Photojournalist Peter Quinn grew up in the eastern Bay of Plenty and feels that the region has become part of him, in more ways than one. “As a teenager, I spent a lot of time surfing a point-break at the Whakatane River mouth,” he says. “I reckon most of the water I swallowed whenever I wiped out must have come from that river, with its sources deep in the heart of Tuhoe country.”
However, it was television images of the 2007 raids in Ruatoki, the road blocks and armed police in balaclavas, that motivated Quinn. “I found it hard to believe that this was actually happening here in New Zealand. Because I lived in that area for so many years, I knew there was something very wrong with that picture.”
Quinn, who has contributed to New Zealand Geographic for more than 20 years, began developing a feature that would take a more considered look at Tuhoe, and what life in their part of the country was really like. Dame Judith Binney, author of the acclaimed volume Encircled Lands, was commissioned to write it, and after her death, the story was picked up by the magazine’s founding editor, Kennedy Warne, who with Quinn embarked on a year-long hikoi through Tuhoe’s history and territory, Te Urewera.
“New Zealand is a country depicted by its beautiful landscapes,” says Quinn. “But life can be hard, too, in some places, and we couldn’t look away from that. For Tuhoe, that’s certainly been the case.
“At its best, photojournalism should work to challenge our preconceptions, to help educate where misunderstandings exist. It takes a big investment, both financial and emotional, to do this, and stories like this can only continue to be told when there’s support from a community of readers wanting to understand more. Photojournalism, now more than ever, requires that kind of support.”
Quinn and Warne’s work, years in production, resulted in the largest feature ever published in the magazine’s history, and will provide the raw material for a book and touring exhibition now in development.