From Aspiring to 'Paradise' : the South Island myth and its enemies : a critical and creative investigation into the deconstruction of Aotearoa's Lakes District : presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Creative Writing at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Poetry and film are artistic modes for representing, interpreting and evaluating our
environment. Aotearoa’s poets have distilled the meanings we place on ‘places of the
heart’ since the first oral histories and lyrics were composed. Kiwi filmmakers have
also fixed their gaze on places layered with cultural significance, selecting Edens at
various stages of the Fall as settings for their protagonists to mess about in. With New
Zealand’s unique position as the last place on earth to be populated, the human
response to this landscape is a significant aspect of the nation’s psyche, and the
relationship between people and place remains an enduring motif in local writing and
cinema. My research stems from an exploration of the poetic and on-screen
representations of the Central Otago region as a cultural landscape generated by a
variety of spectators.
This paper takes an excursion into the high country of Te Wai Pounamu to see how
two key places have been sighted in terms of the South Island myth. The first place to
be framed is deep in the Matukituki valley. Here, the gaze of the nationalist era is
epitomised by the ill-fated Aspiring film project masterminded by Brian Brake and
scripted by James K. Baxter. The antithesis of their gaze can be seen in the ‘Paradise’
of Jane Campion’s post-feminist television mini-series Top of the Lake (2013). My
interest is in the swing from Brake and Baxter’s romanticizing of Aotearoa’s ‘Lakes
District’ to Campion’s brutalizing of it. How has the mythical South Island landscape
been established and then fractured by these artists?
These issues are also explored in my creative component, which draws upon my
critical report in order to devise my own response to the South Island myth through a
fictionalized journal / scrapbook entitled ‘Aspiring Daybook’.