptionist told me. I did not introduce myself, but I did purchase one for $20. (All of my copies are now packed away in boxes in Auckland – which box? No one knows). My only disappointment with the DVD was that my name was misspelt. Instead of Stewart, it was printed as Steward. Small beer really. I was just pleased the film we had made so long ago was still being viewed.


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