Māui’s Anchor Chain

At the dawn of the day, in the great Southern Ocean
When the world’s greatest fish was being landed
And the boat they were pulling it into was sinking
And the sea was quite lumpy, and the weather was foul

– From We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are, lyrics by John Clarke aka Fred Dagg

A visit to Bluff last year resulted in an encounter with what I think must be one of New Zealand’s best artworks – it’s clever, witty and well thought-out. And although I was at the mainland end of the chain, the story actually started on Stewart Island, which was my next port of call.

The anchor chain ‘goes into’ Foveaux Strait at Stirling Point, Bluff. Photo: Sandra Simpson
And ‘comes out’ of’ Foveaux Strait at Lee Bay, Stewart Island. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Rakiura National Park, which covers most of Stewart Island, was established in 2002 with the chain sculpture that marks its entrance in Lee Bay being unveiled a year later. The sculpture symbolises the anchor chain of the demigod Māui who, by tradition, anchored his canoe (Te Waka a Māui, the South Island) with Te Punga a Māui (Rakiura/Stewart Island) as he fished up Te Ika a Māui (the North Island). Stirling Point at Bluff didn’t get its piece of the chain until 2009, and there the sculpture includes a shackle to connect it to the stern of the canoe.

Someone had got into the spirit of the anchor chain and plaited a flax frond beside it at Lee Bay. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Southland local Russell Beck (1941-2018) was the creator of both pieces of chain – the one ‘going into the sea’ at Stirling Point is shiny, while the piece ‘coming out of the sea’ at Lee Bay is rust-coloured. I love the thought that went into that. Russell was an archaeologist, museum curator and artist. What a full life he led. Wikipedia notes that the chain sculpture was made with the help of his three sons, one of whom is Peter Beck of RocketLab, and his wife.

Just for fun, here’s the much-lamented Fred Dagg (John Clarke) performing We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are with some famous (to New Zealanders of a certain age) faces helping out.

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