A community project to beautify Ōhau's underpass with murals is taking shape.

Artist Wendy Hodder is currently painting the walls of the concrete tunnel with scenes to represent both sides of the small Horowhenua town, which the underpass effectively connects as it passes under the state highway that intersects it.

Hodder said she sees one side as the bush and a connection with the land, and the other as the beach and connections to the ocean.

The painting is well under way after community consultation and activities around planning the murals involving local schools, such as a chalk mural day, as well as preparatory work largely carried out by volunteers, including waterblasting and cleaning the concrete.

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The project has been boosted by a grant from Horowhenua District Council and has been spearheaded by Ōhau resident Sarah Walsh, who formed a committee of locals and iwi representatives to provide input.

Walsh said she was inspired to organise the project because so many children, including her own, use the underpass daily and it seemed a very unappealing place to walk through.

She also wanted to help create a sense of community by beautifying an area that carried out an important function for the town.

Hodder is a renowned local artist who has completed other projects for the council, including the mural artwork in the foyer of its Levin headquarters, and paintings on Chorus telecommunications boxes around the town.

She was also a participant in the former Foxton Festival of Murals.

Murals taking shape at Ohau underpass
Murals taking shape at Ohau underpass

The Ōhau project provides a real sense of connectivity for the town, she said.

"It represents the two sides of Ōhau," she said. "On the one side there's the bush and connecting with the land, and how it was originally. [There are] birds and bugs [in the mural] that were part of that landscape. On the other side there's the beach. There are many stories that will be interwoven."

One section shows an interpretation of the layers of clay exposed in the river banks near Ōhau that show the whakapapa (genealogy) of the earth, Hodder said.

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"[They are] the layers of sediment built up over geological time, but also symbolise the whakapapa of human residents on this land, successive layers of human ancestry, of those who have walked this land in times gone by."

She said the project also depicted two tōtara trees that were planted in memory of two children who lost their lives crossing the highway, a tragedy that prompted the building of the underpass in the first place.

"It represents safe passage," Hodder said.

"At first [the underpass] was just a safe crossing, but over the years since it was built it's become quite dingy and ugly. We were really wanting to beautify it."

Ohau underpass beautification is underway with murals.
Ohau underpass beautification is underway with murals.

The project, while well underway, will take a few more weeks to complete, depending on the level of detail, Hodder said.

She was completing the painting work mostly solo.

"When the specifics of a plan are unfolding as I paint, it's easier to paint it than to explain it," she said.

"The flow of inspiration is not easy to tell others."

Walsh said the organisers of the project were planning a special celebration for the completion of the mural, which was hoped to be held during the upcoming summer.