Robert Sullivan lives in Otago, New Zealand. He belongs to the Maori tribes Ngāpuhi, and Kāi Tahu. His seven collections of poetry include Captain Cook in the Underworld, Shout Ha! to the Sky and the best-selling Star Waka. He co-edited three major anthologies of Pacific and Māori poetry.

Cooking with Gas

(for Rachel)

After the first expedition I went home to Mrs Cook
and our lovely little Stepney home. I could have waited.
They’d given me a Greenwich pension.
I could have dined out with rear admirals
and royals. But it was the press made me do it.
They kept talking me up. By George,
I had to go out there again, and a third time too
like a Hollywood mogul. What if
I had turned the ships around,
sailed back to Deptford or Whitby,
dropped the R.N. and the F.R.S.?
Handed it over to Banks
and his orchestra like he wanted?
Or what if I stayed in Aotearoa
and shared our science,
our medical knowledge,
our carpentry and animal husbandry,
our love of books
and conservation values?
What if we had gained the friendship,
love and trust of the Natives,
and returned that equally
at the time, not needing
to constantly gaslight
and to make amends?

Reading List

I’ve been reading about topsails and studding sails,
broken top masts and barnacles, winds that come
from the south or the west, soundings, lattitude,
longitude and compass roses, sextants and quadrants,
travel clocks and scurvy, sauerkraut and lemon juice,
Newfoundland and a schooner from Massachusetts,
a man’s boyhood in Marton in Cleveland,
his learning in the Postgate School at Ayton,
his apprenticeship as a shop assistant in Staithes,
and his later apprenticeship at Whitby
which we visited fleetingly.

I never wrote about his boyhood before.

Old Government House

I want to wrap Old Government House
like Christo and Jean-Claude
I want to wrap Old Govt House
in pages of the Treaty
I want to wrap OGH
in lavalavas
I want to wrap OGH
in fine feather cloaks
I want to wrap OGH
in tartans
I want to wrap OGH
in parachute silk in balloon rubber
I want to wrap OGH
in illuminated vellum
I want to wrap OGH
in four enormous kanji blankets
for the north wind
for the south east and west winds
I want to rap its doors and say open sesame
so I did

Our Pōwhiri for the International Students

At the marae today we hosted about 150 visitors from India and the Pacific.
We spoke about our house being the kete that contains the knowledge
of love and peace. How our marae is named after the baskets
of knowledge. That they are most welcome. I led the prayer.
Then another team member gave the first mihi. They had two
speakers from their side. Then I closed our speeches
and invited the front row to hongi, while pointing to my nose
for each visitor to press their nose to rather than bumping foreheads.

In the news today an American president told four members of Congress
they should go back to where they came from. They were all women of colour.

Our visitors loved the welcome as we welcomed them to our country
and we wanted them to feel that they belonged, that it was their new home.
Nau mai rā.


Aotearoa = New Zealand
Powhiri = traditional welcome
Kete = flax basket
Hongi = greeting where noses are lightly pressed, nose to nose
Mihi = speech
Nau mai rā = welcome, you belong