By OLIVIA CALMAN
What is a Tiki? And do they really talk? A Tiki is a guardian. Carved out of wood, these
Gordon J. Calman, Tiki Talk, pen and ink 1917, (ref B-K-1108-Cover) Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
upright figures guard the entrance to a Maori Pa (village). While they do not usually talk, I know of one that does. This unique talking tiki is not made out of wood, but paper. Tiki Talk the Epistles of the Corinthians is a magazine, more specifically a century old troopship magazine. It is also my link to the First World War. Within its pages are the thoughts, emotions, and humour of the village created by the Left Wing 23rd Reinforcements (RFMTS) of the Otago Infantry, circa 1917.
In terms of its production, Tiki Talk is by no means unique. Every troopship that left New Zealand’s shores over the course of the First World War, produced at least one magazine. Shortly after leaving New Zealand, a committee would be created and charged with the task of overseeing the creation of the magazine. They would then use any means necessary, including chances of winning money, to encourage their fellow soldiers to contribute. Troopship magazines made use of the talent on board, hence why the written and artistic quality varies from publication to publication. Although technically unofficial, the production of troopship magazines was encouraged by senior members of the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces (NZEF). This was due to one very simple fact, distance. While their British counterparts only travelled for a few days to reach the western front, the New Zealand and Australian troops were faced with six to ten weeks of sea travel. Daily military drills, strict schedules and sporting events could only go so far to pass the time. These magazines were seen as a way to keep idle hands busy and minds occupied.
The overall design of a troopship magazine is very simple. The earliest New Zealand examples such as the Orari Tatler (1914), only feature one piece of hand drawn art, normally the cover, with photographs used as the only other visual content. The use of colour is very rare and only appears in a few early editions. If colour was used, it was restricted to one or two colours at most and used to highlight a flag or coat of arms. As the war progressed, most troopship magazines were printed in either Cairo or London. This change in printing location allowed for larger editions to be created, as well as greater amounts of hand drawn art to be included. By 1917, when Tiki Talk was produced, the art is almost as prevalent as the written word.
Creating something that would cater to the imagination and desires of such a large cross section of New Zealand Society, was never going to be an easy task, but these magazines achieved just that. They are filled with poems, songs, musical scores, agony aunts, short stories, inside jokes, sporting results, theatrical reviews, news (real and imagined), autograph pages, photographs, drawings and the documentation of the Marriage of Neptune. A ceremony that was conducted upon the crossing of the equator, vital if a soldier wished to see land again! However, there is one thing missing from all troopship magazines, references of the violence to come. As the war progressed, the meaning behind the production of these magazines changed. Originally intended as a means to distract the men, they turned into something much more important. As the cover of Tiki Talk states, they became souvenirs. A platform where a man could leave his mark and look back on those ten weeks at sea with a sense of fondness. They provided a means to keep laughing, a light in the dark as it were. This concept is carried through into the creation of the trench editions which were created for similar reasons, but under much harsher conditions. Ultimately these publications, both troopship and trench, had more importance placed upon them than was probably ever intended. They became a method to document a culture, a village and society that only existed for a short period of time.
Tiki Talk Epistles of the Corinthians (so named for the troopship the S.S Corinth) is one of the best examples of a troopship magazine produced by the New Zealanders during the First World War. This is because it does something that very few achieved. It pushes the emerging sense of national identity through the use of New Zealand and Maori iconography to the forefront. This was in response to a much larger shift that occurred after 1915, in both New Zealand and Australian trench art. Pre 1916, the artwork featured in both trench and troopship magazines from these two nations, was dominated by symbols of Britain and the Empire. The Union Jack, British Lion, the Crown and Britannia were all heavily featured. Then something happened, or more to the point, Gallipoli happened and the shift in iconography was a direct result of the events that occurred over those eight months. Britain and her iconography disappear, to the extent that it does not appear in Tiki Talk. This is not due to any long term anger felt towards the British. Gallipoli is a complex subject for Australia and New Zealand. While it was and still is seen as a military failure, the emotions of anger were quickly replaced with ones of national pride. Gallipoli is after all, the birth place of the ANZAC myth. Gallipoli allowed these two ANZAC nations to realise through a baptism of fire, that their national identity was not solely linked to Britain and the Empire, but that each of them had the means to stand on their own. It was a chance to create an individual sense of national identity. For New Zealand, this meant that the kiwi, the silver fern, koru and tikis’ became the means by which the men of the NZEF defined themselves. All of these we still use today to symbolise our country. What is unique about this shift, is that at this point in New Zealand’s history, it does not filter back home. This change in national identity, only exists in the world and culture created by the frontline of the First World War.
Tiki Talks’ cover alone illustrates this change in national identity. Here, the artist has created something that is undeniably “kiwi”. The traditional aspects of the Union Jack and New Zealand flag have been removed. Instead, the artist focuses solely on Maori iconography. A Wharenui (Craved Maori Meeting House) has been deconstructed and twisted this way and that, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, in order to spell out the title. The tiki sits behind the words guarding the content within. The artist has retained the traditional view of the troopship, but he has made it smaller and wrapped it in the capital C of the subheading that resembles a Maori waka, the first means of transport to New Zealand. The two featured figures perch rather haphazardly upon the subheading. Both the Pākehā (European) soldier and Maori warrior appear relaxed and deep in conversation. The artist is paying homage to New Zealand’s complex cultural past, as well as acknowledging the Maori members of the 23rd RFMTS on board.
The editor, Chaplain – Captain A. Allen, states that he and his team set out with one goal in mind, to create the best troopship magazine ever produced. I think they have achieved this, but maybe I am letting emotion cloud that judgement. The art contained within Tiki Talk is my personal link to the First World War. In his introduction, Allen mentions the ships artist, he writes;
Where the written word may have failed, we may fairly claim that our artist has succeeded. The Epistles of the Corinthians are enriched by a series of cartoons and sketches, the likes of which has not been seen in any previous troopship journal. We have been fortunate in having on board our ship a black-and-white artist of more than ordinary ability and cleverness. Had Tiki Talk contained nothing more than Cal’s sketches it would have been worthwhile.
To read such praise is emotional. I never met Cal and up until three years ago he was nothing more than a name, a branch on my family tree. I knew he was a teacher, husband, father and free mason, but the man meant very little. Now thanks to his art, I understand him better, and I am proud to say that Gordon Jamieson Calman (Cal) was my great grandfather. Unfortunately I have not been able to find a photo of Gordon from this period in his life, but as I would like to introduce him to you, a photo taken some twenty four years later will have to do.
Ruby Calman (nee Sellar), Lawrence Calman, Malcom Calman, Gordon Calman, photograph Calman family collection
Gordons’ experience of war does not follow the trend that one would expect. It started out just as any other kiwis did, with enlistment. Gordon signed up in November 1916, just a few short months before conscription was introduced in New Zealand. Twelve days before his departure, he married his sweetheart Ruby Sellar. If he never came back, she would not only receive a widow’s pension, she would also be the first to be notified. Once arriving in England in June 1917, Gordons’ story becomes a little bit harder to trace. I know he was injured on the first day of the battle of Passchendaele and he never returned to the frontline. However, as he is missing from the New Zealand list of injuries for that day I do not know the nature of his injury. He appears a few months later at the NZEF headquarters in France. Due to his background as a teacher he was possibly useful there. By May 1918, he was a member of the Digger Pierrots concert party troop, with whom he remained until his discharge in New Zealand in April 1919. The Pierrots were the creation of fellow kiwi Pat Hanna. How and why he ended up with the Pierrots was a mystery to my family. No one knew that this was a part of his story and it only came to light during research for my postgraduate art history honours thesis when I opened a long forgotten box hidden under my aunt’s bed. At first glance Gordon’s inclusion in this troop seems a bit odd. He did not play an instrument, sing, dance or act, but as Tiki Talk proves, he could draw. Gordon produced, the Pierrots advertising, programmes and possibly even their sets. He also took part in the show drawing ‘lightning sketches’, caricatures in other words. This talent is on full display in Tiki Talk and was most likely the reason he was selected to be the main artist for the magazine. His talent for caricatures was something, so I am told he practiced surreptitiously in mason meetings. A large number of Tiki Talks illustrations feature more senior members of the 23rd RFMTS, drawn in this manner, most are respectful, but a few are more blatant in their humour. Gordon also applied this skill to his fellow members of the Pierrots. The family has a collection of caricatures that reflect the unique talents that each member brought to the Pierrots. We even have one of Gordon, well at least we think it is him.
Gordon J. Calman, 2nd Steward, O.C. Scran, pen and ink, 1917 (Ref. A-224-026) Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
Gordon J. Calman, Flute Player, pen and ink, 1918, Calman Family Collection.
The choice to use solely Maori and New Zealand iconography in Tiki Talk would most likely have been due to a decision made by Gordon. As a school teacher, Gordon taught Maori to his Maori students. He was aware that the language and culture associated with Maori was in trouble. In the early twentieth century it looked as if Maori culture would soon despair. This was a result of intermarriages between Maori and Europeans and the traditional skills such as carving not being passed down to the next generations. Tiki Talk is evidence not only of Gordon’s response to this crises, but also to the much bigger shift of national identity that was created by the ANZAC soldiers. This choice also highlights Gordons own sense of identity. Through him I am an eighth generation Kiwi, so in 1917 Gordon as a fifth generation one. He identifies more with New Zealand then with Britain, the traditional motherland. It is no wonder then that his art in Tiki Talk, New Zealand at the Front 1918 and his personal sketch book from the war are dominated by images of New Zealand.
Gordon J. Calman, Roll of Honour, pen and ink, 1917 (Ref. A-224-039) Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.
When discussing Gordon and Tiki Talk, there is one image that cannot be left out. This drawing is Gordon’s most personal one, it is also my inspiration. She is the reason I have researched New Zealand troopship magazines and ANZAC trench art of the First World War. Positioned at the very heart of Tiki Talk, this image is a work of genius. In stark contrast to the other pieces of art, this image represents raw emotion. Gordon has taken the outline of New Zealand and turned it into a women waving goodbye to the man she loves. Head in hand, her face is hidden from view by her flowing hair. Her skirt creates the South Island with the pooling fabric used to allude to the rugged terrain of the deep south, while her slightly bent knee, fashions the Southern Alps. Who is she? A sister, wife or mother, she is all of them, she is New Zealand. The title of this image has long been debated. The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington has her listed as Roll of Honour, so named for the blank scroll extending from her back. But my family has never felt that this title was right, we simply call her Mother as she represents New Zealand as the Motherland. Gordon was very careful with his titles and the fact that there is not one on prominent display, tends to
indicate that her identity is up to the individual soldier to decide. While the inspiration for this drawing has never really been considered, I think due to the few clues left behind, that this is Ruby. Gordon only married her twelve days before he departed for war, so he would have been thinking about her and whether or not he would ever see her again. In terms of the actual drawing, there are two clues. Gordon has signed this using his full name. Within Tiki Talk this is the only time it occurs, perhaps showing a more personal connection to the subject and alluding to who he is fighting for. Also Mother has a copyright mark. She is the only image that I have come across in either troopship or trench magazines to have this addition. It would indicate that this image was seen by Gordon as worth protecting and he would be pleased to know that the copyright still exits.
Tiki Talk is a treasure trove. One hundred years later it will still make you laugh and cry. It proved the means for me to understand my great grand-father and make sense of the stories my grandad tells of him. Without Gordon as my link, I probably would not know that Tiki Talk existed. Which begs the question. What is missing from the established timeline of New Zealand troopship magazines? How many are hidden away in boxes under beds and left forgotten in attics. These magazines are a vibrant source of information, of a culture that existed for at the most ten weeks at sea. Like their trench cousins, the culture that created them ceased to exist after the 11 November 1918. Gordon and his colleagues produced a magazine that in terms of quality, no other troopship was able to match. If we put aside all the art, the iconography and the reasons behind Tiki Talks production, we are left with a tiki that speaks for a group of men who in April 1917, were unsure if they would ever see home again. Tiki Talk is their memorial.
 ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps.
 Chaplain – Captain A. Allen, ‘About ourselves’ , Tiki Talk Epistles of the Corinthians, 1917, (London: Argus Printing Company Ltd), Calman Family Collection, p.3