Pulling together, connected and strong

Some members of the Tauranga Sunrise Rotary club at the launch of the 'This is Us - he waka eke noa' project

The unveiling of a beautifully painted seven-metre long waka at the Historic Village on Saturday marked the beginning of a creative response designed to form stronger ties between Tauranga’s diverse cultural communities.

Braving the weather, a group of about 30-40 people made up of members of the Tauranga Sunrise Rotary club, artists, members and supporters of The Incubator and friends gathered around 10.30am near the Forresters Hall at the village.

“It was a great day and a good turnout considering the weather,” says Tauranga Sunrise Rotary Club president Warren Scobie.

“There was a break in the weather so we went outside and had a blessing of the waka. Then we came back into The Incubator for some speeches.”

Les Geraghty speaking at the launch of 'This is Us  - he waka eke noa'

Les Geraghty, also a member of the club had raised the idea in 2019 about a place in Tauranga for people to go and share about where they had arrived from, a place to be welcomed.

“The idea came from the Welcome Wall concept in Paris,” says Warren.

“A couple of weeks later, the Christchurch shootings happened, and that really crystalised the project.”

Artist Michelle Estall with the waka that is part of the 'This is Us - he waka eke noa' project.

Warren shared at the Saturday launch how important community is from a Rotary perspective “and how we’re strong on fellowship and the community spirit”.  Every year, Rotary clubs around the world have a new theme, and this year’s theme is ‘Rotary connects the world’.

“Many of us were deeply affected by the shootings in Christchurch last year and wanted to do something that celebrated our diverse cultural communities that make New Zealand/Aotearoa what it is,” says Warren.

Tauranga Sunrise Rotary Club president Warren Scobie speaking at the launch.

The club held a meeting soon after the terrorist attack to discuss a response that was positive, practical and would build community. Members talked about how the Welcome Wall in Paris was a gathering place where people could be together and support each other. Australia also has a Welcome Wall.

A small group of Rotarians set out to explore creating a place for Tauranga that could be that gathering place, to give Tauranga a beating heart where people could see and celebrate their own culture and those of others.

After discussion with Tauranga’s Community Development Officer Haidee Kalirai and Simone Anderson from The Incubator, the concept of how people had journeyed historically to arrive in Tauranga, from early Maori to the present day formed.

The project developed around a carved and painted waka which conveys how we all journey through time, building and evolving our community, and that together we can do that better if we know where we all come from and where we would like to go.

The concept of ‘This is us - he waka eke noa’, - people pulling together, while coincidentally matching Rotary’s theme for this year of ‘Rotary connects the world’, also linked well with Matariki which runs from June 21 to July 21, and so seemed to be an opportune time to launch the project.

The waka is in the Forresters Hall Green at Tauranga Historic Village in 17th Ave.

Matariki was traditionally a time that brought communities together to share and to learn from each other which is our hope for ‘This is Us – he waka eke noa’,” says Warren.

The waka was designed by artist Quinton Bidois, and painted by Michelle Estall.

“I was really impressed with the artistic work done by Michelle,” says Warren. "It looks beautiful where it is located, with the backdrop behind it.”

Artists Quinton Bidois and  Michelle Estall

Warren is also pleased to hear that funding for the whole project, which includes workshops has been approved by Creative NZ.

“This will enable the project to be completed.”

Following on from the public launch on Saturday, the project will involve a series of free workshops to be held in July, open to anyone, where participants can share stories of how they or their ancestors came to New Zealand.

They will hear about the history and cultural significance of the wetlands opposite the Historic Village and share their vision for Tauranga. Each participant is invited to decorate a hoe - waka paddle, which will be displayed at The Incubator in late August.

Some of the painted hoe

Some hoe were already painted up and on display at the launch on Saturday. One side of the hoe describes the artist’s journey while the other side depicts their hopes and aspirations for the future.

“Art is a universal language that can help bring people together,” says Warren. “‘This is Us’ is more than a creative project and art exhibition – it is about going on a journey that encourages storytelling, connection and unity.”

“Matariki is the perfect time for us to launch this project. It is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate our history and to make plans for the new layers of our future. The whakatauki ‘Ka mua, ka muri’ means that we should look to the past to inform our future and is the essence of what this is about.”

Artist Quinton Bidois

The waka will remain on display at The Historic Village during the project. Warren says that while the culmination of the project would be the August art exhibition, the purpose was to encourage connection, understanding and unity through the sharing of stories about the peopling of the Bay of Plenty - beginning with the stories of earliest Maori settlers through to hearing from some of our newest immigrants.

“The waka represents not only the first journey over water by Kupe, but a journey that each immigrant has made when moving to New Zealand,” says Warren.

‘This is Us – he waka eke noa’ additionally provides a way for people to reconnect after the isolation caused by Covid-19. Collecting stories, knowing others and working together also resonates with people’s desire to counter racism and misunderstandings based on mistrust.

Anyone wanting to register for the ’This is Us – he waka eke noa’ workshops can do so at www.theincubator.co.nz/this-is-us

Michelle Estall

The group gathered outside the Forresters Hall on Saturday for the unveiling of the waka.




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