NZ’s history in the Kauri Gum industry has always interested me. In the 19th & early 20th century kauri gum, mostly dug up in lumps from the Northland gumfields, was a major export to Britain and America for the making of varnish. ‘Gum Trees A Keen Business’, The Otago Daily Times 19 August 2013,reports on Mr Richard Keene’s visit to his estate in the Far North, which included the 40,000 acre Parenga Gumfields in the process of being formed to feed the demand for Kauri gum by American varnish-makers.
I had wondered what became of Kaurex, the 1980’s operation attempting to use solvents to extract the resin from the peat swamps at Kaimaumau (north of Awanui) until I came across NZ Geo’s ‘Northland’s Buried Treasure – ‘Gold fever’ struck Northern New Zealand in the late 1800s’. A description and photograph of the Kaurex plant is noted here. The writing by Joanne McNeill gives a very detailed story of the early industry, of the 20,000 fortune hunters digging for the treasured kauri gum, including how gum was formed and extracted, the gumdiggers life, and much more.
I’ve used a similar substance, amber colored chunks of rosin from the sap of pine trees, in aquatint etching. Ground into a dust and applied, then melted to the zinc etching plate, the acid resistant rosin, creates a texturized effect in the final print.
Kauri gum was also used artistically by Maori in the making of a pigment for moko tattooing and also fashioned into decorative items. The amber jewellery worn these days is crafted from a harder, fossilized resin, millions of years old, from the northern hemisphere. Like Kauri gum it is found in a variety of colourings, developed according to the conditions during its formation. A translucent piece of amber is a beautiful object to photograph as the sunlight streams through it.
More interesting information can be found at the following links: Papers Past: Wellington Dominion 16 Aug 1913: ‘Kauri Gum Industry, Settlement of Gumlands’, Papers Past: Wellington Dominion 13 Nov 1917: ‘The Far North, All The Young men Gone’, Papers Past: Free Lance 27 Jun 1918: ‘A New Industry’, Papers Past: Bay of Plenty Times 19 Jan 1920: ‘Future of the far North, Mr Richard Keene’s opinion’, Papers Past: The Northern Alien, Northern Advocate 16 Nov 1917: ‘Wellington Man’s Views Blames The government’, The Kauri Museum, Matakohe, Northland NZ: The difference between kauri gum and amber, About Tane ‘New Zealand’s largest known living kauri tree’, Step-by-step aquatint etching instructions.