Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Calls to save UK Maori meeting house

Whare Hinemihi at Clandon Park, Surrey. Photo / Supplied
Whare Hinemihi at Clandon Park, Surrey. Photo / Supplied

Custodians of the only Maori meeting house in Britain are calling for a $500,000 refurbishment to save it from falling further into disrepair.

Hinemihi Te Ao Tawhito was originally built at Te Wairoa but survived the devastating Mt Tarawera eruption of 1886 which claimed more than 100 lives.

Five years later, when the Governor of New Zealand, the 4th Earl of Onslow, William Hillier, was approaching the end of his term, he wanted to return to England with a souvenir of the South Seas colony he so adored.

He approached the son of Chief Aporo Wharekaniwha to purchase the carved wooden wharenui.

A sum of £50 was agreed upon and an official handwritten bill of sales dated January 27, 1892, drawn up.

It was dismantled and shipped to England that year where it was re-built on the grounds of Onslow's stately Surrey home, Clandon Park.

Over the past 124 years, it has undergone various upgrades and repairs. Last year it narrowly survived a blaze that hit the neighbouring 18th century mansion just 60m away which is also home to the Surrey Infantry Museum.

Now, custodians for the Grade II listed National Trust property, UK-based Te Maru O Hinemihi, is campaigning for a major restoration project to the living embodiment of Chieftainess Hinemihi who lived in Te Wairoa around 800 years ago.

Around £250,000 ($535,000) is needed to stop water seeping through its deteriorated roof and to "remedy a breakdown in the protective painted surface of her carvings", the group says.

"This need occurs at a time of increased integration of Hinemihi into the lives of British and New Zealand Maori that has raised the profile of Hinemihi locally, nationally and internationally," says Te Maru, which is affiliated to the National Trust as a friends group and consists of Ngati Hinemihi descendants, academics, historians, and London-based Maori clubs.

The group also wants to install a new floor, electricity, hearing and lighting in the hope that the meeting house will become a working marae and focal point for a variety of community, youth, and religious groups, as well as schools, historical societies, and the local New Zealand community.

"The proposed conservation of Hinemihi is designed to be less a response to Hinemihi as an historic 'art work', but more as a response to the needs of her people," Te Maru says.

"In doing so, the conservation seeks to ensure that in preserving the fabric of the past, we do not restrict cultural development in the future."

Te Maru is campaigning for the National Trust to urgently launch a fundraising appeal.
The National Trust says it remains committed to restoring Hinemihi.

"Currently, tarpaulins have been placed on the roof and a temporary weather-proof structure erected to minimise the effects of the weather on Hinemihi's roof and exterior carvings," a spokesman told Get Surrey.

"The NT is very grateful to Te Maru's efforts to support the restoration of Hinemihi, and is working with them to ensure Hinemihi and her story can be enjoyed by visitors and the community in the future."

- NZ Herald

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