Te Papa never does anything by halves. The new exhibit, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, to mark the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, is an extraordinary event.

Joining forces with Weta Workshop, Te Papa gives visitors an opportunity to experience the triumphs and tragedies of the eight-month Gallipoli campaign through the eyes and words of the ordinary New Zealanders who were there.

Using letters and diaries, it focuses on four Kiwis who fought at the front. The journey begins with the onset of conflict, and continues through to battle, injury and death and finally to the hospital ship Maheno for an insight into the experiences of the men and women doing their best to patch up the troops with their limited resources.

Larger-than-life statues have been painstakingly created, and the harrowing stories and surrounding horrors are depicted. The models alone are staggering - each figure is 2.4 times larger than life and it took more than 24,000 hours of labour to create and install them. The eight models weigh 90-150kg.


The skin covering the figures' heads, hands, arms and legs is made from silicone and has been made even more life-like thanks to hand painting and the addition of hair. Every pore on the surface of the skin has been hand-sculpted and nearly every hair you see on the figures has been punched in by hand, using a combination of human, yak and goat hair.

A large-scale figure of nurse Lottie Le Gallais, who served on the Maheno. Photo / Weta Workshop
A large-scale figure of nurse Lottie Le Gallais, who served on the Maheno. Photo / Weta Workshop

The lump in my throat stayed with me all the way around yet it was the larger-than-life flies that affected me most. Both of my grandfathers fought at Gallipoli and although my mother's father didn't talk about it a lot, he did say he hated the flies.

When the soldiers were eating their awful rations, made palatable by being covered with vile apple jam, the flies would settle on their food before buzzing off to sit on the corpses of their fallen comrades, then head back to the apple jam for dessert. Seeing those flies replicated by Weta Workshop at 2½ times their normal size, my family story became a loathsome reality.

In keeping with the factual accuracy at every step, Weta Workshop made sure the flies were typical of ones you'd find in Turkey.

The final oversized evocation of the blowflies was spat out by 3D printers. If you get the chance to see this stunning exhibit, grab it with both hands.

Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War runs at Te Papa, Wellington, until April 18, 2018. Admission is free.