Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Island of Secrets: Matiu Somes

Matiu Somes Island, First World War Barracks.
David McGill's aptly-named book is the title of this post, which I write after finally visiting Matiu Somes Island. Our family was fortunate enough to spend Christmas there—three nights in the middle of Te Whanganui-a-Tara with friends and whānau, the weather, and layers of history.

I've written about a number of First World War internees on Matiu Somes; from the German-born anarchist Carl Mumme to Hjelmar Dannevill. A number of war resisters who feature in my latest work also ended up on Matiu Somes. So exploring the island had a particular resonance for me.

Inside the Barracks
We were shown around the barracks by our friend and island ranger Jeff Hall. There used to be more, and the one that remains had been cut in half to make room for newer buildings, but I could still get a sense of what confinement might have been like. Did Carl sleep here? Or maybe Arthur Muravleff, an aspiring Maxim Gorky suspected of being a spy? The weatherboards and decaying roof couldn't tell us.

I wanted to place the barracks in context, so I trooped up the hill and attempted to replicate a photograph of the camp as it was during the First World War (thank you Alexander Turnbull Library). Close enough.

Then and now: Matiu Somes Internment Camp, First World War; Matiu Somes December 2017
There are too many secrets to share in one post, including its pre-European history or its history after 1918. I look forward to learning more of them, but for now, I'm thankful to have spent three nights on Matiu Somes by choice, rather than by coercion. 


Anonymous said...

Nice piece Jared. It was a pleasure having you out. Look forward to your next one. Jeff

Anonymous said...

Cool man, what a fascinating trip. I was desperate to get to Ripapa when I was writing about the PRU, but never got there. Neat that you got to get out to Sommes while your work is fresh in your mind. Also, love the before-and-after shot. They're such effective tools in bringing history alive. Cheers, Ryan.