One family's entries in the Ngā Hekenga/Journeying exhibition are a car, a house bus and a traditional waka - representing how they came to be here.

The show opens at Whanganui Regional Museum's temporary home in Ridgway Street today, and it has grown so big it will also occupy the former Farmers store that stretches from Victoria Ave to St Hill St.

It began at the Whanganui Learning Centre, where manager Gail Harrison thought the theme of origins and journeying would help in the centre's Talking Matters campaign. The idea was for people to make a model of the way they came to Whanganui.

One family made the trip from Christchurch after the earthquakes. The mother was heavily pregnant and wanted her baby to be born back in Whanganui.

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They all packed into a car and made it by driving through the night. One child made a model of the car. Another child made the house bus they lived in when they first arrived.

A younger child worked with the father to make a model of the Māori waka relating to his whakapapa (ancestry).

In the process of making models people talk about their forebears and the reasons they came.

It all feeds into the centre's Talking Matters campaign, which is a response to school principals who told educator Jen McDonald that children were arriving at school without much language.

Margie Beautrais, Jen McDonald and Gail Imhoff place waka from St Mary's School in Whanganui's Ngā Hekenga/Journeying exhibition. Wanganui Chronicle photograph by Bevan Conley.
Margie Beautrais, Jen McDonald and Gail Imhoff place waka from St Mary's School in Whanganui's Ngā Hekenga/Journeying exhibition. Wanganui Chronicle photograph by Bevan Conley.

"They have instructional language, things like 'Put your shoes on'. The talk needs to be rich, free and back and forth too," she said.

Anyone with a connection to Whanganui and its river can add to the exhibition. Schools, early childhood centres, families/whānau and individuals have all made models, some with stories attached.

When the idea took off McDonald asked photographer Gail Imhoff and Whanganui Regional Museum educator Margie Beautrais to help.

"It's grown a mauri of its own," Imhoff said.

There was space at the museum for some of the models, and Beautrais said the show worked well with its waka hourua programme.

Whanganui District Council hired the former Farmers building for a week to accommodate the many waka. Trestle tables were borrowed, and it took days to set up.

The women are thinking it could make a good theme for Puanga or the Whanganui Festival of Cultures next year.

"We would encourage everyone in the community to find out who they are, where they come from and how they got here," Beautrais said.

+ Ngā Hekenga/Journeying will be open at the museum from 10am to 4.30 on September 3-8, with a table where people can make their own waka. At the Farmers building it will be open from 10am to 4pm.