Walk of Fame

This year will mark a decade since Te Awamutu's Walk of Fame was officially opened, recognising and celebrating the success of locals who have made their mark on the world. But the roots of the project lie much further back than that. In a new series - Small town, big dreams - the Te Awamutu Courier looks at the ideas and people behind the walk, and those whose names have been immortalised, both by their deeds and by their hometown.

Twenty-one years ago, Tim and Neil Finn returned to their hometown of Te Awamutu as guests of honour at the opening of True Colours, an exhibition at the local museum to celebrate their musical successes.

In paying tribute to their Te Awamutu roots, and the people who had early on influenced their dream to become musicians, Neil commented "small town, big dreams".

True Colours went on to become one of the Te Awamutu Museum's most popular and long-standing "temporary" exhibitions and paved the way for another project to honour the town's most famous sons and daughters.

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Neil Finn, along with brother Tim, was a proud recipient at the Pride of Te Awamutu Awards in 2003. Photo / Dean Taylor
Neil Finn, along with brother Tim, was a proud recipient at the Pride of Te Awamutu Awards in 2003. Photo / Dean Taylor

It was about the turn of the century when Te Awamutu Alive formed as a group to promote events and projects that would put Te Awamutu on the map.

From an initial idea of an awards ceremony to celebrate people who did Te Awamutu proud, a larger project for the town's own Walk of Fame grew.

It evolved alongside Waipā District Council's plan to develop a "hub" around the town's new Events and Aquatic Centre, historic Rose Gardens and future plans for associated facilities.

Famous pair sing at True Colours exhibition opening in 1998. Video / teawamutu.nz

Te Awamutu Courier chief reporter, now editor, Dean Taylor was one of the main players and is still a member of the mayoral group which considers applications to induct people into the Walk of Fame.

Te Awamutu Alive also drew up the criteria, which has since been revised by the council, but retains the original elements that an inductee should have been born in Te Awamutu, or achieved their notable success as a resident.

Walk of Fame excavation work under way in 2009 (under the watchful eye of archaeologist Alexy Simmons). Photo / File
Walk of Fame excavation work under way in 2009 (under the watchful eye of archaeologist Alexy Simmons). Photo / File

The "definition" of Te Awamutu was set as the readership area of the Te Awamutu Courier and notable success was defined as being at a national level that was deemed to have made an impact internationally.

Not surprisingly, first inductees were the Finn brothers. Neil accepted the induction at a function held in 2003 at his alma mater. Guest speakers were another pair of brothers, entrepreneurs Mike and Doug Tamaki, who would also be inducted at a later date.

While the group was making the first inductions, they were also working with the council on a design for the Walk of Fame.

Neil and Tim Finn were the first inductees. Video / teawamutu.nz

The scope of the design grew from a low-key approach whereby names would be embedded into pavers, to a more respectful plan which included names, images and background information presented on pou in a planted walkway.

The design of the physical Walk of Fame was finally approved by the council for work to begin in March 2009, but the work of the committee to identify and induct new members continued.

The November 2009 opening of Te Awamutu's Walk of Fame, with Kiingi Tūheitia (centre) and his wife Te Atawhai, alongside Waipa Mayor Alan Livingston and MP Shane Ardern. Photo / Dean Taylor
The November 2009 opening of Te Awamutu's Walk of Fame, with Kiingi Tūheitia (centre) and his wife Te Atawhai, alongside Waipa Mayor Alan Livingston and MP Shane Ardern. Photo / Dean Taylor

At the official opening in November 2009, 17 pou were unveiled by recipients, or family or friends on their behalf.

A short citation for each was read by MC Dean Taylor.

Kiingi Tuheitia then cut the ribbon and unveiled the plaque to open Te Awamutu Walk of Fame.

Civil Construction Services and Firth Concrete staff pouring a new path for Te Awamutu's Walk of Fame in 2012. Photo / Dean Taylor
Civil Construction Services and Firth Concrete staff pouring a new path for Te Awamutu's Walk of Fame in 2012. Photo / Dean Taylor

Waipā Mayor Alan Livingston described the Walk of Fame opening as a milestone for Te Awamutu, recognising and celebrating in a tangible way the outstanding achievers that Te Awamutu and its environs had produced.

Livingston was addressing the audience gathered for the occasion, including Kiingi Tuheitia and his wife Te Atawhai, MP Shane Ardern and his wife Cathy, a large contingent from Te Wananga O Aotearoa CEO, Waipā councillors, Te Awamutu Community Board members and the public.

Livingston said from the beginnings of Te Awamutu Alive's concept as part of Pride of Te Awamutu, it grew into a partnership with Waipa District Council, and a walk of Fame Committee considered both who to induct and an appropriate design to acknowledge the area's famous sons and daughters.

Tribute was paid to committee member Marie Panapa for her artistic vision to produce a unique amenity that made a bold statement.

The opening of the Walk of Fame in 2009. Video / teawamutu.nz

"The Walk of Fame will be a feature providing interest and information, for young and old, for locals and visitors alike for now and for the future," Livingston said.

"We have a superb legacy that will endure, attract, interest and inform and of course additional pou will be added as more Te Awamutu people achieve outstanding results in their respective fields of endeavour."

The final act at the opening was to induct Te Wananga o Aotearoa founder Rongo Wetere.

Within two years, Te Wananga o Aotearoa played another significant role in the ongoing evolution of Te Awamutu Walk of Fame — the installation of a unique gateway, or waharoa, in the form of a stainless steel waka — gifted to the town as a sign of the partnership that exists between the tertiary organisation and its community.

The Walk of Fame. Photo / Dean Taylor
The Walk of Fame. Photo / Dean Taylor

It was unveiled by Te Wananga o Aotearoa chief executive Bentham Ohia — who also described the collaboration between his organisation and the Walk of Fame Committee, Waipa District Council, artists and manufacturers Stewart and cavalier to make the project come to fruition.

The same year, the project won the inaugural Waikato Community Arts Awards Creative Community Award.

Three years after the official opening, more construction was taking place, as the walkway was extended in a mirror image of the original design to complete the original concept and allow for more inductees to be included.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the physical Walk of Fame. It has pride of place in Te Awamutu as the "hub" develops - now including Pioneer Park Playground, Te Awamutu Library, Pop 'n' Good Bike Skills Park and the planned Te Ara Wai - the Waipa Discovery Centre.

But it is the diversity of the inductees - the stories of artistry, overcoming adversity, sporting skill and drive, inventiveness or just dogged determination - that makes Te Awamutu Walk of Fame so incredible.

It is these stories we will share with readers in coming weeks and months.