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Author Andrew Crowe, left, and artist Rick Fisher have produced a non-fiction picture book detailing the voyaging history of the people of the Pacific. Photo: ALICE PARMINTER

Chronicling the voyagers of the Pacific

A shared passion for nature and local culture has resulted in a vibrant retelling of wayfinding history by two Coromandel creatives. 

The new book, titled Those Magnificent Voyagers of the Pacific, is the work of Thames writer Andrew Crowe and Pururi artist Rick Fisher. 

The 64-page, nonfiction picture book chronicles 5000 years of wayfinding and navigation in the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the story, alternating sepia-toned and full colour illustrations compare the Polynesian peoples’ nature-based navigation techniques to the instrument-based techniques of their voyaging contemporaries in Europe and elsewhere on the globe. 

The book is a follow-on from Andrew’s tome Pathway of the Birds: The Voyaging Achievements of Māori and their Polynesian Ancestors, which took 15 years to write. 

“I’m interested in the connection between people and nature, and I think this would be a culmination of that because it’s through the natural world that I came to understand the complexity and the real skill behind the navigation of the Pacific people,” Andrew said. 

“It’s based on the observation of nature. And I came to understand that the more I worked on this, how deep that connection is.” 

This time around, Andrew’s aim was to appeal to all ages. Fact-boxes, notes and maps throughout the pages offer more depth for interested readers. And the pictures, of course, are a crucial part of the story for younger readers. In fact, Andrew spent some time searching for an artist whose work “clicked” with him, before being introduced to Ngāti Maru artist Rick Fisher’s illustrations during a conversation with a Thames librarian. 

“Now, I had seen Rick’s murals … and I noticed that there weren’t any people in the pictures. And I thought, maybe he can’t do people. [The librarian] showed me these pictures, his charcoal sketches, and blow me away, he can do people,” Andrew said. 

“You’ll see that the illustrator’s name appears first on the front cover. This is unusual, but intentional, to help acknowledge the huge contribution that Rick has made to giving this story and the people in it the mana they truly deserve.”

At the time, Rick was fairly new to digital drawing, having picked up his daughter’s iPad during Covid-19 lockdowns to give it a go. But the artist threw himself into the creation of over 30 illustrations for the book, spending a total of 18 months putting the images together. 

“That first picture [took] over 100 hours,” Rick said. 

“Rick brought it to me  … he said, ‘I don’t know if you’ll like it, but this is my first go’, and I went ‘[wow]’,” Andrew added. 

“He goes into this 100 per cent. There’s so much in this – the more you look, the more you see.” 

The pair said they loved working together, and seeing their vision come to life. 

“I try and portray [Māori/Pacifika and Kiwi culture] in everything I do. You’ll see it in my designs – I have that half-and-half blend there. So no one else can do it or tell that story according to how I see it,” Rick said. 

“I love to do this, to work together with somebody, and I have to say Rick was a wonderful working partner,” Andrew added. 

“It’s just so rich, the whole thing, because it’s just so personal. The fact that we can just sit together and … celebrate this moment, it’s great.” 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air