120-year-old biscuits among scores of protected items allowed to exit NZ

Preserved moa poo, a gold-trimmed navy blue cap from the first New Zealand representative rugby team and broken, 120-year-old biscuits are among hundreds of protected items allowed to leave the country over the last five years.

Also heading off-shore were dozens of paintings, including works by celebrated artists such as Colin McCahon, Gottfried Lindauer and Frances Hodgkins, vintage farm machinery, New Zealand and Great War medals, a Bristol freighter aircraft and moa bones and egg shell fragments.

The objects were listed in export orders for New Zealand protected items in each financial year since 2011/12.

By law, protected items - considered to be items aged over 50 and with some association or significance to New Zealand - can only be taken out of the country with the permission of the ministry's chief executive, who must consult with at least two experts.

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The same rules apply whether the objects are private chattels, a gift or have been sold to an overseas buyer.

The 1884 New Zealand rugby union team that toured New South Wales. Photo / Supplied.
The 1884 New Zealand rugby union team that toured New South Wales. Photo / Supplied.

Most items left the country under temporary export orders, usually for research, exhibition or repair, and to places as far flung as Slovakia, Brazil and Thailand.

Many universities and museums were among those given temporary custody of the items, among them Dundee Discovery Museum in Scotland.

The museum wanted to export Huntley & Palmers' biscuits believed to be about 120-years-old, and an Australian magazine of the same vintage, found in Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Hut, in the New Zealand-controlled Ross Dependency in Antarctica.

A request for permanent export was turned down - the only such request rejected by the ministry in the last five years - before a temporary order was approved on the museum's signed agreement the objects would be returned to New Zealand.

More than 100 objects were allowed to leave the country permanently, and details of each reveal a wide array of New Zealand history.

Pre-European settlement history featured prominently, with preserved moa droppings - found in the Roxburgh Gorge and estimated to be one to three thousand years old - off to the United States.

It was not know why the preserved droppings were being exported - applicants do not have to give a reason, although some do.

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Other items leaving the country permanently included a Valentine Mark V infantry tank exported to Latvia and the Tumidocarcinus giganteus - crab fossils of an extinct deepwater creature from the Miocene period of 24-25 million years ago - to the Netherlands for comparison with European species.

One lucky person moved a bequest of 33 paintings, including a collection of seven Frances Hodgkins' artworks, two by Colin McCahon and Pablo Picasso's Nature Morte a la Challotte, to their home in Australia.

Pablo Picasso's Nature Morte a la Charllotte was among the protected items taking out of the country. Photo / File.
Pablo Picasso's Nature Morte a la Charllotte was among the protected items taking out of the country. Photo / File.

Art+Object auctioneer Ben Plumbly said one permanently exported painting stood out to him as being nationally significant - Gordon Walters' 60-year-old No. 4.

The work, an early example of koru study, was exported to Hong Kong and he understood it was being exhibited at the M+ museum. .

The international movement of art was good for everyone, and New Zealand should be part of that, Plumbly said.

Gordon Walters' No. 4. painting. Photo / File
Gordon Walters' No. 4. painting. Photo / File

New Zealand had this month benefited from the donation of works by artists including Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol to Te Papa by a United States-based Kiwi, he said.

"[The No.4 export] show it's kind of working ... if one of our most significant artists can sit alongside international artists."