A new addition to Whanganui Heritage Month events this year is the opportunity to visit the empty rooms of the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building.
Historian Kyle Dalton will lead three tours through the building on the corner of Rutland St and Market Pl, giving visitors insights into the physical history and the legislation that impacted local iwi with the loss of their lands.
"The Native Lands Act imposed a system of individual titles on Māori where no more than 10 owners were allowed," Dalton said.
"It also imposed costs such as surveyors fees which iwi were required to pay for and those weren't cheap so they often needed to sell some of their lands just to pay for those."
Whanganui Heritage trustee Helen Craig said decisions made in the Land Court building are still negatively impacting iwi today and there is understandably a lot of resentment about the building and what it symbolises.
"It has some still recent bad history for people and it is easy to understand why there was strong support for its demolition," she said.
"UCOL owned the building from 2006 and wanted to demolish it."
Despite its unappealing history, the building has a Category 1 listing with Heritage New Zealand.
It is "rare if not unique" in being purpose-built for use as a Māori Land Court, Whanganui District Council's heritage listing says.
Applications to demolish the 1922 building were declined in 2008 and 2010.
The Whanganui Heritage Restoration Trust, which Craig chairs, purchased the building in February this year and aims to restore and eventually sell it.
Dalton said the style of the building is best described as "plain baroque".
"It wasn't the typical architecture of the time and it was designed by John Campbell who was the architect of a lot of government buildings of the time.
"It was scheduled to be built before World War I but had to be built after when materials were scarce so it was plainer that it might have been."
Most of the original features remain intact and the building is supported by a solid concrete vault in the centre.
The large windows overlooking Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens have distinctive round frames set into the centre of the upper panes.
"The construction was carried out by AG Bignell who was a prominent local contractor," Dalton said.
"They had to come back and repair the foundations in 1933 after the Napier earthquake and it was extended in the late 30s."
Other minor alterations took place in the 1950s and 1960s.
A courtyard area was closed in at some stage and Craig said it would be nice to see it opened up and restored to the original design.
"The building gives us a historical view into the differences in Māori and European understandings of land use," she said.
"It tells a story that may not have been a good one but it was a chapter in local history that we can all learn from."
Dalton will lead a number of historical tours during Whanganui Heritage Month including Pukenamu/Queens Park, Pākaitore/Moutoa Gardens and Heads Rd Cemetery as well as riverside and city walking tours.
To book or to find out more visit whanganuiheritagetrust.org.nz