Remembering the Huia: Extinction and Nostalgia in a Bird World
Boyle, Cameron, Remembering the Huia: Extinction and Nostalgia in a Bird World, Animal Studies
Remembering the Huia: Extinction and Nostalgia in a Bird World
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Remembering the Huia: Extinction and Nostalgia in a Bird World
Thi s journal article is available in Animal Studies Journal: https://ro.uow.edu.au/asj/vol8/iss1/5
Remembering the Huia:
Extinction and Nostalgia in a Bird World
Abstract: This paper examines the role of nostalgia in practices of remembering the Huia, an
extinct bird endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. It suggests that nostalgia for the Huia
specifically, and New Zealand's indigenous birds more generally, has occurred as both
restorative nostalgia and reflective nostalgia. It argues that the former problematically looks to
recreate a past world in which birds flourished. In contrast, the paintings of Bill Hammond and
the sound art of Sally Ann McIntyre are drawn on to explore the potential of reflective nostalgia
for remembering the Huia, and New Zealand's extinct indigenous birds more generally, in a
more critical and nuanced way.
The Huia was like a fetch ? the ghost of one living who is about to die, lingering at the
edge of things. (Bowring 111)
Antipodean Extinction: Turning Home in the Anthropocene
Many scientists claim we are now in a new epoch labelled the Anthropocene, in which the earth
is undergoing a host of massive ecological and geological transformations, including sea-level and
temperature change, species and habitat loss, increased tectonic and volcanic activity, and so on
(Clark 2). Among these changes is what has been called the sixth mass extinction event, the first
almost exclusively anthropogenic annihilation of species in history (Kolbert 3). Extinction is not
just an objective event through which a species exists and is then lost as the last individual of a
kind dies. Extinction is much more than this; it does much more than this. Extinction is a
significant cultural phenomenon, for species die out physically, but continue to live on through
narratives, affects, commodities, and acts of remembering, forgetting, and mourning.
Understanding these ecocultural entanglements is a critical task for thinking through the
relationship between human and non-human animals in this time of great ecological change and
uncertainty. As extinction studies scholar Thom van Dooren writes, individuals must understand
?the multiple connections and dependencies between ourselves and these disappearing others?;
?all of the ways in which we are at stake in each other, all of the ways in which we share a world?
(283). Therefore, at this moment there is an urgent need to critically engage with these losses,
to respond appropriately in a range of different ways to extinction
Art theorist Susan Ballard suggests New Zealanders should turn home to consider
extinction in this time of the disappearance of innumerable forms of life (74). By this she means
reflecting on the significant amount of anthropogenic species loss, largely propelled by
settlercolonialism, that has occurred in the Antipodes over the last two centuries (Ballard 74). The
purpose of this is not to advocate for protecting an abstract and generalized ?nature?, but for
articulating ?our place as witnesses, activators, and recorders? of extinction (Ballard 73).
Focusing on extinction within Aotearoa New Zealand can thus contribute to the understanding
of species loss more widely within the Anthropocene as a complex ecological, social, and
cultural phenomenon. For in New Zealand there is a paradoxically rich culture of extinction
manifest in art, literature, conservation, and popular culture. This has been defined by a deeply
affective sense of ?beforeness and longing? attached to a collective memory of the country?s
precolonial past.1 I wish to critique a particular manifestation of this memory as a form of nature
nostalgia that romanticizes and attempts to restore an imaginary time and place in which
endemic avian life, free from the harms of European settlers, is considered to have flourished.
Nostalgia for New Zealand as a pre-colonial bird world attaches more certainly to the Huia, an
extinct endemic bird, than to any other indigenous flora or fauna. I give examples of works from
two artists featuring the Huia which I suggest move beyond the simplicity of nature nostalgia. I
argue these works utilize a more critical and reflective nostalgia to provide nuanced ways of
remembering, being affected by, and mourning the loss of endemic New Zealand birds.
Responding to the Destruction of Nature: Recollection, Nostalgia, and Restoration
The phenomenon of extinction is inextricably tied to memory. While human animals may no
longer share a physical space with extinct species, they do share a virtual space through which
they consider and are affected by them. Extinct animals return to haunt human animals. As
ecocritic Ursula Heise notes, this is not simply a matter of straightforward recollection, but one
involving complex processes of remembering and forgetting, and of temporality, of different
pasts, presents, and futures (34). While life itself is finite, the duration of its trace in memory
and feeling is indeterminate (De Vos 10), at times being forgotten, while at others being
remembered and felt across generations. The crude, objective event of extinction known by
science, that is, the moment the last individual of a kind dies, not only erases the physical
presence of the species, but permanently transforms its temporal existence within culture. After
this point, there is recollection of the life of the species in several different temporal registers.
There is the ideal period in which the non-human animal flourished, the phase of decline, and
the eternal irreversibility of loss. Through the currency of extinction ? that paradoxical cultural
gain created by ecological loss ? the remnants of departed species are preserved in artifacts such
as photographs, stories, art, recordings, and so on. Through these forms, remembering occurs
via narratives that focus on just one temporal register of extinction or which move across them.
Fixating on an ideal past in which a species is thought to have flourished is perhaps the
most common form of the extinction affect. This act of remembering employs an ?Edenic
narrative? that recalls a prelapsarian period before human animals corrupted nature in some way
(Slater 116). Thus, it is often referred to as ?nature nostalgia? (Ladino 89). In the case of
extinction, nature nostalgia imagines an Edenic time and place before numerous species were
wiped out. Such narratives dominate stories of extinction and employ tragedy to reduce species
loss (much like deforestation, pollution, and so on) to the simple formula of environmental
decline caused by the modern quest for progress (Heise 34). Literary theorist Svetlana Boym,
the foremost thinker on nostalgia, theorizes different forms of this emotion, including one she
labels restorative (53). She explains that for the restorative nostalgic, who emphasises nostos, or
the return, ?the past is not a duration but a perfect snapshot? (61). Nature nostalgia tends to
recall the past in this restorative way. Furthermore, Boym suggests that the restorative nostalgic
?attempts a transhistorical reconstruction of the lost homeland? (14). Hence, following this
logic, nature nostalgia tries to find means to reconnect to the land, to restore environments, or
in the case of extinction, to preserve species or even resurrect them.
In New Zealand nature nostalgia plays a significant cultural role. Here, as literary
theorist Alex Calder notes, the narrative of environmental decline has traditionally (and still
often does) painted settlers as evil and greedy destroyers of New Zealand?s nature ? particularly
its forests and endemic birds ? in the pursuit of wealth (134). However, in recent decades
environmental historians like Peter Holland have been at pains to provide more nuanced
accounts that show settlers in fact held a mixed set of opinions regarding the environmental
transformation of New Zealand and the loss of its endemic ecology (100). Today the restorative
quality of nature nostalgia shapes the response to this historic ecological loss by framing how the
past is remembered and how humans should subsequently act. Hence, in New Zealand
conservation processes like ecological restoration are deeply shaped by this kind of collective
memory, becoming practices of attempting to recreate environments as they were before
colonization.2 Debates exist over what exactly is meant ecologically by this pre-colonial time and
place and to what extent it can be scientifically known and reconstructed (Head 21). Critics
including environmental historian James Beattie argue such remembering of the past relies on
the romantic fiction that New Zealand was untouched before European settlement, as if M?ori
(indigenous New Zealanders) did not exist or had no impact on the land (102). For ecologist and
environmental historian Geoff Park, this vision of the past has also underpinned the creation of
protected areas as places of untouched nature outside of society and resulted in a strict limiting
of what people can do within their boundaries, including the denial of M?ori customary use
rights and traditional systems of management (Park, Theatre Country 190). The desire to return
to such a time and place has also been criticised by literary theorist Patrick Evans, as a product of
the need of the descendants of settlers to expiate the guilt they have for their colonial forebears?
destruction of New Zealand (Robin Hyde and the Post-Colonial Sublime 42). This desire manifests in
their remaking of history through a narrative that sees them arriving to New Zealand as an
empty wilderness, which becomes their homeland they are native to, as cultural studies scholar
Stephen Turner claims (Compulsory Nationalism 15).
This time and place of the pre-colonial past is often imaged as an avian paradise
populated by New Zealand?s indigenous birds. In his 1925 painting The Death of the Moa, artist
Trevor Lloyd plays with this imaginary, as he somewhat humorously depicts a dead Moa (the last
of its kind) in the forest surrounded by several of the country?s other native avian species
grieving over this loss.3 The work can be read as providing a light-hearted commentary on the
way the Edenic narrative simplistically portrays the fall of New Zealand?s birds as a kind of
paradise destroyed by people. Today the restoration of this avian world as it is collectively
remembered is now being attempted in reality through the establishment of ecosanctuaries.4 In
addition, attempts to revive specific indigenous New Zealand species through de-extinction are
also gaining traction (Campbell 8). Thus, it is imaginable that de-extinction could form a
secondary task for conservation in New Zealand alongside the government?s primary goal of
making the country predator free by the year 2050, just as it was before human inhabitation, at
which point it could presumably be stocked with recovered bird species.5 Indeed, such an
historical recreation may fulfil the strong cultural desire to restore the imaginary lost past
constructed by New Zealand?s collective nature nostalgia.
Considering lost species through the lens of nature nostalgia prevents the development
of complex, rich, and nuanced narratives of extinction. These stories are needed because they
enable extant human animals to respond to the anthropogenic extinction of non-human animals
in thoughtful ways. I am not arguing against things like ecosanctuaries or de-extinction
specifically, for these have merits and pitfalls, supporters and detractors, but a detailed
discussion of this is outside of the scope of this paper. Rather, I am advocating a critique of
nature nostalgia in New Zealand ? particularly in relation to the loss of New Zealand?s birds ? as
a mode of memory that constructs a specific imaginary of the country?s past and drives attempts
to restore it. This critique is based on three key points. First, within restorative nostalgia there is
no way of remembering other than through a fixed memory of a fallen paradise to be forever and
only recalled in all its glory and recreated as such. By focusing on the flourishing of life in an
ideal past, nature nostalgia inhibits the ability to recollect in ways that move across the full life of
a species and to produce multiple histories of the existence of non-human animal kinds. Second,
dominant narratives of extinction produced by nature nostalgia diminish the scope of how
human animals might be affected by and mourn the disappearance of species ? by employing the
trope of tragedy to reduce the loss they feel for them to a normative sadness over the national or
global fall of nature. Third, the simplicity of the narrative of environmental decline underpinned
by nature nostalgia erases the complexities of the ecosocial entanglements that lead to the
extinction of non-human animals, and in turn, the capacity to critically reflect upon these losses.
Remembering Lost Birds: Longing and Critical Reflection
It is problematic that extinctions are sometimes not remembered well, when the complexities of
such events are forgotten through the dominance of ?authorized versions? of species loss (De Vos
10). Merely to recall these events is not enough; we must remember critically. The dominance
of the restorative form nature nostalgia takes inhibits extinction from being remembered in
other ways. I argue that what Boym labels ?reflective nostalgia? may be useful for expanding the
ways processes of ecological loss like extinction are remembered (61). Restorative nostalgia, as I
have suggested above, tends to attempt to ?conquer time? by uncritically returning to the true or
absolute past (Boym 61). Thus, in regard to extinction, this kind of nostalgia tries to restore the
pre-fall paradise in which non-human animals are thought to have thrived. By contrast, reflective
nostalgia emphasises algia or emotional dwelling on the past (Boym 61). Here dwelling acts as an
ongoing process of creatively working through the pain of loss ? without necessarily needing or
trying to overcome it ? by harnessing its affective energy to develop new insights, perspectives,
and states of being. It thus ?reveals that longing and critical thinking are not opposed to one
another? (Boym 61). According to this mode, nostalgia need not only be conservative and
retrograde; it can instead be motivating and politically progressive. In regard to ecological
issues, such a mode can inspire, for instance, critical concern and even action over the plight of
non-human animals (Heise 14).
When nostalgia shifts from being purely restorative and becomes more reflective, it may
enable extinctions to not be homogenized within a single narrative of the loss of nature, but
understood within the complexities of the contexts in which they occurred. Responses to
extinction ?need to engage more than a simple defence of nature?, they need to articulate the
specific social, cultural, and ecological conditions of those losses (Ballard 71). Furthermore, I
suggest that a more reflective nostalgia may increase the capacity to be affected by extinction and
to mourn the loss of passed species to a greater depth. For reflective nostalgia entails both
mourning and melancholy. According to Freud, melancholy subjects obsessively long for the
return of the departed object and thus dwell in pain unable to move on from loss (Heise 34).
Mourning, alternatively, is a much more positive process that progressively enables acceptance
of loss and ultimately closure (Heise 34). However, for many contemporary thinkers mourning
and melancholy cannot be so strictly separated, but exist alongside one another. Hence, the
reflective nostalgic dwells on loss but in doing so generates new affective states, and as such
engenders positive feelings of compassion, empathy, responsibility, and care for what is lost
(Boym 66). It might be said that nostalgia exists on a continuum between its reflective and
restorative forms, or that all manifestations of the emotion contain elements of both of these.
Therefore, I argue that the limitations of nature nostalgia stem from the way it is dominated by a
strong tendency towards restoration, and that the inclusion of elements of reflection may enable
the expansion of the ways ecological losses, like extinction, and the pasts associated with them,
are remembered and responded to.
In the remainder of this paper I first outline the extinction of the Huia. I then discuss
two examples of postcolonial artworks that enable critical consideration of the Huia and the
extinction of New Zealand birds in general through a more reflective form of nostalgia. I argue
that these works move beyond the simplicity and generality of much nature nostalgia by
expanding the capacity to understand, remember, be affected by, and mourn these losses. While
it may be argued that many artists and artworks featuring the Huia achieve this, I narrow my
focus to selected works by two artists in particular because, as I will show, they have been
referred to as nostalgic, and I seek to develop a deeper understanding of this. In the first
example, I consider two paintings by the artist Bill Hammond which feature the Huia. In the
second, I explore the use of the Huia?s call in a work of sound art by artist Sally Ann McIntyre.
In doing so, I do not intend to provide a general comparison of select artworks with the
conservation practices I have already discussed, failing to recognise the obvious and numerous
differences between these. Rather, I seek to compare the different modes of memory and forms
of nostalgia at play in the imagining of the past across these. My argument is that in New Zealand
the imagining of the country?s ecological losses and the pasts associated with these have been
dominated by a popular collective memory that nostalgises a pristine pre-colonial nature, which
is most evident in the way it shapes conservation practices as attempts to restore such a time and
place. As I have shown, such practices include de-extinction, as attempts to resurrect the Huia
demonstrate. In turning to specific examples of art, I seek to show how more reflective forms of
nostalgic recollection operate within these, which open new avenues for how bird extinctions in
New Zealand might be imagined and felt.
The Death of the Huia: Colonization, Ecology, and Avian Life
Ecological imperialism accompanied European colonial expansion. Flora and fauna travelled
with human animals from Europe, forming an ecosocial assemblage that was destructive to the
biotas of colonised terrains (Crosby 18). Nowhere was this more pronounced than in New
Zealand. New Zealand?s endemic birdlife had evolved to become highly distinctive over
thousands of years of archipelagic isolation, which had protected some species from predators,
and allowing many of them to become lightless, as they took on the role of mammals in their
absence (Park, Ng? Uruora 285). The initial anthropogenic bird extinctions that occurred in New
Zealand were due to overhunting by M?ori (Crosby 227). However, the rate of loss was
significantly increased later by the arrival of Europeans. Park recounts how New Zealand?s
endemic bird populations first started to decline rapidly when the explorer Captain James Cook
visited the country during his journey around the world in the eighteenth century, as his sailors
shot them to eat or keep as specimens:
Cook?s men blasted 30 birds out of their trees in one day, including 12 kereru, four
South Island Kokako, two red-coloured parakeets, four saddlebacks and one falcon.
Virtually all are today close to extinction or extremely rare. (Ng? Uruora 95)
Twenty species of bird endemic to New Zealand were then lost after British settlement occurred
in the mid-nineteenth-century, with many more remaining on the cusp of extinction today.
These bird extinctions were brought about not by a single cause but several. These
included not just the hunting of birds for food, materials, and as scientific specimens for
collections that sealed their fate, but also the removal of their habitats through the draining of
wetlands and deforestation, and their predation by introduced pests, imported first by M?ori,
who came with the Polynesian rat and dog, and then by Europeans, who arrived with an array of
species including cats and mustelids, the latter becoming the biggest threat to New Zealand?s
birds (Park, Theatre Country 190). In the nineteenth century, European colonisers justified the
loss of endemic birds through a lens that deemed them to be weaker and thus inferior to the
supposedly hardier and more vigorous European species imported into the country (Park,
Theatre Country 14). Often, the dying out of New Zealand?s birds, like all non-European life ?
including the supposed passing of the country?s indigenous human population ? was seen to be
sad and unfortunate, but was nevertheless a natural and inevitable part of the required,
unavoidable, and imminent social, cultural, economic, political, and ecological transformation
of the country (Park, Theatre Country 215), which was made into a ?neo-Europe? for settlement
and farming by British migrants (Crosby 148). Thus, during the nineteenth century there was an
overlap between the romanticisation of nature as something to admire and appreciate, and the
need to ?improve? the landscape through aggressive domination in order to make it more
beautiful, healthy, liveable, and productive (Evans, The Long Forgetting 61).
The Huia, Heteralocha acutirostris, was one of the many New Zealand birds to become
extinct after colonisation began, as it was seemingly subject to almost all of the factors driving
anthropogenic avian loss that existed at the time. The Huia was a wattlebird endemic to lowland
and montane environments in the North Island of New Zealand, and was noted for its distinctive
bright orange wattles, black and metallic green tinged plumage, sexual dimorphism, and
monogamous social behaviour, as well as its song (Wilson 75-76). The Huia first started to
decline due to overhunting by M?ori, who sought its feathers for various types of decoration
(Monson 68-91). The number of Huia then began to decrease further and faster after Europeans
arrived in New Zealand and began hunting them too, but also because increased deforestation
caused by settlers meant that the bird started to lose its food source, which was the larvae found
in the rotting wood of mature forests (Higgins et al. 1015). Moreover, the seizure of forested
lands from M?ori by the colonial administration disrupted the indigenous protections in place to
ensure the stability of Huia numbers, which dictated that hunting could only occur from May to
June when their plumage was in ideal condition, with a ban implemented during spring and
summer (Monson 68-93). The other factor behind the extinction of the Huia was the
international feather trade, as the bird?s plume was loved by Victorians, resulting in settlers
sending huge numbers of their quills to Britain for large profits (Hunter 194). While M?ori
implemented a total ban on Huia hunting followed by the New Zealand government eventually
putting legal protections in place to save the species in 1892, these were often ignored and were
too little too late regardless, with the last official sighting of the bird occurring in 1907, despite
many unconfirmed yet somewhat still credible reports appearing as late as 1963 (Higgins
et al. 1014).
Within the story of the Huia?s extinction, amateur ornithologist Walter Buller features
prominently. Indeed, accounts of the Huia are commonly as much about the controversial figure
of Buller as they are the bird. Buller was renowned for his research on New Zealand?s endemic
birds, particularly the Huia. Buller collected living and dead Huia specimens, along with other
birds, to either keep in cages or have taxidermied (Galbreath 64). He was also involved in the
trade of New Zealand bird feathers and acclimatization societies, which systematically
introduced European flora and fauna into the country to replace its indigenous species
(Galbreath 110). Furthermore, after promoting the legal protection of the Huia, Buller
convinced the then Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Ballance, to allow him to acquire a
pair of live Huia and transfer them to one of the newly established offshore island sanctuaries he
had supported (Galbreath 192). However, Ballance died shortly after and Buller expediently
sold the birds to Lord Rothschild, a wealthy and eccentric British collector of exotic creatures
(Galbreath 192). As Buller once famously wrote while recounting one of his hunting trips:
?a pair of Huia, without uttering a sound, appeared in a tree overhead, and as they
were caressing each other with their beautiful bills, a charge of No. 6 brought them both
to the ground together. The incident was rather touching and I felt almost glad that the
shot was not mine, although by no means loth to appropriate 2 fine specimens. (13)
Buller saw the extinction of the Huia, like all New Zealand birds, as inevitable. Yet at the very
same time he was also involved in the protection, to at least some extent, of New Zealand?s
unique avian life, including the Huia. Therefore, the contradictory Buller largely typifies what
might today be considered the ambivalence of the Victorian worldview with regard to nature
and non-human animals.
The Huia has become the ultimate icon of New Zealand?s pre-colonial past and the avian
life that inhabited it, as well as the destruction of the country?s environments and ecology,
especially its endemic birds (Campbell 8). As such it has been strongly remembered through
popular culture, art, and literature. Buller?s 1873 book A History of the Birds of New Zealand
contains the earliest account of the Huia, while a later iconic text on the species is W.J.
Book of the Huia. More recently the Huia has featured in Stefanie Lash?s 2014
novel Bird Murder, while Anna
book The Pastoral Kitchen includes a poem on the
bird. In art, Fiona Pardington has been widely recognized for her photographs of Huia specimens
in museums.6 Many New Zealand paintings also feature the Huia, including works by Bill
Hammond discussed here, and also by others such as Jo Ogier.7 There are also numerous sound
recordings, songs, and musical notations based on the Huia?s call, with one such score providing
the basis for the recent piece of sound art by artist Sally Ann McIntyre which I will go on to
discuss. The significance of the Huia is also exemplified by its appearance outside of fine art, as it
features on much common commercial wall art and prints found widely across New Zealand in
homes, cafes, and restaurants, for instance. In addition, in Te Papa Tongarewa/the Museum of
New Zealand, the long-term exhibition Blood, Earth, Fire features a section on the Huia, detailing
its significance to New Zealand culture and its extinction.8
The Huia is now also a candidate for de-extinction alongside other native New Zealand
bird species like the Moa (Campbell 8). As art theorist Rosie Ibbotson shows, work on bringing
the Huia back to life relies on hand-coloured, nineteenth century lithographs of the bird made by
J.G. Keulemans for Buller?s book (33). She demonstrates that the de-extinction of the Huia is
thus premised on a particular visual imaginary of the bird, which frames it in isolation as a
natural history specimen, as if it could somehow be separated from the ecocultural complexities
of the context in which it existed and became extinct in (Ibbotson 41). This argument
exemplifies the ways in which, as Boym suggests, contemporary representations of extinction
are nostalgic, relying entirely on images to restore a complete picture of the past in which lost
species existed (46). She writes that the dominant representation of species loss in film, for
instance, ?both induces nostalgia and offers a tranquilizer; instead of disquieting ambivalence and
paradoxical dialect of past, present and future, it provides a total restoration of extinct creatures
as a conflict resolution? (Boym 46). Therefore, it is very much this kind of restorative nature
nostalgia that drives the de-extinction of the Huia, and which operates more broadly as the
dominant form of collective memory shaping how ecological loss and history is imagined in
The Irrevocable Past: Yearning and Mourning in the Paintings of Bill Hammond
Painter Bill Hammond is well-known for his works dealing with New Zealand?s bird extinctions,
which he started to produce after taking a trip along with other artists to Enderby Island, a
subAntarctic archipelago in the waters south of New Zealand in 1989. Hammond was moved by the
avian life he witnessed on the offshore predator-free sanctuary and New Zealand?s history of
ecological imperialism resulting in bird extinctions. His works on this matter have been
described as a ?nostalgic evocation of birds as the original tangata whenua? (indigenous
inhabitants of the land).9 I suggest Hammond?s nostalgia has a reflective and critical edge to it.
?Hammondland?, as his depicted world has been labelled, is not the product of simple or
restorative nature nostalgia; it rejects the romantic imaginary of a pre-colonial, people-free
forest for birds to enjoy (Smith 176). Rather, Hammond?s work is a postcolonial
acknowledgment that such a place and time can now only be a fiction. He therefore does not try
to render the birds in a realist manner, as a window onto the past, but as strange interspecies
hybrids, becomings-animal that signify the intertwinement of people and avian life in New
Zealand?s history (Smith 160). Hammond therefore avoids ?primitivist associations and
pretensions of indigeneity? (Brown 186), instead presenting a kind of dreamscape that is not the
past of linear time, but a thick present reflective of the sense of ongoing longing which
characterizes the nostalgia he expresses.
Hammond?s 1994 painting Buller?s Table Cloth (fig. 1) depicts a house in which a long table has a
row of bird carcasses laid out upon it, while others hang from the ceiling or are draped across a
small side table. Moreover, a pair of taxidermied Huia are shown in a display box in the corner
of the room. As Ballard claims, this rendering of Buller?s house allows the viewer to imagine
how, in their kitchen, his mother would skin and stuff the birds he hunted (75). Furthermore,
Hammond?s loose canvas could itself be a bird skin or a table cloth (Ballard 77). The drips of
paint on it appear like blood. But this is more than just tragedy. It is a reminder that, as Turner
notes, the P?keh? (European settlers and their descendants) sense of belonging or homeliness in
New Zealand is underpinned by the social, cultural, and ecological devastation upon which the
settler colony is premised, the repressed memory of which haunts it (Settlement as Forgetting, 35).
Hammond?s focus is on how culpability for the mass slaughtering of avian life looms over P?keh?
within the postcolonial era in this way. It is as if Bhabha?s double time of the nation, the
repressed national past, is invoked here to affect and generate questioning of guilt and
responsibility for these atrocities ? among those who did not cause them or even live when they
took place, but who have inherited them through memory (212). The viewer may yearn to
intervene but cannot, and with no pre-colonial avian paradise to restore as a national homeland,
to repair the devastation, a confrontation with the ?irrevocability of the past? and the subsequent
?impossibility of homecoming? takes place (Boym 13-61). Therefore, here nostalgia brings the
past into the present as a spectre that disrupts the sense of temporal continuity.
A year later in 1995, Hammond painted Living Large 6 (fig. 2), in which bird-like creatures
modelled on the Huia form a ghostly audience watching a mysterious, formally dressed
horseman sitting on stage with a cello. He could be there to play a requiem for the departed birds, as
paint drips down the canvas like tears. The grouping of numerous Huia-like figures avoids
representing the species via a single individual or pair in the centre of the frame to reify their
iconic status. Moreover, the birds are all facing in the same direction, accentuating their
individual presences and the intensity with which they each look at the horse-man in this
melancholic scene. Narratives of extinction involve both mourning and melancholy, as they
dwell on the pain of loss to draw attention to departed or endangered species and encourage
collective sorrow for them, while also acting as ways of coming to terms with and accepting the
magnitude of such passings (Heise 34). For Boym, reflective nostalgia involves both of these
processes too, as it is at once ?a form of deep mourning that performs a labour of grief?, while
also being an act of ?pondering pain? through creativity and play (66). Living Large 6, like many of
Hammond?s paintings, expresses sorrow for New Zealand?s lost birds by situating them in an
explicitly melancholic scene full of signs of mourning. However, it avoids representing that
which is gone via a perfect imitation of the past. Instead it employs the creativity of melancholy
to exploratively and meditatively dwell on New Zealand?s history of extinction. Through this act
of critically remembering, Hammond reveals the depth of feeling behind this complex and
unresolved history within the present.
Fragments and Traces: Memorialization in the Sound Art of Sally Ann McIntyre
The Huia?s call has played, and still continues to play, an important role in the cultural life of the
species. Historical accounts of the bird?s song often describe it as being similar to a flute or
whistle (Fuller 371). Before the Huia became extinct, H.T. Carver created musical notation
based on its call (Heise 43). And in 1949, in an attempt to preserve some memory of the species
after it was already lost, Robert Batley recorded an imitation of the bird?s song made by H?nare
H?mana, a then elderly man who had earlier been a part of unsuccessful expeditions to find
remaining individuals using his call to attract them.10 The recording begins with Batley providing
information on the Huia and its extinction before introducing H?mana, followed by the latter
making his simulated call. To writer Julianne Warren, it is ?a soundtrack of the sacred voices of
extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world
of today?.11 With no recording of the actual Huia call or anyone still alive who has heard it,
H?mana?s imitation cannot be compared to the real thing. Landscape architect Jacky Bowring
poetically describes her experience of hearing the call played on the radio one morning:
7.00am. The birdcall on National Radio. But not today. Today it is an imitation of a
birdcall, the call of the extinct Huia. Uncannily reincarnated, a whistling ghost, eerie,
preternatural. It is the sound of absolute melancholy. A poignant, distant call. Neither
wholly avian, nor human. An aural moment of the ache of loss. (111)
As well as inspiring writing and artwork based on it, the emulated Huia call has also been turned
into a musical score by composer David Hindley (Taylor 74).
Sound artist Sally Ann McIntyre, like Hammond, draws on a more reflective kind of
nostalgia in her work on the Huia. For her 2012 work Huia Transcriptions, she recorded
Carver?s musical notations based on the bird?s call using a music box, before playing it on
Kapiti Island, an offshore nature reserve which was once the species? habitat.12 Alongside this
live work, a further realisation of the project for an exhibition involved the musical notation
and a lyrical interpretation of it being printed on archival index cards that could be played on a
pianola.13 As Ballard suggests, ?there is something profoundly beautiful and nostalgic about
McIntyre?s reanimated voices? (81). But again, this is not nature nostalgia. McIntyre?s work
makes evident the way affect brings together feeling, sensation, and memory. Hence, the
collective affect of nostalgia that sticks to the Huia circulates here through a combination of
longing for the bird, listening to its recreated call, and reflecting on its passing. This nostalgia is
perhaps connected to the fact that, as McIntyre?s work acknowledges, just as Hammond?s does,
the past cannot be restored, as the mechanical sound of her recording is a reminder that there
will only ever be traces of the Huia?s call. For Boym, ?reflective nostalgia cherishes shattered
fragments of memory? (61). Therefore, on an island amidst the soundscape of the extant
endemic birds that once sang the dawn chorus alongside the Huia, the irrevocability of the
latter is expressed by making audible a distant memory of its call preserved in text. And as this
ghostly remnant emanates through the forest, it does not fill the gap in the sonic layer of the
indigenous ecosystem which the loss of the Huia formed. Rather, harkening longingly to this
artificial call powerfully draws attention to the permanence of its absence within the biosphere.
Historian Alison Landsberg labels recollection that is not of personal experience but of a
time or place an individual did not live within as ?prosthetic memory?, which is transmitted
between people through media and narratives (2). Within postcolonial New Zealand, the Huia is
recalled through prosthetic memory, for there is now no one still alive who existed when the
bird was extant. This raises sociologist Robert Bednar?s question of how someone can mourn a
passing that, in Freudian terms, is not their loss, because they have not personally lived with the
object and experienced its departure, but have encountered it as only and always gone (62), or
in this case, extinct. What results is again, just as in Hammond?s case, both mourning and
melancholy (Bednar 62). In the absence of any personal recollection of the departed object, an
affective sense of loss attaches to the prosthetic memory of what is gone. Ballard identifies
nostalgia, along with shame ? read as the emotional embodiment of postcolonial guilt ? as
aspects of the collective response to the loss of the Huia at play in McIntyre?s work, in which
these normally disabling affects drive her to act (81). Therefore, in the absence of a formalized
cultural process for collectively working with and through grief for lost species, McIntyre, by
playing a recording resembling the Huia?s call where it once lived, creates an affective memorial
site to the species and mourning ritual for its passing. Warren, whose own process for mourning
extinction is writing, suggests that Batley?s original recording of the Huia?s call is ?so rich in
helping us to not just think about the Anthropocene, but feel it?.14 Indeed, McIntyre?s recording
seeks to further develop this aspiration.
Art and the Non-Human: Attuning to Species Loss through Affect and Memory
Both Hammond?s and McIntyre?s works on the Huia reveal how, among the myriad ways of
being moved by non-human animals, a more reflective form of nostalgia can teach that the lives
of extinct species, although gone physically, are at stake in how they are remembered, in how
individuals emotionally express and work with and through these losses. There is a need to avoid
caring for non-human animals in general, through which they remain distanced as abstract
others. Simple nature nostalgia is guilty of this. As a restorative mode of memory, it tends to
recall and try to restore an imagined place and time of natural flourishing without human
animals due to a sense of tragedy at its loss. Indeed, Hammond?s and McIntyre?s works on the
Huia are nostalgic too. Yet through their nuance and reflection, they subtly imply a postcolonial
response to the simplicity of a dominant nature nostalgia in New Zealand, which underpins
conservation practices like ecological restoration and de-extinction. They acknowledge that the
return of a pre-colonial paradise of birds, as a kind of imaginary homeland, is impossible.
Rather, by demonstrating an artistic practice of sensitively and longingly attuning to extinction
through affective encounter with the recollected fragments that are the traces of past species,
Hammond and McIntyre reveal how individuals might respond to these losses of the
Anthropocene in thoughtful and caring ways.
1This was how artist Peter Madden described the art exhibition Snare/Mahinga, which was part
of the 2009 Christchurch Arts Festival, and which featured his and other?s works responding to
the extinction of non-human animals in New Zealand. Madden was quoted by journalist Sally
Blundell in her article for The New Zealand Listener about the exhibition:
2A pre-colonial baseline for ecological restoration of landscapes is suggested by, for instance, the
Department of Conservation, the government organization responsible for New Zealand?s
stateowned protected areas, in their handbook, Protecting and Restoring our Natural Heritage: A Practical
3 The painting can be viewed here:
4For example, see this description of New Zealand?s pre-colonial past on the website of the
popular ecosanctuary, Zealandia: https://www.visitzealandia.com/About
5 More on this government policy can be seen here:
6 Pardington?s works can be seen here: https://ocula.com/artists/fiona-pardington/artworks/
7 Ogier?s works can be seen here: https://solandergallery.co.nz/artist/jo-ogier/
8 More on this exhibition can be seen here:
9This quote comes from art historian Roger Blackley?s interpretation of Hammond?s work in the
art exhibition Snare/Mahinga, which as part of the 2009 Christchurch Arts Festival, brought
together artworks that focused on the extinction of non-human animals in New Zealand. The
quote appears in journalist Sally Blundell?s article about the exhibition in The New Zealand
10The recording can be listened to here:
11This line is from an unpublished text by Warren called Hopes Echo, which can be read online
12More can be read about this on the artist?s website here:
13More can be read about this on the artist?s website here:
14Warren was quoted as saying this in an article titled Echoes of the Past published in New Zealand
Geographic by Kate Evans, which was about the recording of the Huia?s call. It can be read here:
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