Totara North local Bruce Sanderson has teamed up with artist Chris Wilkie to preserve the rich history of the area for future generations. Reporter Francesca Jago met the pair to find out how they were going to do it.

Bruce Sanderson, born and raised in the Whangaroa harbourside settlement, is self-funding a museum showcasing some of the local history.

In an old joinery factory in Totara North Rd is a collection of artefacts Sanderson has been working on his whole life.

With one of the last remaining historical structures in the area, the Lane and Sons timber mill, likely to fall down soon, Sanderson wants to do what he can to keep history alive. "It's good for the kids who aren't born yet, what used to be here in Totara North," he said.


Sanderson's family history is deeply rooted in the area.

A fisherman for 51 years, he handed the running of the boat to his sons so he could put time into the museum.

"I thought if I didn't stop fishing nothing would ever get done."

Northland artist Chris Wilkie is helping Sanderson leave his heritage behind with a mural that covers the outside of the museum.

Wilkie's previous work on the Jack Morgan Museum in Hukerenui caught Sanderson's eye, and the pair teamed up on this new project.

"I didn't know it was gonna turn out as good as it is, but it did," Sanderson said.

He shared family photos and stories, and historical artefacts from inside the museum with Wilkie, who took them on board in his concept for the mural.

"What I've done is a mixture of personal story and a little bit of broader history," the artist said.


It was apparent, he added, that Sanderson liked telling stories, so each section of the mural told a story about the area and the people who lived and worked there.

"There [are] quite a lot of stories in the hard life they had."

The Lane and Sons mill, which was the lifeblood of the timber industry in the area, features in much of the mural.

In 1872 Major Lane and Willie Brown started a boat building business, and by 1900 more than 70 vessels had been built and launched in their yards.

With the decline of the boat building industry in the early 20th century more effort was put into the timber mill, and special teams of bush fellers worked in the area's kauri-abundant bush.

Milling kauri and other native timber continued until 2004 when the firm was sold and closed down.


In Wilkie's mural Sanderson's father is depicted surrounded by logs and the rubble of the kauri industry in front of the Lane and Sons' truck he used to drive, and a group of workmen from the mill are seen in front of a large felled kauri.

Whangaroa Harbour and big-game fishing is another feature of the mural, with an image of a young Sanderson and his father on his grandfather's boat, and his grandfather with a prize-winning marlin that won him the illustrious Hepburn pennant in 1956.

The biggest area of the mural is a replica of an Augustus Earle lithograph of Maori in their kainga at a beach, the scene fading into a forester towering over a tree stump - depicting the fading of time and history.

Sanderson's great-great-grandmother, Te Waka Heremaia from Rawhiti, also takes a prominent place in the mural, posing with the taiaha she gave her first grandson.

Wilkie said the mural had attracted a lot of attention from the Maori community, especially with descendants of those depicted with the felled log.

"There's not many buildings where Maori have been put on it, and I think they are enjoying that," he said.


Wilkie said he liked helping people leave a heritage, and elements of the Pakeha heritage were also mixed into the mural.

"It's a history worth honouring, too," Wilkie said.

Despite little compensation for the work, Wilkie sees the worth in what Bruce is trying to do.

"You gotta support someone who does something like this," he said.

The museum is due to open around Christmas this year.