People should not knock the statue of Papatūānuku the Earth Mother overlooking the Waitematā Harbour before understanding the story behind it, says a key player.
Animator Ian Taylor has today released a concept video of the statue to the Herald after three out of four people responding to a poll opposed the huge pou, or pole.
It would be as tall as, or taller than New York's Statue of Liberty, which is 46 metres high, and would be situated at the historic headland of Takaparawhau/Bastion Point.
I'm astonished that (Mayor)Phil Goff and the council have money for this
The video, produced by Taylor's Dunedin-based company Animation Research, shows the first proposal for the statue at Wynyard Point on the waterfront two years ago before the idea was picked up by local iwi Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei.
The iwi had conceived it as Auckland's version of the Statue of Liberty or the 30m Christ the Redeemer above Rio de Janeiro, visible in lights at night from across the city, with stunning views from downtown, the North Shore, and from ships and ferries.
Taylor said the idea for the statue came from Māori carvers in Auckland who wanted to use fallen kauri trees in the Waitākere Ranges to build a giant pou, or pole, to tell the story of Rangi (the sky) and Papa (the earth).
Andrew Melville, one of the founders of Ngā Whaotapu o Tāmaki, the collective of Auckland carvers who developed the concept for Te Pou o Te Ao, said the original concept was also to ensure that all the mana whenua tribes of Auckland would be included as carvers, designers and supporters.
Also central to the concept was the aim to crowd source the funding by inviting the public to sponsor kauri tiles, rather than rely on local or central government support, he said.
Taylor said the statue would become a tourist attraction for more than one million visitors a year and one of the most photographed sites in New Zealand.
He hoped the project could tie in with the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's discovery of New Zealand next year and recognise the power of Māori and Pākehā based on a nation born of sailors.
"I would love it to go on Bastion Point, but if it doesn't go there she should be on the shoreline saying this statue, our Statue of Liberty, recognises mother Earth. It's a woman reaching for the sky father above.
"We have a powerful story to tell," he said.
But Ōrākei councillor Desley Simpson said the totem pole image in the video released by Taylor bore no resemblance to a second video concept shown to the mayor and councillors during the 10-year budget process several months ago.
Simpson said that video showed a tall statue at Bastion Point of a woman with a moko and wearing a cloak.
Simpson, who is deputy chair of the Ngāti Whātua Reserve Board, which operates under a co-governance arrangement between the iwi and council, said once a more detailed design was completed there would be a consultation process for people to have a say.
She said Ngāti Whātua had come up with the proposed statue to reflect the spiritual, social and cultural goals set out in Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Settlement Act.
The project, which Auckland Council has committed $1 million for design and development, came in for criticism from NZ First MP and Northland Māori identity Shane Jones.
He said the hapu of Ōrākei were going a step too far to exclusively depict Papatūānuku before they get the support of other tribes and put it out in the public arena. Ngāti Whātua, who originate from the Kaipara Harbour in the north, especially need to talk to tribes with strong connections to Auckland.
"Culturally they have got off on the wrong foot and allowed their beliefs to cloud the reality of who they are in Māoridom," he said.
Jones said Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei are Auckland's richest hapu and should pay for the statue themselves.
"I'm astonished that Phil Goff and the council have money for this," he said referring to the new regional fuel tax and infrastructure funding needs.
"The promoters of this Brazilian-style object on to the skyline of Auckland need to take a step back because their efforts resemble mana-munching if not money-munching."
Jones preferred to see Ngāti Whātua planting a grove of rimu or totara at Bastion Point.
Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust deputy chairman Ngarimu Blair said opportunities for Māori tourism across the entire Auckland region should be explored thoroughly before any discussion on a potential sculpture took place.
The iwi was undertaking its own feasibility studies into possible tourism initiatives and any debate on initial ideas was premature, Blair said.
"Our iwi development arm has raised with the council and local boards the idea of a culturally significant icon for Tāmaki Makaurau, as part of a wider discussion on tourism and future opportunities.
"Takaparawhau/Bastion Point is a significant place for our iwi, and for all who visit and live here. But any sculpture idea is just that – an idea in its infancy.
"The trust believes that any potential sculpture or pou would have to be something that we can all be proud of, and that is well thought through," he said.
"We would need to see a full proposal and consider this in a wider context before deciding to take the idea any further."
Blair said there was untapped potential in Māori tourism and he was pleased the council had made funds available to explore opportunities.
"Clearly, to take any idea forward the business case would need to stack up, and at this stage more preliminary work is needed to be able to assess the opportunity.
"We can assure [Minister Jones] and all New Zealanders that if an idea proves to be workable, then we would of course begin to have a conversation with Aucklanders and all those with an affiliation."
Most feedback to the Herald on the statue has been negative, and strongly opposed to ratepayer funding.
"While the creation of a giant statue may sound appealing, as a ratepayer, I can't believe that something of this nature will be considered by the Auckland Council. We live in a time where everything comes at an exorbitant price in Auckland," said Craig Taylor.
Chris Dunn from Meadowbank said council involvement should be limited to granting planning permission to create the statue.
Said Robert Bowman: "I am strongly opposed to the idea of any statue at the entrance to Auckland Harbour. It is not needed and would only dilute the iconic views seen when the harbour is entered, most notably Rangitoto and the sheer beauty of the place."
Paul Ryan liked the idea, saying done correctly and well, it will be good for the country and Auckland.
"The Māori influence will make it uniquely Kiwi and should ensure it remains relevant. As opposed to a 'contemporary' designed structure which might become 'out of date' in time," he said.
A video shown at the recent education summit by the chief executive of the iwi's tribal development arm, Rangimarie Hunia, depicted a conceptual design of a shimmering Papatūānuku.
"We are looking for conceptual designs that are timeless, that are majestic, that speak to the human spirit," she said.
The iwi were not ready to release a visualisation of the proposed statue publicly.
"For me, this is all about nationhood," Hunia said.
"This is a legacy for our next generation to be proud of our culture, our history and our identity as ahi kaa ['burning fires' in occupation] in Tāmaki."
Goff said it "has the potential to be an iconic symbol of Auckland".
"It will reflect the unique culture and identity of our city and be enjoyed equally by Māori, the wider community and international visitors," he said.
- additional reporting Anne Gibson