A project to resurrect a memorial at Rotokawau Virginia Lake has the seal of approval and now efforts are under way to raise funds for it.

A painted waka, or tiki, was erected in the reserve in 1921 in memory of Pura McGregor, a prominent Whanganui identity.

Pura, who first became known to the public as she accompanied her uncle Te Rangihiwinui Kepa (Major Kemp) in battle and led war dances during the New Zealand Wars, was the first Māori woman to be made an OBE, which recognised her efforts in raising funds for World War I soldiers.

Pura and her husband, Gregor McGregor, were members of the Beautifying Society which planned and planted the lake reserve.

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Gregor apparently secured the waka from up the Whanganui River, where Pura was born, and a kowhaiwhai pattern was painted on it by T.W. Downes, noted artist, historian and works supervisor for the Whanganui River Board. It was erected at Virginia Lake by Pura's whānau, friends and the Wanganui Beautifying Society.

However, the waka rotted and, for safety reasons, the memorial was removed in 1987. Pura's family planted a totara tree on the site in the 1990s.

Now the Virginia Lake Trust is planning to put up another memorial, based on the original and at the same site.

Trust chairman Terry Coxon said the trust, which was established in 2000, had been concerned about the memorial for some time.

"Having consulted widely with iwi, whānau and the local arts scene, I can now reveal that it is proposed to place on the site a full-size replica of the original waka, to be fabricated locally in corten steel with the rafter pattern cut out," Coxon said.

"The trust commissioned local artist Cecelia Kumeroa to design the work, or the Waka Maumahara sculpture."

Cecelia Kumeroa's design superimposed on a photo of Pura McGregor's great-great-grandson Chris Scanlon (right) and his father Joe at the original memorial. Photo / Supplied
Cecelia Kumeroa's design superimposed on a photo of Pura McGregor's great-great-grandson Chris Scanlon (right) and his father Joe at the original memorial. Photo / Supplied

After foundations have been designed by local consulting engineers, the trust will seek quotes from local engineering companies capable of fabricating and erecting the sculpture. Coxon said it was hoped this would happen early next year.

The project has approval from the Whanganui District Council's public arts steering group and the trust has applied for a grant from the council's public arts fund to match other funding dollar for dollar. The trust is seeking other local funding assistance and is keen to hear from potential benefactors.

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Coxon said that in replacing the memorial the trust also wanted to acknowledge the role Gregor McGregor played in the community, on the Whanganui River and in the hinterland.

Who was Pura McGregor?*

Te Pura Manihera was born in 1855 at Karatia pa on the Whanganui River. Her father was Te Manihera, a Ngā Poutama chief of Matahiwi and Karatia. Her mother was Hohi Hori Kingi (Ngāti Ruaka and Ngāti Rangi).

Her father died when she was young and Pura's mother married Stewart Manson, who had stores at Ranana, Pipiriki, Murimotu and Whanganui.

In due course Pura married Whanganui man Gregor McGregor and became known as Pura Makarika.

The McGregor family farmed at Aird at Fordell and Gregor later became the first manager of Morikau Station at Ranana. He also managed Bushy Park for a time. However, Pura lived most of her married life at their house Te Mawhae at 129 Harrison St (now New Vista rest home).

Pura died aged 65 on March 4, 1920. Shortly before her death she was made an OBE, the first Māori woman to receive the honour.

Towards the end of the following year a memorial tiki was erected to Pura on the marae of the old Toronui pa which at one time had occupied the far end of Virginia Lake.

It consisted of a half totara river canoe, painted with the traditional rafter pattern and erected with the bow pointing towards the sky. The plaque at the base read: "This Tiki is erected to the memory of Mrs Pura McGregor", with "E whakaturia tenei Tiki hei whakamahara Pura Makarika" inscribed below.

* Source: Petticoat Pioneers - Book 2 by Miriam MacGregor