Monday, October 11, 2010

Last update from Pauline Reynolds-Barff

By the time this article is published, my 6 week Round-the-World scholarship will have come to an end … I’ll be home and wondering, ‘did it all happen to me?’.

Firstly, I wish to encourage anyone who has a worthwhile project of benefit to our island and/or our culture, to apply for a Churchill Fellowship. What a wonderful opportunity to broaden one’s horizons and on return give back to the community. Sir Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  His life is awe inspiring, and what better way to assure his memory lives on than these Memorial Fellowships?

Pauline in the archives at the Royal Scottish Museum
The fellowship has allowed me to see around 40 pieces of Pitcairn barkcloth and some of the beaters that were used to make them.  This data will provide valuable information about the makers - the Bounty women and their daughters.

Whilst the studying of barkcloth in itself is fascinating, the stories related to each piece make the Pitcairn barkcloths even more interesting. The curators have been equally eager to know more about them, so it really has been a two way street.

It has been a moving experience touching these pieces, knowing they were made by my foremothers (and the foremothers of many of you reading this article now). Whilst they were creating this fibre to clothe themselves and their children, they were also creating the fabric of the new society on Pitcairn.  They truly were pioneering women, and deserve much more than the historical fiction that has been written about them to date and that I am sure will continue to be written.  It is my mission to find as much historical factual data as possible about them - it just requires digging and an open mind.  The mythic, sometimes sensational, movie drama story has seen its day: our history is fascinating, but only half told as far as I am concerned.

At the time of writing I am in Norway waiting for my appointment with the Kon-Tiki Museum’s curator whom I met during an archaeological dig near our house on Huahine, Tahiti many years ago.  I’m looking forward to seeing the lovely finely made barkcloth and beaters they have in their collection.  By looking at the fabric itself, and the collection data, I might be able to determine the maker of the piece and the tree it was made from.  The beaters are also extremely interesting – in the Norfolk Island Museum there is a beater that has always been associated with the Melanesian Mission, however, I believe it came from Pitcairn to Norfolk on the Morayshire in 1856, and so I’ll be doing some comparisons.

Some museums have asked me to contribute thoughts and some writing for future exhibitions including Pitcairn tapa-cloths.  I hope now that our material heritage might continue to be featured, even if in small ways, in exhibitions around the world.  I broached the idea of the possible loan of some of these items to our own museum on Norfolk and have received some positive responses.

Moorland Close Homestead
There is another guideline highlighted by the Churchill Trust - and that is to make the most of one’s travel, to watch local news and really breathe in the local culture. With my appointments attended, I’ve tried to pack in quick visits to meaningful areas and cities surrounding the museums.

Grasmere of Lakes District
The most memorable visit was after my appointment at the Liverpool World Museum. I had met up with friends who took me to Moorland Close (Fletcher Christian’s birthplace and childhood home), Cockermouth (the nearby village) and St Bridget’s Church (where the Christian family is buried and where they sought solace during their lives). This area forms part of The Lake District and a place I feel we all need to visit!  I felt a real resonance with this beautiful area, which is much like the Gloucester district of NSW Australia. 

So the Fellowship has taken me to the following cities: Wellington in New Zealand; Honolulu in Hawai’i; London, Kew, Cambridge, Oxford and Liverpool in England; Edinburgh and Aberdeen in Scotland; and finally Oslo in Norway.  This has been one of the most empowering, lonely, inspiring and enriching experiences of my life and I know that this will benefit our culture and people.

I’d like to give thanks to the Churchill Trust, those who had a hand in my selection, to Lisa Richards and Rhonda Griffiths, to those of you who have sent me messages of encouragement, my wonderful family who let me go, and all the museum curators and friends met along the way.  It’s been an amazing trip and I look forward to putting pen to paper to continue writing about the forgotten women of the Bounty.

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