HOBEC Whakatane

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These paintings look into the history and cultural significance of the geography of Whakatane, utilizing Maori tukutuku motifs combined with European traditions of landscape painting.


The paintings continue my recent explorations of craft, decoration and sacredness. Geometric tukutuku structures are overlaid with translucent landscape images to explore the harmonics of pattern and depiction. Each painting references a specific event in Whakatane’s history, with tukutuku patterns chosen to continue and enhance the narrative.



Wairaka. Oil on board, 2015.


This painting tells the story of the origins of Whakatane. The Mataatua canoe came ashore on the beach so the men could go and explore the surrounding lands. While the women were waiting with the waka it began to drift off shore. Wairaka was the daughter of chief Toroa and she saw the need for urgent action. Despite the fact that women were forbidden to paddle the waka she rallied the women and said “Kia Whakatane au i ahau” (I will act like a man) and paddled the waka ashore to save themselves and the men who had gone exploring. The view is one that the men could have had as they looked down helplessly on the waka drifting away on the tide. The tukutuku is the kaokao pattern, which represents arms or ribs of warriors in the action of a haka.



Mataatua. Oil on board, 2015.


The wharenui Mataatua is the famous meeting house that was built to unify and inspire the people of Ngati Awa. It was taken by the Crown soon after it was built in 1875, and toured around the world as a stunning example of Maori craftsmanship. Finally, it was returned and re-built near its original site on the shore of Whakatane river, close to the river mouth. Once again, Mataatua can proudly stand in its rightful place, as a cultural focus for Ngati Awa, and as a place of learning and inspiration for visitors. The view is from the pa site Puketapu, looking down onto Mataatua and out to sea. The tukutuku is the Poutama pattern which represents the steps of progress and advance, growth and ascension toward higher levels of learning and achievement. In the painting it ascends and descends, then returns to its original point.

Tauranga OMS

Matiu Parakatone Tahu


This painting looks into the history and cultural significance of the geography of Te Papa, the site of Alfred Brown’s mission station. This painting continues my recent explorations of decoration and its connection to sacredness. European traditions of landscape painting are combined with particular tukutuku patterns that are chosen to continue and enhance the narrative.  


Henry Williams first visited Tauranga in 1826. The local Maori were keen to trade with the missionaries, hoping to get muskets. Williams visited again in 1827 and continued on to Whakatane. On his return voyage he stopped again, but found a very different Tauranga. Ngati Maru from Hauraki had attacked the pa at Te Papa killing or enslaving nearly all of the inhabitants. To the horror of the missionaries, all they found were bodies and remnants of cannibal feasts.


Alfred Brown settled in 1838 and fully established the Tauranga mission station we now know as The Elms. Brown was the central character of this place and era, but it is one of his associates that I want to draw attention to.


Matiu Parakatone Tahu was the Tohunga (priest) of the people who lived at Otamataha Pa, the area that now is the site of the mission cemetery. He was feared and respected even by his enemies and his dwelling was the only one left intact when Ngati Maru attacked the pa. He became a valuable friend and ally of Brown’s and as one of the original owners of the land the mission station was on, he signed the deeds of conveyance over to the Christian Mission Society. He converted to Christianity and renounced his powers as a tohunga. He was a senior spokesman for the local Maori and aided Brown in cultural and political difficulties that arose. In 1951 he accompanied Brown to Hauraki to make peace with the Ngati Maru who had slaughtered his people. He preached a sermon based on John 17:12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”


The scene is based on sketches from the 1850’s looking East from Chapel Street toward the Otamataha Pa, Sulphur Point with Mauao in the distance. The tukutuku pattern has at its centre a white cross, a symbol of death, remembrance and the Christian faith. The tukutuku beyond that is a combination of the Poutama pattern, and the Porourangi pattern. Poutama represents the steps of progress and advance, growth and acension to higher levels of learning and achievement. Porourangi is used to tell the story of Papa and Rangi, the earth mother and sky father of Maori mythology, cosmology, and theology.