By Louisa Cleave

The $2 million Urewera Mural will be returned to the Department of Conservation visitor centre from where Maori activists stole it.

Security has been upgraded at the Aniwaniwa centre at Lake Waikaremoana, where the Colin McCahon work will hang from September. However, it will remain uninsured.

More than $5000 has been spent repairing the painting, which will be unveiled at the Auckland Art Gallery on Saturday.


The Minister of Conservation, Nick Smith, said that despite the security upgrade - part of renovations to the visitor centre - it was impossible to guarantee the painting would be safe.

McCahon's son William last night scoffed at any suggestion that the painting would be secure.

"Upgraded security in the middle of nowhere if it is a target is a joke."

Mr McCahon said he would love the mural to go back to Lake Waikaremoana, but cautioned against sending it too soon.

He believed the opinions of Tuhoe tribe members on the painting's return would be aired at its unveiling.

"If the Tuhoe decide it should not go back, then it should not go back. Tuhoe stole it. That was an indication of dissent.

"It's all just up in the air as far as I'm concerned."

Tuhoe activist Te Kaha and an associate, Laurie Davis, stole the painting from a reception area in June 1997.


It was recovered last August after negotiations involving arts patron Jenny Gibbs, Te Kaha and Tuhoe member Tame Iti.

Dr Smith said: "The painting is about the Tuhoe people and their association with the land. I think it is appropriate that it is sited at the visitor centre."

The mural was worth $1.2 million when it was stolen but its value has been updated to $2 million.