The voyage on which you are about to vicariously embark begins in mid-December 1974 in Tahiti, where Donna Merwick Dening and her husband Greg Dening lived on the outskirts of the capital Papeete with locals Aritana and Victorine Hozolet. The voyage takes in the other Society Islands to the east, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa, before taking us west to the journey’s ultimate destination – the Marquesan islands. With their ancient maraes falling into disrepair, their lonely graves neglected, and their monuments to European dreams deteriorating, the Society Islands anticipated what was to come in the Marquesas. Anticipated but did not fully prepare Donna and Greg for the experiences that awaited them at the end of December 1974 and the beginning of January 1975 on the islands of Hiva Oa, Tahuatu, Ua Huka, Nukuhiva and Ua Pou.
In the Marquesas, Greg later reflected, the silence of the land enveloped them both and made them conscious of being intruders. Donna had two purposes in keeping a journal. She signals them in the opening sentence of her first entry, penned in Sydney just before flying out to French Polynesia. ‘If I want to write this like a novel, gracefully’, she writes, ‘I want to begin with Greg.’ Greg had been appointed in 1971 Max Crawford Professor of History at his alma mater, the University of Melbourne, where Donna was also a recent appointment. Both had established reputations as fine historians. Donna for her 1973 publication Boston Priests, 1848-1910: A Study of Social and Intellectual Change, and Greg for The Marquesan Journal of Edward Robarts (1974) together with his paradigm-shifting articles on the Pacific and on the sociology of knowledge, especially historical knowledge. For both, their best known history writing was ahead of them; in Donna’s journal we gain a taste of the flavor of what was to come. For Donna, the voyage to Tahiti and the Marquesas was an opportunity to experiment with a more adventurous and unorthodox form of writing history – ‘like a novel, ‘gracefully’, as she says in her opening journal entry. Her journal, then, might be read as a precursor for the kind of transformative writing style that characterized her later award-winning histories – Possessing Albany, 1630-1710: The Dutch and English Experiences (1990), Death of a Notary: Conquest and Change in Colonial New York (1999), The Shame and the Sorrow: Dutch- Amerindian Encounters in New Netherland (2006), and Stuyvesant Bound: An Essay on Loss Across Time (2013). Keeping a journal was also an opportunity for Donna to record her affection and admiration as well as sense of responsibility for Greg. The first entry, for 11 December 1974, records how being with Greg holds her ‘excited & so happy’, how the hours are ‘luminous … with Greg looking young and suntanned’, how he buys her chocolates and beams to see her in her straw hat. ‘I am still not able to connect beauty (Beauty) with a God’ she writes, ‘only Greg’. The journal’s final entry, for 6 January 1975, closes with: ‘Greg bought me French perfume; has a headache. So good to me.’ Here and in other entries throughout the journal we catch a glimpse of the style of her later award-winning books, with transcendent themes traced out with descriptions of the everyday.
-- From the Editor's Introduction.