Te Ohonga offers a significant awakening

Te Ohonga offers a significant awakening

By Ian Wards | 15 February, 2024

Te Ohonga: The Awakening
Brett Rangitaawa, Ngake and Whātaitai, 2023, bronze. Wellington Museum – Te Ohonga: The Awakening.

Contemporary Māori artists from Te Upoko o te Ika a Māui are giving aroha to undocumented taonga in Te Ohonga: The Awakening, a new exhibition at Te Waka Huia o Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho Wellington Museum.

The process of developing the exhibition opened our eyes to the cultural value of taonga in our collection, and also to the respect, deep knowledge and skill exhibited by the artists who responded to them. I co-curated the show with Toi Māori Tātai Taura Dr Anna-Marie White (Te Ātiawa), the driving force behind the exhibition. Anna is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about toi Māori and I was privileged to ride in her slipstream through the development of the exhibition.

This is a unique collaboration between Wellington Museum, Toi Māori Aotearoa and 19 contemporary artists and artist collectives working in Māori creative hubs throughout Te Upoko o te Ika (the Wellington region). The artists were invited to manaaki the taonga collected by the community minded, Martinborough-based businessman George Pain (1846-1937) throughout his life. His widow Mary donated these taonga to Wellington City Council in 1946, and they came into Wellington Museum’s collection in 2004.

Te Ohonga: The Awakening
Te Ohonga The Awakening is at Wellington Museum 9 December to 1 April.

Like many taonga collected by Pākehā in the late 19th /early 20th century, the history, stories and whakapapa of these taonga were not documented, leading to them sitting silently in our storage site for almost two decades. Museum staff, including myself, often feel frustrated that these histories were not recorded. This is partly a reflection of late 19th century Pākehā thinking, where taonga Māori were incorrectly perceived as curios, objet d’art or relics of a dying warrior race. The idea of keeping detailed records of their cultural use was probably not top of mind for George Pain.

More broadly, museums are products of late 18th century European imperial expansion. They were developed to showcase cultural and natural history material, following the scientific thinking of the time. Wellington Museum, being a relatively young museum, does not have too much imperial baggage, but we do have the George Pain collection to grapple with.

We are grateful to the artists who dedicated their time, passion and energy to this project, creating exquisite new works in a wide variety of media and practices, full of depth and meaning that awhi (support, embrace) these taonga. We filmed and interviewed many as they created their work, capturing the expert knowledge imbued in their artistry, their kōrero with the original makers of the taonga, and the insights they provided about the George Pain collection. You can see these poignant interviews, in the exhibition and on our website.

We opened the exhibition with an uplifting powhiri and later, over a cup of tea I heard that George Pain’s grandnephew Dennis Gibbs had come to the opening of his own accord. Dennis was overjoyed to see the care and respect being given to these taonga and to George Pain’s legacy, bringing the story full circle.


Proudly taking a little piece of Pōneke home

Proudly taking a little piece of Pōneke home

By Alicia Harris | December 7, 2023

Ever wondered how gift stores are curated? Pictured, the ‘I need my Space’ range of products at Space Place in Wellington.

I came across a couple of cruise ship passengers at Cable Car Museum a couple of weeks ago, on a typically blustery Wellington day. One of the women picked up a T-shirt featuring the word Wellington being buffeted by gusty clouds and said, “Look it’s Wellington! And it really is windy!” and they burst out laughing.

They only docked in Wellington Harbour for a day, but they’ll take that moment away with them and always remember when they were in Wellington it was wild and windy, but beautiful. It’s a great example of how we can make an immediate impact and connection between our place and the people who visit our cultural institutions like Cable Car Museum, City Gallery, Wellington Museum, Capital E, Nairn St Cottage and Space Place.

‘Tis the season to be ticking off Christmas gift lists for most people, but like many on the other side of the counter we’ve been planning for months and have a very clear intention behind our gift store approach. It’s important to us because Experience Wellington is Wellington Museums Trust, a registered charity and our retail revenue, venue hire and donations help us to continue to bring remarkable experiences to people in the city.

We want our gift shops to be an extension of our visitors’ experience, rather than just an add on, ‘do you want fries with that?’ We deliberately offer keepsakes that mirror the stories we tell within our walls, with three quarters of our products celebrating Pōneke by promoting local creatives and Māori makers. We are a creative capital, with creativity spilling into our cracks and alleyways, independent pop-up shops and markets. I feel really lucky we have the bricks and mortar to champion our city’s makers’ skills in our spaces. Showing creativity is still an essential part of our capital city’s DNA.

We drive revenue back into our creative communities by featuring plenty of quality local brands including books from Huia Publishers, Apostle hot sauces, chocolate from Wellington Chocolate Factory and Wonderland, National Candles and timo and toki made by Paku. We’re equally proud of the products designed by our in-house team. We found our Wellington travel poster was a big hit during the Covid-19 pandemic and our exclusive ranges have blossomed from there.

We put a lot of thought into these lines, like our Wahine Mīharo range created to champion women around the time of the Fifa Women’s World Cup. It’s a product we thought women would buy to treat themselves but when a Dad came in asking for help to find his daughter’s size, we realised the range was also a way for people to celebrate their daughters, partners, mothers and other important women in their lives.

That moment of connection and making people happy is always something I look out for and regularly see at Space Place where our ‘I need my Space’ range of products is flying out the door. It makes everyone laugh, although they interpret the message in different ways. Some want to make a statement about looking after themselves, some love anything to do with space and others are just tickled by an astronaut taking a moment on the moon to sit on a deck chair.

If you’re looking for a gift this holiday season, consider taking home a piece of Pōneke and thinking about supporting the many stores in our city that champion local makers. We consider it our responsibility to celebrate our city. You can, too.

Experience Wellington’s Wahine Mīharo range was created to champion women around the time of the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Display tells story of first woman cable car driver

Display tells story of first woman cable car driver

By Megan Dunn, Curator – Special Projects | November 7, 2023

Lorrayne Ruka-Issac and members of the band Certain Sounds on the Cable Car around 1981, photographer unknown. Courtesy of Kavi Jaz Faulkner-Ruka.

I meet Kavi Jaz Faulkner-Ruka at a cafe in Tauranga and she hands me a soft black folder. Inside is a sweet piece of history – two photographs of her mother Lorrayne Ruka-Issac (Ngāpuhi) dressed in her cable car uniform, a retro illustrated coaster of one of Wellington’s famous red cable cars travelling up that steep incline and, sweetest of all, a calico cloth printed with an image of Lorrayne’s face, hand drawn koru motifs swirling around the edge of the fabric like a frame. On the cloth, the caption reads, “It’s me and damn, I’m good.” This cloth was a personalised leaving gift presented to Lorrayne in 1981 by the Kelburn Cable Car staff.

Ruka-Issac was the first woman funicular tram driver in New Zealand and damn, she was good at it.

“Mum said she loved driving the cable car. That was one of the best times in her life,” Faulkner-Ruka says, as sit at a table with her and her wife, Chucky, looking at Lorrayne’s old CV.

I am borrowing these irreplaceable items – the photos, the coaster, and the beautiful cloth – so I can feature Lorrayne’s story in a display I’m working on for the Cable Car Museum.

I ask them what the monetary value of the items is for my paperwork, and they laugh. “The wrath of hell!” Chucky says, so I write that down for the registrar.

The Kelburn Cable Car first started running in 1902 and the bright red cable cars have long been a symbol of the city. At the top of Kelburn hill, just next to the terminal, is the Cable Car Museum. We house two original cars, ‘Grip Car One” and Grip Car three’ plus the historic winding gear. The museum tells the story of the cable car’s technological innovation and evolution but, over the last few months, I’ve also been gathering personal stories and memories to bring this history to life.

“Being a woman trying to get into what was called then a man’s job it was more difficult for her— but she stood her ground. I was proud to be her daughter,” Faulkner-Ruka says.

In October 1979 Lorrayne and her brother Henry Ruka both worked for Wellington City Transport driving buses, but when the opportunity arose to apply for a job on the new ‘Swiss-made’ cable cars that replaced the old ‘red rattlers’, Lorrayne put her hat in the ring.

She went for the job and got it, much to the consternation of male colleagues. But Lorrayne took their resistance in her stride.

Chucky says: “The staff asked her to wear a skirt, but she said, ‘No, they all get to wear a suit and tie. I’m wearing a suit and tie’ so in the photos you can see she’s got a tie and her pants on. She did not want to be stereotyped by her gender.”

Cable Car drivers are ambassadors for the city and Lorrayne had a gift for customer service. She also loved music and on the Kelburn Cable Car she used to play music to her passengers. Her favourite bands included The Hi Marks, a Māori showband who put out two bestselling albums. Her brother jokes they owed their success to Lorrayne playing them on the Cable Car. The Hi Marks were whānau featuring Lorrayne’s uncles, Butch, Hayward, and George Ruka (alongside their nephew John.)

“She took her guitar everywhere,” Faulkner-Ruka says.

In 1981 Lorrayne left the Kelburn Cable Car for an overseas adventure. The New Zealand Herald and the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly both covered stories on Lorrayne as the first cable car driver. (I am still chasing those stories down!) Lorrayne continued to operate cable cars in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, San Franciso, and Switzerland. She died in 2015.

Over the phone, Lorrayne’s older sister Mere Nakare, based in Blenheim, tells me, “I always knew my sister was a part of history.”

Lorrayne’s story will be featured in newly refreshed displays at the Cable Car Museum.

If you have any memories of Lorrayne, recognise any of the staff in this photo or have other memories of the Kelburn Cable Car you’d like to share, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

From Niue to Niu Silani

From Niue to Niu Silani

By Experience Wellington Digital Content Producer Tom Etuata 

“Labour shortages in the 1960s and 1970s spurred the migration of thousands of Pacific Island people to New Zealand. Many settled in Wellington.” – Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 

My parents moved from Niue to Niu Silani (New Zealand) in mid 1967. 

My Matua Tanē (father) Tom Etuata Snr received an Inland Revenue scholarship to work in Ueligitoni (Wellington) – so he and my Matua Fifine (mother) Akeletama made the decision to move to Niu Silani. 

They arrived on the ship SS Tofua which sailed to Niu Silani and docked in Okalana (Auckland). From there they travelled down to Ueligitoni. 

Pasifika families migrating to Ueligitoni supported each other as they settled into a new country. On Aho Tapu (Sunday), some Pasifika families would congregate at the Pacific Island Church (PIC) in Newtown. This place was an important support base in the 1960s, 70s and 80s – not only as a place of worship but also for maintaining ties with other Pasifika families living and settling in Ueligitoni. 

By the early 1970s The Niue Maaga (Community) in Ueligitoni was tupuhake (growing). This led to Niuean Minister Reverend Lagi Sipeli and his wife Mokataufoou (Moka) Sipeli arriving from Okolana to Ueligitoni to provide much needed spiritual guidance and support.

Reverend Lagi Sipeli outside the Pacific Islanders' Church in Constable Street, Newtown, 1978. Credit: The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library: EP/1978/2101/5-F
The Reverend Lagi Sipeli and Mokataufoou (Moka) Sipeli. Photo courtesy of Moka Sipeli.

It was evident that there wasn’t enough taimi (time) and space for the Niuean community to have their own Fekafekau (Service) at PIC, so in October 1977 the Niuean congregation moved from the PIC Church to Fakalataha (join) the Palagi (European) congregation at St James Presbyterian Church on Adelaide Road, Newtown. 

St James Church, taken by Charles Fearnley in 1976. Credit: Wellington City Libraries.

It was a perfect union between the Palagi and Niuean congregations, and both communities prospered. Many Niuean children from that time in the 1980s (including me) remember days of Sunday Schools, White Sunday Services, haircutting ceremonies, big families getting together, big gatherings and even bigger feasts.  

Niuean White Sunday at St James Presbyterian Church, Newtown. St James Presbyterian Church (Newtown Wellington) 1982. :Anniversary slide show. Ref: PA12-1515-31. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

In 2013 the St James English Presbyterian Church dissolved and the Niuean congregation moved to St Giles in Kilbirnie. The St James building was considered an earthquake risk and closed for a time, until it was renovated, becoming an upmarket apartment complex in 2016.  

Saint James building today. Now a residential apartment complex.
Saint James building today. Now a residential apartment complex.

I went to the first open home of the completed St James apartment complex, curious to see how this once sacred building, where I’d spent most Sundays during childhood, now looked. It had been divided into compartments for luxury living rooms and bedrooms, complete with ensuites. It felt weird, a bit sad and a touch surreal. Other members of the Wellington Niuean community also came along, similarly curious about how the church had been transformed. In a way that day was a Wellington Niuean community reunion of sorts. We reminisced about days gone by, while pointing out to prospective buyers that their beautiful dining and kitchen area was once the spot where the communion table and ministers pulpit stood. 

We Collect Wellington. Tamai e mautolu a Ueligitoni. 


Mokataufoou (Moka) Sipeli has been involved with the Wellington Niuean community from the early 1970s.   

Along with her husband the Rev Lagi Sipeli, they both served the Niue community for 34 years retiring from ministry in 2004. Four years later, in 2008, Lagi passed away.   

Moka is the matriarch of the Wellington Niuean community and resides in Haitatai. She’s a strong advocate of Takiofa (preserving) the Niuean language. She created the first Niuean Language Nest in New Zealand in 1984 and received the Order of Service Medal in 2018 for service to the Niuean community. 

She has kindly donated two of her church Pulou (hats) to Wellington Museum’s collection, which will be on display in future, to help us share the story of the Niuean community.  She wore these hats when attending services at both St James and PIC churches. Pulou (hats) are worn by Niuean women when they attended church services as a sign of Fakalilifu (respect). 

Mokataufoou (Moka) Sipeli.
Moka Sipeli’s Church Hats Photo: Wellington Museum Collection.
Moka Sipeli’s Church Hats Photo: Wellington Museum Collection.
From left to right are Moka’s daughter Joy Sipeli and son Ian Sipeli, This photograph taken around the 1990s shows Moka Sipeli wearing one of the hats donated to Wellington Museum’s collection. They're all standing outside St James Church on Adelaide Road, Newtown. Photo courtesy of Moka Sipeli.

Fakaaue Lahi (Big Thank You) to Moka Sipeli for kindly donating these hats to  

Ueligitoni Fale fakataataa tau tufuga tuai  (Wellington Museum). 

Collecting and displaying Chinese Wellington’s fascinating history

Collecting and displaying Chinese Wellington’s fascinating history

By Ian Wards

Esther, Vivian, and Mell Jean Chin outside The Favorite Milk Bar, around 1966.

Chinese Wellingtonians belong to one of our oldest, most fascinating and culturally rich communities and Wellington Museum is sharing two new stories to celebrate this proud history. 

Wellington’s Chinese community evolved as young men from the Canton area (modern day Guangzhou) arrived in the late 19th century. Initially attracted by the economic potential of the Otago goldfields, some sought better prospects in Wellington. Often working in fruit and vegetable shops or laundries, they built lives here while longing for family and the comforts of a distant homeland. 

Wellington wasn’t always the friendliest place, with deep seated and blatant racism making life hard for residents from minority groups. But with tenacious perseverance Chinese Wellingtonians have thrived, contributing to make this city the special place it is. 

In The Attic at Wellington Museum, we are sharing the uplifting and entertaining story of The Favorite Milk Bar, working closely with artist and academic Kerry Ann Lee whose grandfather, Harry Chin (Poy Hong Chin), owned the popular spot on Adelaide Rd in Newtown. 

Thought to have been the only milk bar run by Wellington Chinese in the 1960s, The Favorite Milk Bar’s young patrons would buy milkshakes, ice cream spiders, cigarettes, and dance to rock’n’roll on the jukebox until midnight. The Chin family lived upstairs from the Milk Bar and Harry’s daughter, Esther, was probably the only kid at Newtown Primary School who had home-made milkshake syrup to add to her government issue school milk. 

We’re also sharing the story of Dick Lee & Co. This Tory St store sold imported Chinese goods to Wellingtonians from the 1920s-1970s. It was a place where elderly Chinese could meet, play mahjong, and eat traditional food made by its owner, Chung Chun Ying. Working with Chung Chun Ying’s son Ken Chung, we’ve installed original signage from the shop, alongside delicate celadon spoons dating from the early 20th century. These spoons were used at Dick Lee & Co. to eat delicious fung (rice congee). 

Historians Kirsten Wong and Nigel Murphy have generously guided us in enhancing this display, creating an evocative scene for visitors to ponder and enjoy. 

Our collection also holds a magnificent cocktail dress made by Mavis Chun. It’s not on display at the moment, but it’s time in the spotlight will come. When her parents died in the late 1940s Mavis, as their oldest daughter, devoted her life to raising her nine younger siblings and running their family fruit shop. This dress is symbolic of her desire for space away from the busy demands of family and work. 

The stories we share in our exhibition spaces don’t belong to the curators, they belong to the people of our beautiful city. Wellingtonians come from an endless variety of backgrounds, culture and life journeys, and it is a privilege for us to share these stories with our visitors. We know that by working in collaboration we can turn good displays into great displays. 


We’d like to express our gratitude to the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust, whose grant helped to bring these wonderful stories and histories to life.

The Favorite Milk Bar display in The Attic at Wellington Museum.
The Milk Bar in 1974.

Layers of stories reveal hidden histories


There’s a kind of alchemy when school groups come to our museum. They bring a variety of backgrounds, experiences and a sense of wonder, and we ignite their curiosity. That’s the beautiful, unpredictable magic of museum learning.

Excited school groups are a familiar sight in Te Waka Huia o Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho Wellington Museum. There’s often a number of firsts: first time in a museum, first visit to the CBD, first visit to the city. The bus trip itself is often one of the highlights of the trip!

They are captivated by the carpet in our Te Whanganui-a-Tara exhibition on the ground floor. On their hands and knees, they eagerly search the aerial photograph imprinted in the carpet fibres for home, school, and the city’s other familiar landmarks. Elsewhere in the museum, there’s so much more to explore – a scuttling rat, a lion’s roar, and a plasma ball with lightning you can direct with your finger.
School groups are captivated by the carpet on show in Te Whanganui-a-Tara exhibition on the ground floor. On their hands and knees, they eagerly search the aerial photograph imprinted in the carpet fibres for home, school, and the city’s other familiar landmarks. WELLINGTON MUSEUM

But there’s a deeper intent to our school visits, carefully crafted by our teachers and Learning Specialists working to support Te Ao Tangata, the refreshed national social sciences curriculum that includes Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories.

Claire, a Learning Specialist, might draw the children’s attention to two street signs from Berhampore: Waripori St and Te Wharepōuri St. They are a powerful example of how the naming and renaming of places can illustrate mana whenua and local histories. Tamariki readily share examples and observations from their neighbourhoods; Remutaka comes quickly to their minds.

In the Attic on the top floor, another Learning Specialist Kurt, often gathers students around a hīnaki (eel trap). There’s always peals of laughter when Kurt shudders at the memory of dispatching tuna (eel). Through sharing their own experiences of catching tuna, the conversation centres on relationships with the awa and moana of Te Whanganui-a-Tara where the children have spent time.

In a museum dedicated to telling local stories, learning programmes support children and young people’s curiosity about where they stand. There are layers of stories and hidden, often difficult histories to explore here beneath the carpet, behind the street signs and hīnaki, and even in the architecture of the Bond Store building.

We look for intriguing, playful, and awe-inspiring ways into serious subject matter. This winter school groups sang waiata to the vast night sky in Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi Space Place’s planetarium, created cartoon-like postcards in response to Ayesha Green’s Folk Nationalism exhibition at Te Whare Toi City Gallery and produced their own local stories in Nuku te Ao Capital E’s OnTV studio. Through each of these experiences, children and young people used their voices to share stories that have often been missing from the public eye.

Enabling children and young people to learn from our whenua and explore their relationships to its histories contributes to the vibrancy of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Why don’t you come with them next time? They’ll have a lot to tell you about our place and the kind of city we have been, are and could be.

Why We Collect Wellington

Why We Collect Wellington

By Ian Wards

Have you seen the images of two of our recent acquisitions on the shipping containers outside Wellington Museum?

There’s a smashed hard drive donated by investigative journalist Nicky Hager and a detail from the artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall. Wellington Museum is not just a museum of old things, we actively collect things that tell the stories of the people of Pōneke.

Wellington Museum, with images of Nicky Hager’s broken hard drive and a detail of Xoë Hall’s artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

These objects reflect different aspects of Wellington’s rich recent history. The hard drive was hit 213 times by a police inspector after a High Court decision that a raid on his home by police in 2014 had been illegal. Police copied Hager’s files onto the hard drive but didn’t want him to access other content on it, so in a fit of pique, made a mess of it before handing it back to the surprised and bemused journalist.

Wellington Museum commissioned Xoë Hall to paint the artwork Te Whanganui-a-Tara to visualise the creative energy of Wellington, the atua Māori and natural forces that energise our place. Commissioning this artwork also gave us an opportunity to preserve something of the cityscape which Xoë has helped create. Her distinctive mural artworks which cloak our city might not survive the decades, as weather, vandalism and building changes see them slowly disappear.

Wellington Museum, in the Bond Store on the waterfront, is one of the city’s oldest buildings and was once a maritime museum. We still have a strong maritime collection, but in recent years we have actively collected Wellington things that express the creativity and innovation of Pōneke.  I argue that in the case of Wellington, its golden age was the period after 1990 when the vibe around the Absolutely Positively Wellington campaign saw the city reinvigorated and transformed into the creative capital it still is. We collect things that express this along with things from all periods in our history.

The We Collect display at Wellington Museum with the Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall in the background.

Next time you visit, have a look at our display of recently acquired things. Under the theme We Collect Wellington, you’ll see the hard drive, an umbrella donated by Dame Catherine Healy – a symbol of visibility for sex workers, the unwieldy Poly 1 computer made by the staff and students of Wellington Polytechnic in 1981 and a hockey stick, teddy bear and towelling sunhat donated by the Manning family of Tawa.

Our challenge is to reflect the diversity and richness of Wellington’s social history, but we can’t do this alone. We’re collecting for future generations to ponder and enjoy. So, if you have things that are interesting or insightful, with poignant or funny stories associated with them, get in touch with us to see if they might be right for Wellington Museum’s collections.

We’ll be changing the We Collect Wellington display in a couple of months, so come and have a look at the current objects while you can. The next display is under wraps, but I can say it will be a real Buzz.

Contact us at collections@experiencewellington.org.nz

Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall

Te Whanganui-a-Tara by Xoë Hall

By Ian Wards

Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 2021. Acrylic on board, Xoë Hall (Ngāi Tahu)

Wellington Museum asked Xoë Hall to create Te Whanganui-a-Tara artwork for our new ground-floor exhibition (of the same name) – Te Whanganui-a-Tara. This family-friendly exhibition explores the natural and cultural landscapes of Wellington.

Xoë Hall (Kāi Tahu) is a painter based in the Wellington region, who specialises in mural work. Mural work, by its very nature, is temporary, making it a challenging medium for museums to collect. It may be that few of Xoë’s murals survive in the long-term – due to exposure to weather and light, vandalism, building construction and destruction.

Having Xoë paint this artwork allowed Wellington Museum to preserve a popular part of Wellington’s current cityscape for present and future generations to enjoy.

And so it begins. Xoë sketches the outline of the artwork based on her concept drawing to the left.

Wellington Museum’s curators suggested Xoë create a painting that formed a visual personification of the whenua, moana, awa, maunga, hau and ngahere of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). The idea being that this would form a visual pepeha of this place.

Xoë was also asked to create the artwork in a way that would inspire rangatahi to respect and honour the environment, but give hope and courage for the environmental challenges they face in the future.

Of the creative process, Xoë says:

“As I was drawing I was trying to channel the energy of Pōneke city, wrapped up in the excitement of the wild wind sweeping over the whenua – which embraces the action but does not get swept away.

The atua that revealed themselve’s within the drawing are Papatūānuku – Earth Mother, symbolising the whenua; Tāwhirimātea – atua of wind and storms; and Hineraukatauri – atua wahine of Māori musical instruments, who is often personified as the case moth. We also have a guest appearance from Mahuika, atua of fire.

These atua come together to form a kaitiaki hybrid of the elements and creative vibes of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, working in unison.”

The stars of night can be seen reflected in the waters of the harbour, with the ridges of hills found in the form of Papatūānuku.

A very pregnant Xoë Hall adding the final brush strokes to her artwork.

Many other symbolic elements, or ‘easter eggs’ as Xoë calls them, can be found in the artwork.

The double headed hei tiki – symbolising Papatūānuku as the infinite mother of tangata whenua.
The hand of Mahuika, with unwavering flames – representing resilience to forceful winds.
Leather jacket sleeves – this fashionable one-off has a sleeve decorated with the colours of the earth below, and the other sleeve with the rolling city hills above.
Taniwha hybrid chest – a common theme in Xoë’s work, representing inner strength.
Futuristic sunglasses – another common theme in Xoë’s work symbolising a bright future.
The upper hand touching Tāwhirimātea's eye – a connection between whenua and the eye of the storm.
The patterns coming from Tāwhirimātea's mouth are both shooting ferns symbolising growth and gusts of wind keeping things fresh and moving.
Taniwha hybrid chest – a common theme in Xoë’s work, representing inner strength.
Te Whanganui-a-Tara on display at Wellington Museum.

Space Place shines a light on Puanga and Matariki

Space Place shines a light on Puanga and Matariki

By Colin Smillie, Experience Wellington’s Public Programmes Manager Science. 

Visit the Space Place anytime to find out more about matauranga Maori and our place in the cosmos.

At five o’clock on a cold and still morning last year, I joined 500 members of the public for a unique New Zealand experience as we gathered to share kai on Aotearoa’s first public holiday to celebrate Matariki. A karakia was given, the stars rose above the hills and images of loved ones who had passed away in the previous year were displayed. 

As a science communicator, I know that the Matariki star cluster, visible around the world, holds significance in many different cultures, but it’s hard to put into words how moving it was to watch the sunrise on the Māori New Year. It felt like a celebration that excluded nobody and included everyone. 

Matariki sits relatively near the Earth, just 444 or so light-years away, so it’s the most easily seen star cluster in our skies. Ancient Greeks named it the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, because they could see seven stars with the naked eye. In Japan, it’s known as Subaru, meaning ‘unite’. Here in Aotearoa, Māori astronomers see nine stars: Te Iwa o Matariki, the nine stars of Matariki. 

This important star cluster highlights our close connections to nature, encouraging us to remember the past, celebrate the present, and look towards the future. Across Aotearoa New Zealand iwi, hapū, and whānau tell different pūrākau, or stories, connected with Matariki. In Wellington, at Space Place Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi, we celebrate Matariki and Puanga by sharing these stories with our wider community. 

The public holiday is centred around the Matariki star cluster appearing in the early morning sky, but the star Puanga is also used as the marker for the beginning of the Māori New Year. This is because Puanga, or Rigel the brightest star in the constellation known as Orion, rises earlier and higher in the sky than Matariki, so is more visible in some parts of the country before the rising of the sun. 

In Porirua, Ngāti Toa iwi sees Matariki much more easily than in Whanganui-a-Tara, as the hills surrounding Wellington tend to block the view of the star cluster. On the west coast of the North Island, Taranaki Whānui use Puanga as the marker for the start of the New Year. When Puanga rises in the morning sky above Taranaki Maunga, this is the signal for new planting. In Ōtepoti Dunedin, Kāi Tahu celebrates both Puaka (Puanga) and Matariki because being at a lower latitude means Matariki is a little too low on the horizon to be easily seen behind the city’s many hills. 

To many iwi, the setting of Matariki in the evening sky signals the beginning of the harvest season. The rising again in the pre-dawn sky several weeks later, aligning with the moon in its third phase, signals the time to start planting and preparing for the coming year. That’s when communities gather to give thanks for the earth’s abundance, to reflect upon the year that has gone, and to share hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. It is a reminder of the importance of living in harmony with nature and a time to commemorate those who have died in the previous year. 

If you want to learn more about Puanga and Matariki and the significance of the season, join us next week at Space Place Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi or visit anytime to find out more about mātauranga Māori and our place in the cosmos. 

The inspiring life of Laura Miller

The inspiring life of Laura Miller

By Ian Wards

Laura Miller (1870-1953), was born in Port Cygnet, Tasmania on 7 April 1870. She was of Palawa (Aboriginal Tasmanian) and European descent; one of nine children born to Fanny and William Smith. Her mother Fanny was proud of being aboriginal and taught her children some of the traditions of her people as well as the violent circumstances of their slaughter at the hands of European settlers. Her father was a transported convict (convicted in Kent for stealing a donkey), who served seven years as a ‘timber getter’ in Oyster Cove, Tasmania.

Sick of the drudgery of farm life in rural Tasmania, Laura ran away to Hobart aged 12 and apprenticed herself to a dressmaker. There she became highly skilled as a ‘white worker’ sewing underwear and blouses trimmed with broderie anglaise and lace. She also made outer garments and in this way was able to earn a living.

She married Francis Thomason, a storekeeper, around 1890. They had a daughter Vera. Tragically Francis died in an accident not long after.

Laura remarried, to John Miller, in 1891. They had a daughter Recamea in 1894. John Miller was an abusive husband and they had separated by 1901.

Portrait photo of Laura Miller, around 1910.
Laura Miller, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family

A new life in Wellington

Laura moved to Wellington with her two daughters in 1907, to start a new life with her new husband William William’s (who changed his surname to Miller). William became a gardener at Wellington Botanic Gardens and Laura set up business as a seamstress, opening an ‘Underlinen Bazaar’ at 52 Adelaide Road.

A bib made by Laura for her grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell, alongside an example of her advertising material
A bib made by Laura for her grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell, alongside an example of her advertising material. Wellington Museum collections

Her shop windows were jammed with petticoats, chemises, nightgowns, and pants for women and children.

A blouse made by Laura Miller. Wellington Museum collections.

The family lived at the back of the shop and upstairs. They were happy, sociable, and enjoyed playing musical instruments at home or in concert groups. Since they lived so close to the city, they were able to attend many public events at the band rotunda, Athletic Park, or the Basin Reserve.

However, Laura and William looked to live a quieter life.

A black and white photo of the newly built Miller family home at Houghton Bay, late 1920s.
The newly built Miller family home at Houghton Bay, late 1920s. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family

A home at Houghton Bay

In 1926 Laura and William moved to a section in Houghton Bay, where they built a house and lived for the rest of their lives. There they planted rich vegetable gardens and ornamental gardens full of flowers.

Laura opened a small haberdashery in Island Bay soon after. Every day she would walk around the south coast to and from her shop – in howling wind, sunshine, or rain. Her grandchildren recall she always enjoyed this short walk, no matter the weather.

Laura Miller’s personal sewing machine.
Laura Miller’s personal sewing machine. Wellington Museum collections

Of this sewing machine, which lived at the Miller’s Houghton Bay home, Laura’s grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell writes:

When it was time for sewing the treadle rocked and wheels whirred as garments appeared from the machine with extraordinary speed. Cutting done on the table, usually without patterns, was the first step in producing clothes that fitted Grandma’s and auntie’s “difficult” figures very well.

A whale of a time

Laura and William assembled the jawbones of a whale that has washed ashore in Houghton Bay as an arch over the entrance to their property. The whale’s ribs were also used to edge the paths on the upper part of their garden.

The Miller family at Houghton Bay, under the whale bone entrance, late 1920s.
The Miller family at Houghton Bay, under the whale bone entrance, late 1920s. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family.
Recamea, Laura, Allan, Vera and William in Laura and William’s garden, Houghton Bay, late 1920s..
Recamea, Laura, Allan, Edna and William in Laura and William’s garden, Houghton Bay, late 1920s. Image courtesy of the Inkersell/Colbert family.

Laura Miller is an inspiring woman, who tenaciously worked her way through difficult years in her early life to raise a happy and creative family in Wellington.

Many thanks to Kate Colbert for sharing Laura’s story and for donating things from Laura’s life to Wellington Museum.