The Marsden Point Oil Refinery used to produce 70 percent of New Zealand's refined oil needs, creating transport fuels from crude oil shipped to the refinery in a deep-water port near Whangārei. A key part of the local economy, the refinery was decommissioned in April 2022.
For locals the refinery had been both an employer but also a polluter of the landscape for over 60 years. For iwi Ngātiwai it was also on land illegally confiscated by the Crown. Yet it’s complex: artist Ngahuia Harrison’s (Ngātiwai, Ngāpuhi) grandfather helped build the refinery’s original iconic chimneys, her uncles and dad helped pull them down and her cousins put the new ones up.
Marsden Point is just one of many reference points around the harbour Whangārei Te Rerenga Parāoa (the gathering place of whales or chiefs) in the work of artist and researcher Ngahuia Harrison, whose work is concerned with the complexity of perspectives on property and her hapū and iwi’s relationship to both the water and land.
In her major exhibition Coastal Cannibals at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, with a camera, Ngahuia Harrison offers different views on our landscape than we are used to seeing in a frame. She considers the complexity of perspectives, from kaimoana gathering sites to brand new suburban waterfront property developments.
Harrison’s research for this project focused on the impact of government legislation on the harbour, principally the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act of 2011, and the legislation historically before it, seeking to provide ways for Māori to get legal recognition of their customary rights.
Exhibition title Coastal Cannibals asks us who the cannibals are or, as Harrison puts it, “who is eating away at what?”. It was inspired by the use of the word cannibal in descriptions by Pākehā writer James Cowan of a Ngātiwai tupuna. At the time they were removed by legislation in 1894 from Te Hauturu-o-toi Little Barrier Island to create New Zealand’s first nature reserve.
Ngahuia Harrison: Coastal Cannibals runs until 21 January.