There are a surprising number of people on Norfolk Island with an artistic bent, considering we have such a small population. Norfolk is not like some areas in Australia where artists have gravitated to because of common interests, but its artistic inclinations are probably attributable to the Tahitian origin of the Norfolk inhabitants, where art played a huge roll in everyday Polynesian life and culture over thousands of years. The increase in tourism on Norfolk has also played a role in the development of arts and crafts, which are a source of income for many residents. It was, therefore, nothing out of the ordinary to see a picture in the local paper of what, at first glance, looked like a sculpture of a giant snail. On closer inspection it was the second biggest hihi (mollusc) I had ever seen. What was so extraordinary was that the abovementioned hihi was sitting in China and had been sculptured by a local Norfolk Islander. This certainly needed further investigation and I was lucky enough to do exactly that. What I wanted to know is how a bloke from a little rock in the middle of the Pacific ended up as an exhibitor at the 9th International Sculpture Symposium in Changchun, China.
The first step in my investigation was to meet the sculptor himself, mainly because I have a policy of not writing about someone unless I like them. The best way I know of establishing that is to knock back a few beers together. So when I rang him to arrange a meeting, he suggested just that, which made him OK in my book. He also suggested that we meet in the shed at his farm. Coming from a long line of “shed men” that sounded just great to me.
David “Dids” Evans is fiercely proud of his heritage and of Norfolk Island. I spent a lot of time chatting with him about his childhood and growing up on Norfolk because I was interested to know where he had come from and what paths in his life had led him to where he was today. He spoke with great passion about the Island, his friends and in particular about the Pitcairn/Norfolk language, which he believes, is the most important piece of heritage that the Island’s people possess. He spent two years in New Zealand at boarding school, did an apprenticeship with a building company in Australia (which he finished on Norfolk), and owned a trucking company on Norfolk. His interest in woodcarving began at an early age, and would set him on a path to the world stage in China many years later.
Now, if I thought I was going to find out how Dids was chosen to submit an exhibit in Changchun, I was sadly mistaken, because Dids himself wasn’t sure. His host in China said that he found his name in a library in China, which just goes to show that if you just keep doing the little things in life to the best of your ability, bigger things come along. Dids is not your intellectual highbrow artist; he’s a down-to-earth, hard-working practical bloke with a long history of sticking to the job. He worked for 10 years as the Project Manager for Agnes Haines in the creation of “Walk in the Wild”, and worked at restoring Government House for another 10 years. As a matter of fact, he told me that he would not have gone to China if he had still been working at Government House, as he felt he would have been doing the wrong thing. Now that’s dedication!
Dids was one of the Norfolk Islanders that went on a “pilgrimage” to Pitcairn in 1984, and one of his great memories was when he yelled out to the Pitcairners in the Norfolk/Pitcairn language as they approached the ship. He told me that although they knew that Norfolk Islanders were of Pitcairn descent, the sound of someone from a place 3,000 miles away speaking their language was a very emotional and poignant moment. Dids told me that no Norfolk Islander had been back to Pitcairn in 120 years! In 1991, Dids and Albert Buffet went to Pitcairn for five weeks and worked and lived in the community, and did wood carving. He said it wasn’t long enough.
In 1999, the “Pitcairn Society” wanted to create a replica of the HMS Bounty for the upcoming new millennium. This replica sits outside Customs House in the centre of town, and is a beautifully detailed bronze sculpture. Dids was chosen to build the replica and he worked with an Australian foundry in having the finished bronze ship cast from the amazingly detailed replica that he produced. He showed me progressive photos of the work. The finished product speaks for itself. What you may not know is that Dids had an English pound that belonged to his Grandfather and an English penny that he owned cast under the hatch. Furthermore, he had a piece of ballast from the real HMS Bounty set into the bow of the longboat and a copper nail from the Bounty set into the anchor.
I started out to write an article about a giant sculpture of a hihi in China and ended by writing more about the hihi’screator because behind it is a pretty interesting bloke. Dids has a fairly dry sense of humour and if the Chinese commented to him on the hihi’s huge size, he probably told them that it was only a baby “back home” and that you needed a harpoon for the really big ones. I spent a couple of hours with Dids, but I’ve only touched on a few of the things he told me. I reckon I could nearly fill a book with the rest. I haven’t spoken of his going to Europe at age 17, winning the Churchill Scholarship, building a church and shipping it to Vanuatu, and a host of other interesting ventures.
Dids likes the little ironies in life like the leadlight scene in the Mutiny on the Bounty, which he recently saw on a stopover in Miami, or the fact that he was standing on a place called Flagstaff Hill, which overlooks Pirates Bay in Trinidad and Tobago (he lives at Flagstaff on Norfolk Island) Well here’s the thing: Dids has been asked to enter a submission for this year’s symposium in Changchun and is one of only 23 invitees, 15 of whom will be selected. The Chinese have the entire world to choose from and an ordinary bloke from Norfolk Island is in the top 23 list. Now that’s a damn good effort. Clearly, the Chinese like giant hihis.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V1 Iss2, 2008. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.