3 December 2010
Tolaga Bay – Uawa will host international celebrations for the Transit of Venus in June 2012. According to Victor Walker and Rev’d Stephen Donald, co-chairs of the local steering group, the Transit of Venus in 2004 provided opportunities for local school participation in international student exchange and scientific study. Appropriately, the public launch of the Transit of Venus 2012 initiative was made at last night’s Tolaga Bay Area School and Kuranui prize-giving.
Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of between 105½ years and 121½ years. The last transit occurred in 2004 and was not visible in New Zealand. The next Transit of Venus can be observed in this country on 6th June 2012; another transit will not occur until December 2117.
Two hundred and forty one years ago, James Cook of HMS Endeavour made landfall in the Tairāwhiti after observing the Transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769. The Raiātean chief, Tupaea, a tohunga and artist, facilitated relations with local people, and a brisk trade in food, technology and cultural items resulted. These encounters between local iwi, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, and the British visitors at Tolaga Bay mark the first significant positive exchange between Māori and Pākehā. Scientists and artists on board the Endeavour collected flora and fauna, and recorded the local landscape.
Strong relationships built in 2004 with the Royal Societies of New Zealand and London, Natural History Museum of London, Kew Gardens, the British High Commission, the British Council, and Cambridge University, along with communities in Whitby and Portsmouth, have strengthened in the years since the last Transit of Venus. These connections have gone hand in hand with increased pride in local Uawa history and identity, and consequent flow-on into educational and community activities.
For several months Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti and the Uawa community have been working with a core group of distinguished individuals from the MacDiarmid Institute and Victoria University of Wellington, the Royal Society of New Zealand, as well as the Gisborne District Council, on a number of projects centred around Tolaga Bay as the national centre of observation of the Transit of Venus on 6th June 2012.
Te Aitanga a Hauiti and the Tolaga Bay community will stage a series of lead-up events, beginning in June 2011, culminating in several days of festivities over Queen’s Birthday weekend, prior to the observation day in 2012. A calendar of events will be announced early in the new year.
The MacDiarmid Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Royal Society of New Zealand are planning a forum in association with the Transit of Venus to be held in Gisborne in the days following the Transit of Venus in 2012. Tairāwhiti Museum will also hold relevant exhibitions of art and artefacts, relating particularly to Tahiti, the home of Tupaea; and facilitate possible repatriation of significant Te Aitanga a Hauiti taonga held in overseas repositories.
Several local initiatives already underway, including the restoration of Tolaga Bay wharf, renovation and upgrading of historic Reynolds Hall and development of the Uawanui-a-Ruamatua riverside heritage trail, are set for completion by June 2012. These will all be key to events on the observation day, when the community plans to host several hundred visitors. Gathering people for the Transit of Venus observations will highlight the tourism potential of the Uawa district, and economic benefits will last well beyond June 2012.
Student exchanges with Tahiti and England are planned, and discussions are underway as to how the Natural History Museum, Cambridge University and Kew Gardens can be involved in the lead-up to and marking of the observation day. A number of New Zealand scientific societies and institutions have shown interest in timing national and international gatherings so as to include the Transit of Venus observations at Tolaga Bay on 6th June 2012 as part of their programmes.
“The Transit of Venus 2012 provides rich educational opportunities at Tolaga Bay Area School and Kuranui, utilising science, technology and the arts within the curriculum over the next two years,” says principal Nori Parata. “Involvement in the Transit will extend our community involvement and develop a sense of wider world citizenship among our students.”
3 December 2010
On 2 December, the people of Tolaga Bay announced their intention to be the centre of observation and celebration of the next Transit of Venus on 6 June 2012.
In support of their plans, Professor Sir Paul Callaghan issued this statement:
“In 2004 I was involved in a project to celebrate the great adventure of James Cook and his crew, who traveled far across the world to measure the 1769 Transit of Venus as part of the world’s first international science expedition. After observing the Transit in Tahiti they sailed to the Southern Ocean making landfall at Tolaga Bay, on the East Coast of Aotearoa, where their arrival astounded the long isolated tangata whenua. The men on board the Endeavour were amazed and delighted by the people, the plants and the landscape. Tolaga Bay is thus an important place in our nation’s history.
“Transits of Venus occur in pairs separated by 8 years, with over a century elapsing between pairs. On the 6th June, 2012, the second transit of Venus of the current pair will occur, this one the equivalent of the 1769 transit. We will use this 2012 waypoint to contemplate the future of our land and descendants, in a series of celebrations and events centered on Tolaga Bay and Gisborne.
“I think New Zealand has the potential for a great future, provided that we look forward to building a just, outward-looking society in which skill and enterprise are celebrated and opportunities extended to all, using science as our compass in navigating problems of the 21st century.
“I very much hope to be in Tolaga Bay on 6 June 2012 to be part of this marvellous gathering.”
Sir Paul and colleagues at Victoria University of Wellington, Professors Bill Manhire and Lydia Wevers, have banded together with the Royal Society of New Zealand, the Tolaga Bay community, and the MacDiarmid Institute, to initiate and organise events which celebrate our shared history and look to the future.
They are also working with UK institutions such as the Natural History Museum of London, the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, whose representatives have been invited to attend the celebration in Tolaga Bay on 6 June, symbolic of the joining of our two cultures and the importance of international scientific cooperation. The Royal Society of London initiated the expedition by Cook and others in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus and thus estimate the distance between the Earth and the Sun.