Whitespace, 12 Crummer Road, Ponsonby, Auckland 2010

Look Up Kathie, Paintings and Monologue

 

This body of work consisting of small format figurative works on board and a monologue piece I have written to be performed by Sarah Knight, is drawn from research into the experiences of soldiers and pilots based at Guadalacanal in the Solomons and photographs taken by my grandfather in the last years of the war in the Pacific during his service in the RNZAF at Guadalcanal and in Fiji.

The images show only a little of the experience of my grandfather – his training at Seagrove and life at Henderson Field. They are captivating images for me, and especially because of the distance. The distance of time between me and him, that I never knew him, the distance of the images and the war being fought around him – I can hardly read into them any of the dirtiness and horror of war and especially the conditions for servicemen in the islands. These images were not to report on war so much as his enthusiasm for planes and snapshots of life off duty. Some even look like holiday snaps.

I have picked up a another parallel story that sits like a ghost in the images of historical events- that of my grandmother.

Anxious to start her life after years of war, she left New Zealand in 1944 to join her husband in Suva, where he was stationed. All was bright, war and the Depression were all but over, the waiting and anxiety had finished. Harry had got home safely and well. The new world was full of possibilities and adventure, new countries to explore were on the horizon. And soon, after seven years of marriage, they were expecting their first child.

However, the tropics and the pregnancy caused Kathie to get sick. Did she know she had latent TB before going to Fiji? Or of the risks of getting pregnant? I don’t know. She left on advice, with her baby daughter for New Zealand 1947 to “rest” while Harry saw out his contract back in Suva.

On arriving home, she was found to be even worse than suspected and was told she couldn’t return. Active TB is contagious, so she required hospitalisation which forced her to give her baby daughter over to the care of family members while she went into Ewart Hospital, Wellington. By 1949 new drugs were available in the fight against the disease and prospects of a cure were good. However, somehow, not for Kathie. After two years in hospital, fighting to get well, she died.

Sarah Knight performs Kathie’s Monologue, written by Emma Louise Pratt. Images courtesy of Barbara Cope, Matakana.