Gateway carved by prison inmates

The restored waharoa. PHOTO: CCC

An intricately carved entranceway to a cultural garden in Lyttelton has been restored by prison inmates in a joint project between the city council and the Corrections Department.

The carved gateway, or waharoa, was blessed at a ceremony held at the Whakaraupo Cultural Reserve on Harmans Rd last week.

City council head of parks Andrew Rutledge said the carving is an integral part of the garden and it is wonderful to see it looking its best again.

“Working in partnership with the Department of Corrections we have rejuvenated a taonga that’s of strong cultural significance to the local community.”

The entranceway was a Turning Point 2000 project developed by the Port Hills 2000 Advisory Group. It was originally carved by prisoners at Christchurch Men’s Prison and installed at the Whakaraupo Cultural Garden in 2000.

After 15 years exposure to the elements, the carving had deteriorated and was cracked and rotten in some places. Council staff agreed it should be removed and restored to its original condition and approached the Department of Corrections for help with the project.

Over the past four years, one of the prisoners involved in the original carving has dedicated about 3500 hours to its restoration. He was present in 2000 to hear the stories, the whakapapa and the mana of the waharoa and it was important to him to ensure these were preserved in the restoration.An inmate works on the carving.

An inmate works on the carving. 

Christchurch Men’s Prison Deputy Director Jo Harrex said the prisoner felt strongly about giving back to the community. “He is deeply grateful for being given the opportunity to reconnect with this work which is very special to him. Carving is an important and popular constructive activity in prisons. It allows prisoners to explore their culture and develop new forms of communication and storytelling, while, like in this case, gifting something wonderful and significant back to the community.”

Ms Harrex said Corrections was proud to see the carving back where it belongs. “It has been an honour to have Christchurch Men’s Prison not only involved in the original commission, but also in its restoration.”

The gateway features a tekoteko figure at the top and below there are female and male characters and a strong reference to weaving in a nod to the garden’s flax weaving (raranga) plants. The harakeke (flax) in the garden was propagated by Landcare Research from ancient varieties.

The Whakaraupo Cultural Garden contains other plants of cultural value, particularly medicinal (roangoa) plants. It is located on the lower slopes of Whakaraupo Reserve on the Port Hills.

A plaque underneath the gateway has a whakatauki (proverb) that sums up the importance of balance in the world and the responsibilities people have in looking after their environment.