National | Documentary

Relationship of Crown Lynn and Māori told in new documentary

A new and compelling documentary showcases the unsung and largely unknown, stories of generations of whānau Māori who helped create a New Zealand icon premieres tonight on Whakaata Māori.

Crown Lynn: A Māori Story offers a rare and valuable insight into the past, into Māori migration, race relations, manaakitanga and whānau.

Executive producer Jade Maipi of Mahi Tahi Media, says the project was a personal as well as professional one. She says in its heyday, Crown Lynn, in West Auckland was one of a few places that Māori moving to Auckland could find employment, including her own tīpuna.

"I te wā i te whakaaro au ki tēnei pakipūmeka he titiro noa ki tōku whānau i kuhu atu ki tērā kamupene. Ko te māmā o toku kuia, ko te pāpā o tōku kuia i mahi ki reira. Ko tōku kuia, a Reitū me ōna tuakana, tūngane i mahi ki Crown Lynn."
(When I first thought of doing this documentary, I was only thinking about my own whānau who worked there. My great-grandmother and great-grandfather both worked there. My grandmother, Reitū, and her siblings all worked at Crown Lynn as well.)

Good race relations story

"Kāore au i te mōhio he nui te tangata o Aotearoa e kaingākau ana ki ēnei taputapu. Ki a au nei he hōhā i te mea ko taku mahi i ia Rātapu he whakapaipai i te mea kua te puehu ki runga i ēnei taputapu. Ka mea mai taku karanimā, e puta koe haere dust ēnei mea.
(I didn't realise how popular Crown Lynn products were across Aotearoa. For me they were annoying because every Sunday my nan would make me clean them up. She would tell me to go around and clean all the dust off of them.)

"Ka kōrero au ki ētahi o āku hoa ka rongo au tēnei hunga e haere atu ki ngā wheketere ki te hoko, e haere atu ana ki ngā mākete ki te hoko me te nui o te utu mō tētahi taputapu. Kāore au i te paku mōhio he aha te take i hiahia rātou kia hoko i aua mea rā, nā kona ka tino kitea e au pea he kaupapa nui tēnei."
(But talking to my friends I've come to learn about these people who are going looking for Crown Lynn products in factories or markets, and how expensive they are. I had no idea why people were doing things like that for these items, so yeah it got me intrigued to do something like this.)

Producer/Director Susan Leonard says Crown Lynn: A Māori Story is a 'good positive story of race relations.'

"What I find inspiring in it is the Māori and Pākehā within. The Clark family were really close to Māori families.

Tough but kind

"I never met him, [the late Sir Tom Clark, long-time owner of Crown Lynn] so I was tasked with making a story about someone who is deceased and wanting to honour his story. I was lucky I made connections with his nephew, Tom junior, who is in this documentary. Also one of his daughters, Trish.

"But by all accounts, everybody who spoke to me about him, not just his whānau members, said he was gregarious and entrepreneurial and incredible for his time. Tough, but kind and fair and generous."

Leonard says witnessing Hemara Hemara, who began his sculpting career with Crown Lynn in 1956, for the documentary was one of the highlights of the productions.

“Hemara Hemara initially said ‘no’ when we asked him to be involved in this documentary. So we drove to the Hokianga to gently convince him.

“Filming him make a mould in his back shed was one of my personal highlights, his deft hands working the clay, the lines on his face telling a thousand stories themselves. Hemara’s wife, Francis, also makes the best tomato on crackers,” she said.

Queen Elizabeth twist

The documentary, which will air shortly before Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral, will also cover the late monarch's visit to Crown Lynn in 1963, which Leonard says was a game-changer for the New Zealand-based ceramics makers.

"The archive footage is amazing," Leonard says.

"That Clark managed to get the Queen to visit the factory was a huge coup. Prior to that, people had been a bit snobbish about it, 'oh it's New Zealand made. It's not as good as overseas.' There is also a beautiful story about Tom Clark making a beautiful dinner set for the Queen. I won't say any more, but there are two dinner sets."

Crown Lynn: A Māori Story

will air on Whakaata Māori and on the Māori+ app at 8.30pm.