From Darkness to Light

About the third time I go there
I realise the Kerikeri New World Supermarket
has a faux missionary ‘Stone Store’ style frontage.

1819 was the New World
although now it’s the old world
made new again by New World.

Mr Davis: one red blanket 
six shillings and threepence.

A sickle, some snaffle bits, harness rings,
a whetstone, a rope jack and a case of school slates.

They ate the rancid flour
but dreamt of something else.

Pork was called salt junk,
the tea the whalers brought
was nicknamed post and rails,
a rag wick in a bowl was a slush light

When the language is learnt and the Gospel 
preached in their own tongue 
they will be turned from darkness to light.

Born in Sydney, Australia, in 1955Vivienne Plumb is an award-winning poet, playwright and fiction writer. She has lived in New Zealand since 1974. Her mother was a New Zealander (Wellington) and her father an Australian (Goulburn).

She has published two plays, a novel, a novella, a collection of short fiction, and four volumes of poetry: Salamanca (HeadworX, 1998), Avalanche (Pemmican Press, 2000), Nefarious(HeadworX, 2004), From Darkness to Light (Kerikeri Mission House/New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 2007).

From Darkness to Light is only available from the Kerikeri Mission House shop in the Bay of Islands.

She has had work produced on New Zealand National Radio and has been invited to read at many literary events in New Zealand, Australia, and overseas. In April, 2008, she will read at the Cúirt International Literary Festival in Galway, Ireland.

A third playscript, The Cape, is to be published during 2008. She is presently working on a commission for the Auckland Theatre Company to adapt her popular short story, ‘The Wife Who Spoke Japanese In Her Sleep’, into a stage piece. Her work has been widely anthologised.

Plumb comments: ‘The poem, “From Darkness to Light”, was written as part of a series of thirty poems about the Kerikeri Mission House in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.

In late 2005 I was doing research for my play, The Cape, driving north with a friend to Cape Reinga, New Zealand’s most northern tip, which is the setting for the final scene in the play. We stopped in Kerikeri and decided to visit the Mission House and Stone Store which neither of us had done before.

These two properties are New Zealand Historic Places Trust sites and fascinating points of first contact between European (the Church Missionary Society missionaries from England) and Maori (in particular Ngā Puhi and their chief Hongi Hika). I was so taken with the property and the enthusiasm of our guide, Liz Bigwood, who is now Property Manager of the site, that I approached her later on with the idea of a poetry project focussed on the House.

In 2006 I received the Massey University Writer-in-Residence position to enable me to research and write the poems. By early 2007 the manuscript was complete and in late 2007 it was published by the Kerikeri Mission House through the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The published book is hand sewn and features an old floral wallpaper from the Mission House. The book is presently only available for sale from the Kerikeri Mission House in their shop. (Order from 246 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri, Bay of Islands or email $23 NZ post and packaging within New Zealand.)

The project was a fascinating one and required much research and several trips to Kerikeri. This particular poem, the title of which has also been used for the book, was written around the fact that during my visits to Kerikeri I would find myself living between two worlds – that of present-day New Zealand and alternatively the world of 1819, when the House was built. One minute I would be sitting reading the transcribed journals and letters of the missionaries in the back office of the property, being transported back in time. The next instant I would be shopping for dinner in the Kerikeri New World supermarket which has  a faux “Stone Store” frontage. The missionaries thought they were in the “New World” out here, and so there was a play of concepts there which I used in the poem.

The list of things for sale was taken from copies that the site holds of the Stone Store “day book”—a daily record of every item sold in the Store, and therefore an amazing testament of what it takes to colonise a new country—a lot of flour, a lot of nails, and a surprising amount of tea.’

Poem source details >



New Zealand Book Council writer file
Playmarket client writer file
Trout 11
Blackmail Press 12
HeadworX author page
New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
The Imaginary Museum—New Zealand Poets by Theme
Best New Zealand Poems 2004 and 2005