Wanganui Tiki Tour



by W.S. McCallum



tiki tour 

(New Zealand slang) 1. a sight-seeing journey with no particular destination in mind. 2. taking the scenic route to a destination. 3. to wander aimlessly. 

“The rellies came over for a visit and I took them on a tiki tour of the city.” 


Source: Urban Dictionary


Consider yourself all my virtual rellies (relations), as I take you on a tiki tour of Wanganui...


Part 1: South of the Whanganui River


The first stop is the Durie Hill land elevator, one of only two in the world (the other one is in Portugal). Basically, it's a lift in a shaft inside a hill, which is accessed via a long tunnel that is reminiscent of entering a subway. Locals use the elevator to commute to and from the top of Durie Hill. The gate at the bottom of the hill is just opposite the city bridge that leads onto Wanganui's main street. 


The entrance gate to the elevator:


Along the path leading into the tunnel, there is an assortment of cheeky tiki carvings:


As the sign above the entrance indicates, the tunnel was opened in 1916. 


The next stop on our tour is Putiki which, prior to Wanganui being founded in the 1840s by European settlers on the northern bank of the Whanganui River, was the major settlement in this area. It is still a focal point for local Maori, and there is a marae there:


(pardon the join - I had to stick two photos together to get the full panoramic effect...) 


Warning: those Tiki Centralites offended by carved phalluses may prefer to avert their gaze from the following few photos... 


The main meeting house:


A covered stand where speakers and local leaders sit:


And a covered stand where visitors to the marae sit during ceremonies and speeches:


And this guy, atop what appears to be the food storehouse, looks suspiciously like he is eating an ice cream cone!


Just down the road from the marae, I came across this intricate letterbox:


Putiki was the site of a major battle in 1829, when the Maori warlord Te Rauparaha moved north from his stronghold on Kapiti Island and invaded the Whanganui region:


"Korokota" is the local Maoris' pronunciation of "Golgotha", which was the word Rev. Taylor used to describe the site when he first saw all the human remains that were still lying there 14 years after the battle. 


This photo shows the plinth mentioned in the sign:


The following link provides further information about Hoani Wiremu Hipango, who fought alongside British troops against the Maori living up the Whanganui River who opposed European settlement: 


Just to round off the first part, here is a map showing the locations mentioned in Part 1:


That brings Part 1 of the tour to an end. The next stop will be downtown Wanganui.




Part 2: From the Information Centre to Taupo Quay


The second section of our Wanganui Tiki Tour starts downtown at the Wanganui tourist information centre, on Guyton Street:


This is where you can pick up tourist maps, guides and brochures, and visiting the centre provides the opportunity to admire this slightly mossy fellow:


The next two stops are definitely not marked on any tourist guides, but are worth a quick look, and are on Ingestre Street, just one block north-west of the information centre. Soak in the rusty corrugated iron feel and admire the seedy run-down environment as you walk up Hardy Street to get there. 


Wanganui City College (one of the local high schools) has a strong syllabus in terms of Maoritanga, and features a Maori cultural centre which is also used as a marae and a soundshell for cultural performances (kapa haka). 


The entrance gate:


And the building itself:


Detailed view of one of the carvings on the stage:


This is a very fine piece of contemporary Maori carving, although it is nonetheless inspired by the style of the early 20th century Rotorua school. 


Walking further along Ingestre Street towards Victoria Avenue, just across St Hill Street is our next stop; the Maori Land Court:


Admittedly, it is not a very attractive building, which is probably why they tried to hide it behind that hedge, but if you walk into the reception area, you will find six finely-executed carvings of various Maori ancestor figures. 


Te Aokehu, a local chief who slayed the taniwha Ekaroa:


So what's a taniwha? Link: 


Hau Pipi, one of the crew of of the canoe Aotea:


More information on the waka Aotea: 


Usually there are four other carvings in this reception area, including one of Kupe, but they were away for cleaning when I paid a visit. And if you're feeling lucky, you could also ask the receptionist if they have any spare copies of the various posters they have up on the walls... 


Walking back towards the Whanganui River, along Victoria Avenue, Wanganui's main street, you will see various tourist gift shops which sell things like greenstone (jade) carvings, but we are going to ignore them and pop into the Westpac Bank instead. Behind the counter are three Maori carvings well worth a look:


Detailed view of one of the carvings:


I would love to tell you who or what these carvings depict, but they are in an area off-limits to customers and the descriptive details alongside them are not at all legible. There was some fuss and bother from the counter staff when I asked to photograph them, and I had to get the manager's permission to do so, although I did manage to plant the germ of the idea in his head that maybe they would be better displayed if they were placed where the public could see them properly. 


Still ignoring the tourist gift shops, we are now going to head across the road to the local branch of the ANZ Bank. In the foyer is this imposing carved stone:


I happened to be passing when they installed this stone earlier this year and it must weigh a ton as it took several men to carry it into the foyer and lift it onto its pedestal. 


Walking further down Victoria Avenue, you may come across some local buskers:


These guys were singing reggae songs. 


Further along Victoria Avenue, when you reach the city bridge, turn left into Taupo Quay. Fifty yards or so up the street, at No. 17 Taupo Quay, you will spot this building:


This is the WH Milbank Gallery, and features NZ Polynesian pop art:


At the back of the gallery was an assortment of images from an exhibition devoted to a Ratana church at Raetihi:


Background on the Ratana Church, founded south of Wanganui in the 1920s: 


A few doors along from the Milbank Gallery is an old building that was once the clubhouse of the Wanganui Rowing Club:


It now houses the local riverboat museum. Visitors are greeted by this figurehead clutching a paddle:


The Whanganui River was one of New Zealand's earliest tourist attractions, and the displays include an interesting collection of 19th-century tourist brochures, maps and other paraphernalia:


My favourite is the one that refers to the Whanganui River as "the Rhine of Maoriland". 


The museum has exhibits on the riverboats that ran up and down the river in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including a riverboat that is currently being restored:


You can also buy tickets here for the Waimarie, a restored paddle steamer. Check the following site for details: 


Here is the map for Part 2 of the tour:


That concludes the second stage of the Wanganui Tiki Tour. In Part 3, we follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain as we visit Moutoa Gardens. 


Part 3: From Moutoa Gardens to the Museum 


Moutoa Gardens is an area right beside the Whanganui River. For hundreds of years, prior to the European town being established in the 1840s, there was a fishing settlement here, called Paikatore. Even after the town centre grew to encompass this area, in the mid to late 19th century, local Maori who lived along the river continued to land their canoes here when visiting Wanganui.


The photo above shows the site in the 1860s. In the foreground is a newly-built statue commemorating the victory in 1864 of lower river Maori over upper river Maori at the battle of Moutoa Island (80km up the Whanganui River). Behind the statue, to the right, is the town courthouse and jail. To the left is Reid's Albion Hotel. Towering over the scene is the Rutland Stockade, a fortification built on Pukenamu Hill (now Queen's Park). The Rutland Stockade was part of fortification works in Wanganui initiated in 1847 in response to upper river Maori, who were becoming hostile to the influx of European settlers that the founding of the town had prompted. By the 1860s, the town's defences had been extended to encompass redoubts upriver in order to forestall any attacks by war parties coming down the Whanganui River, and were put to the test when discontent developed into general conflict in the mid to late 1860s. 


The River Queen (2005), a film starring Keifer Sutherland, depicts this period of conflict. Although somewhat fictionalised (it refers to an 1860s military campaign on a river named "Te Awa Nui" - The Great River - rather than "Whanganui"), it was filmed in the Whanganui region and is loosely based on actual events that happened there. Further details: 


Here is what the Moutoa Gardens site looks like today:


The aforementioned statue is just visible on the far right in the photo. Here is a closer shot:


There is little ambiguity about whose side the townfolk were on. Mark Twain, who visited Wanganui in December 1895, was prompted to write the following remarks in his diary after having seen this statue: 


“Patriotism is patriotism. Calling it fanaticism cannot degrade it… the men were worthy. It was no shame to fight them. They fought for their homes, they fought for their country, they bravely fought and bravely fell; and it would take nothing from the honor of the brave Englishmen who lie under the monument, but add to it, to say that they died in defense of English law and English homes against men worthy of the sacrifice – the Maori patriots”. 


Moutoa Gardens made the headlines in New Zealand in 1995, when it was occupied by local Maori protesters for 79 days. They declared that the land at Paikatore was Maori land that was not part of the land sale that had resulted in the establishment of Wanganui, and the whole nation watched as the issue was aired in the media spotlight, with the town council on one side and the protesters on the other. After 5 years of discussions, both parties agreed to jointly manage the site in 2000. 


A prominent victim of the protest action was a statue of John Ballance, which was toppled:


John Ballance was a local newspaper editor in the 1860s, who rose to prominence as a politician, eventually becoming the Premier of New Zealand, leading a Liberal Government from 1891 to 1893. The protesters were possibly unaware of his vocal criticisms of government policy in the land wars of the 1860s, which resulted in him being threatened with a court martial and losing his commission in the Wanganui Yeoman Cavalry, a local militia unit. They were perhaps also unaware of the fact that in 1879 Ballance lost his parliamentary seat as Member for Wanganui due to local Europeans' hostility to his support for the Maori pacifist Te Whiti (more about Te Whiti: ). Such are the ironies of history. 


The fate of Ballance's statue lay undecided for many years. Marton, a town not far from Wanganui, even offered to take it off the town council's hands. Eventually, earlier this year, a new statue was erected outside the council offices (next door to the tourist information centre):


On the other side of the Moutoa Gardens site is a monument to Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, also known as Major Kemp:


His biography: 


The monument commemorates various battles he fought against upper river Maori from 1866 to 1870. On each of the monument's four sides is a bas-relief showing a battle scene, and an account of what happened there:


A stone's throw from the Major Kemp monument is a war memorial to local Maori who died in World War I:


From 1914 to 1918, New Zealand paid a high price in that conflict, and such memorials are to be seen in the smallest of small towns all over the country, but this particular one stands out for two reasons. The first reason is that it is dedicated solely to Maori soldiers, and the second is that it features text in Maori, which was a rarity on public monuments in those days:


Across the road from this monument, where the Albion Hotel used to stand in the 1860s, is this entrance to the local polytech:


This campus only opened a couple of years ago, so these are new carvings:


Moving over to the other side of the hill that the Rutland Stockade once stood on, we come to memorials to British soldiers who fought and died in the 1860s land wars:


And a little further on is Wanganui's largest depository of Maori artifacts, the Whanganui Regional Museum:


In the foyer is a shop that has a good range of books on Maori artifacts and carving, Maori language and culture, and local history. They also sell souvenirs like bone carvings. Across from the shop is this carving, symbolising the Whanganui region and the people who live there:


The museum's main hall is where most of the Maori treasures are to be found, along with a famous collection of 19th-century paintings of local Maori by Gottfried Lindauer (biography: ):


I would like to show you more, but at this point the camera police descended upon me. Suffice to say, if you want pictures of their extensive collection, you will have to buy the museum catalogue... 


Which I eventually did:


And well worth the money it is too. It provides details on the history of the museum's Taonga Maori collection, including good coverage of the Gottfried Lindauer paintings, photos of items I have never seen on display, and there is also a CD-ROM with a record of all 4,500 of the taonga (treasures) held by the museum. 


Also, when you are at the museum, do not miss the exhibits upstairs, which include a new section on the land wars of the 1860s. 

Here is the map showing the locations in Part 3 of the Wanganui Tiki Tour:


In the next instalment, we see the inside of an inner-city marae. 


Part 4: St Mary's Church & Te Rau Oriwa Marae 


Behind the Whanganui Regional Museum is St Mary's Church:


The church itself features a traditional Maori gate:


Attached to the church is the Te Rau Oriwa Marae:


Here are some shots of the gate leading into the marae's grounds:


And there is another gate leading into the building once you get inside the grounds:


Some detailed views:


A kaumatua (elder) was kind enough to allow me inside to take photos of the interior:


The interior carvings all date from 1991. I would have liked to get explanations of who the various figures represented, but the kaumatua was busy organising a social event, so I didn't bother him and just quietly snapped a pile of photos. 


Here is a general view of the interior:


Various shots of the central pillar:


And some shots of the interior walls, working from right to left if you refer back to the photo of the general view of the interior:


The woven panels were interesting. They were actually made using hardboard pegboard (available from a hardware store near you...), with the fabric woven in and out of the holes. 


That concludes Part 4 of the Wanganui Tiki Tour. In Part 5, we go moa hunting... 


And here is a map showing where the church in Part 4 is located:

Part 5: North of Central Wanganui 


The first stop on the final leg of the Wanganui Tiki Tour is Kowhai Park, where visitors can get to see some real moas:


Well, real concrete ones anyway:


Moas were on the verge of extinction around the time of Captain Cook's first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. It is thought there were still a few of these large flightless birds to be found inland, but there is no record of Europeans ever having seen a live specimen. There are plenty of reconstructions of them to be seen in New Zealand museums though. Here is a skeleton from the New Plymouth museum:


From Kowhai Park, we head upriver to Aramoho marae. Here is the entrance gate:


A detailed shot:


The marae's flagpole:


And a detailed view of the carving at its base:


Our next stop is Cullinane College, to have a look at the gateway to the Hohepa Block:


Hohepa Block is where the college's Maori language and culture courses are taught. A detailed shot of the carvings:


Virginia Lake is part of a reserve beside the road leading out of Wanganui, north-west to the province of Taranaki:


In pre-European times, there was a small settlement called Toronui at the end of the freshwater lake shown here, where local Maori used to come to catch eels when they were in season. 


Virginia Lake Reserve also features a statue of Tainui, a chief's daughter who features in a local legend that is a Romeo and Juliet-style tale. It is said that Tainui shed tears here when the forest birds told her of the death of Turere, the warrior she was in love with.


Breaking news is that the Wanganui Tourist Information Centre has now relocated to a new site on Taupo Quay, just across the road from the polytech. Consequently the old Tourist Information Centre building has closed. I do not know what is going to happen to the big mossy tiki carving outside the old centre. Maybe I should ask if they want to donate him to a good home? 


Here is an addition to the Tiki Tour, to be found at the Te Taurawhiri Building, 357 Victoria Avenue, which is the regional office of Te Puni Kokiri (the Ministry of Maori Development):


This fellow is over 6 feet tall and stands in the foyer, with a couple of kete (flax bags) hanging on the wall beside him. 


You can all disregard comments in previous posts about the Tiki Tour being over. I have belatedly realised that there was a major omission in my tour: The Wanganui Savage Club Hall! This is the original Wanganui museum building, and it is fitted out tiki-style, although we are talking old-style tiki here; possibly Tiki Victoriana rather than Tiki Modern. 


Click on this link for a foretaste: 


The Wanganui Savage Club Hall is still used as a concert venue, so next time a show is on there, I am going to roll around early and start snapping photos. The stage is very impressive. 

And here is the map for the final part of the Wanganui Tiki Tour:



Part 6: Tiki Culture's Missing Link: The Wanganui Savage Club 


In Part 6 of the Wanganui Tiki Tour, we investigate a missing link in tiki culture... 


Our story begins in London in the 1850s with George Augustus Sala, a journalist and author whose works were published in reviews by Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, among others:


On 8 October 1857, Mr Sala called a meeting of gentlemen at the Crown Tavern in Drury Lane, London, to "confer upon the expediency of forming a social society or club, hereafter to receive a suitable designation":


The outcome of this meeting was the creation of the Savage Club, originally intended to be a somewhat irreverent literary club, which was named after one Richard Savage, a minor 18th-century satirical poet with a dubious background. Savage was a friend of Dr Johnson's, and had a reputation as being a violent man who had a lifetime of quarrels and brawls, one of which he killed a man in. He was also successfully prosecuted for libel, and was imprisoned for being a delinquent debtor. This London club met fortnightly for dinners, followed by entertainment, and such was its success that counterparts began popping up all over the British Empire. 


Out in the colonies and dominions, the name "Savage Club" was given a further twist through cultural associations that were not originally intended by the London club, but were just as irreverent. In Canada for example, local chapters adopted Pacific Northwest Indian icons and customs. So it was only natural that when, in 1891, the first Savage Club in New Zealand was founded, it should adopt the iconography and customs of the local Maori:


The Wanganui chapter was the first of a series of Savage Clubs across New Zealand, some of which were established as far away as Christchurch and Oamaru, in the South Island. Like the Paramount Savage Club in Wanganui, other branches also adopted Polynesian imagery. Here is a badge from the New Plymouth Savage Club:


Like the original London Savage Club, the New Zealand Savage Clubs would meet every few weeks for food, drink, and entertainment, but unlike the English originators, the New Zealand clubs adopted the ceremonial titles, clothing, and symbols of indigenous Maori: The Club President was called the "Rangatira" (Chief), and wore a Maori korowai (cloak) and a hei-tiki around his neck:


Tikis are clearly visible on 6 of these paintings of Wanganui Savage Club Rangatiras from the mid-20th century. In the late-20th century, ordinary members wore green blazers with the emblem of the Wanganui Savage Club stitched onto their breast pocket:


A major part of the Savage Clubs was the evening entertainment which, in addition to local members, was provided periodically by visiting performers from other chapters, all of whom would be greeted by singing of the Savage Club song:


It is interesting to speculate on what the covered-up and amended words in this song originally were. Judging from the rhyme on line 3, it is safe to assume that the original word covered over by "members" was "hori". For North American readers unfamiliar with this term, although in the 19th century this was originally just an informal name for Maori, over the years it has come to assume racist overtones, and nowadays it is just as taboo in New Zealand as the "N-word" is in the US. 


While I do not have statistics at hand, judging from the photos and paintings hanging on the walls of the Wanganui Savage Club Hall, the majority of members were white, which makes the cultural significance of such customs open to various interpretations. Defenders of the Savage Club ethos point to the adoption of Maori emblems, clothing and culture as being indicative of a group of Pakeha (European) non-conformists who adopted indigenous Polynesian culture to show what free-thinkers they were. A less charitable PC approach would point out that a high level of European cultural paternalism is evident in the following imagery from the club's walls, along with a whiff of racism:


Note the image in the lower left-hand corner of the 3 gentlemen clad as Maoris standing around a cooking pot. 


And then there is the title of the following revue organised by the Wanganui Savage Club in the 1950s:


There is some cultural sidestepping here, as the "native" depicted alongside the "Kannibal Kapers" heading is clearly an African, but for those unfamiliar with New Zealand history, ritual cannibalism was performed by the Maori in these islands into the 19th century, and mentioning these practices remains one of the great cultural taboos here. To put it mildly, these reminders of that past hanging on the Savage Club's walls are not shining examples of cultural sensitivity. 


Still, setting aside these unpleasant echoes from the past, let's have a look at the architectural heritage provided by the Wanganui Savage Club Hall, located in the old museum building on Drews Ave (Queens Park Hill). It calls for some substantial revisionism of tiki culture history. Readers of books such as "Tiki Modern" will be forgiven for thinking that Polynesian style was first appropriated by Europeans for dining, drinking and social venues by Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber in California in the 1930s. Actually, the idea seems to have originated four decades earlier, in the 1890s, in Wanganui:


119 years after it was founded, the tiki-themed Savage Club survives through this venue, which is still being used for social events. The following are photos I took on Friday 3 December 2010: 


General view from the foyer:


The back wall:


Close-up view of the back wall:


The stage:


Close-ups of the stage:


The side walls feature more Maori-style pieces and landscape scenes, along with the emblems of affiliated clubs:


The identical tikis along the side walls look late-20th century, and various other carvings look early to mid-20th century, but the two tiki carvings flanking the stage appear quite venerable, and I would not be surprised if they were older. 


I can hear gasps of shocked disbelief from defenders of Californian tiki culture all the way across the Pacific. But can any of them point to a similar Polynesian-themed social club in California that dates back to the 1890s?




Part 7: Whanganui River Postcards 


As a prelude to my as yet unscheduled trip up the Whanganui River Road, here are a few postcards showing what the river looked like in the late 19th century. 


A supposedly happy chief standing outside a whare:


How the upper crust lived: Victorian tropical décor at Pipiriki House, described as being on "New Zealand's Rhine":


And just to add a bit of colour:


The caption reads "River below Pipiriki". 




Part 8: The Wanganui Savage Club – the plot thickens...


Whilst doing further research on the Wanganui Savage Club Hall, I discovered this wonderful photo, with its combination of Maori relics and stuffed marine life, showing what the Savage Club Hall looked like back when it was still the Wanganui Museum. (I particularly like the small pot-bellied tiki carving sitting on the top shelf to the right, just in front of what looks like a stuffed albatross.) 


It turns out that this photo was taken in 1899... 


1899! Hang on, wasn’t the Wanganui Savage Club founded in 1891? 


Yes indeed, and upon further research, I discovered that the Wanganui Museum was actually founded in 1892, one year after the Wanganui Savage Club was created, and it appears that the club moved into this building only once the museum had relocated to its current premises in 1928. 


So where does that leave us? 


With a 37-year period of the club’s existence which is currently unaccounted for. This raises various questions: 


Where was the club originally located? 


Were the club’s original premises decked out with tiki carvings too? 


Are there any surviving photos of the original premises? 


So it appears that my initial impression (see Part 6), that most of the décor dates from the early 20th century or later was correct – the building was refitted from around 1928 onwards by the Wanganui Savage Club. But what of those two suspiciously old-looking tiki carvings flanking the stage? Were they transferred from the original premises? 


It looks like more research will be involved to get to the bottom of the Wanganui Savage Club than I originally thought. 



Californian tiki aficionados should note that in spite of these revelations, the Wanganui Savage Club’s present location is still about 6 years older than Don the Beachcomber’s original Hollywood location... 



I have also checked out the Savage Club Hall’s preservation status. It is neither registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, nor is it currently listed in the Wanganui District Council’s District Plan. The ramifications of this are that, as things stand, if the Council’s bureaucrats decide in 2015/2016 that they want to tear down the building and sell off the property, they can do so as it has no legal protection whatsoever. 




Part 9: The Wanganui Savage Club - More Photos


There was another musical event on at the Savage Club on Friday night (1st of April), so I took the opportunity to snap some more photos.


The high point of the evening's entertainment was Tama K, an outstanding guitarist with a rock solid rhythm section:


The first thing I noticed, going around the walls looking at the pictures, was that there was very little that predated 1928. This was the oldest photo I spotted, from 1926:


Unfortunately, it's of the Christchurch Savage Club Council - not a tiki or Maori cloak in sight! 


The walls with the paintings and photos of the Wanganui Savage Club presidents started only with the 1929 Rangatira (top left), who also happened to be a Man of the Cloth:


So where did the club's older memorabilia go? Another mystery that needs to be cleared up... 


Note too that all these Wanganui presidents (from 1929-1962) are wearing a hei-tiki, except for the second to last guy, who is wearing a war medal instead. 


Here are the club presidents through to the present day, the latest of whom is a woman:


On the back wall, to the left of the foyer, there are various of these framed medals, commemorating honoured Rangatiras:


A couple of the alcoves on the left-hand side of the hall (when facing towards the stage) are lined with photos of the Savage Club's High Councils:


Here is a close-up of one of the more interesting ones, showing what the stage of the Savage Club Hall looked like in 1953:


A Savage Club membership certificate:


The text reads: 


"To all Savages and Kindred Spirits: 



"Be it known by these Presents that David Strachan has been for 7 years a member of this the Hawera Savage Club. [note: Hawera is in South Taranaki, north of Wanganui] 


"Know that he has merited the name of a truly savage Savage, a warrior well blooded and qualified to hold his own in the social life of his Hapu [clan] as well as in warlike raids on other tribes. 


"We commend him to the good fellowship of whatever Hapu or Club may be within his reach, on behalf of the Hawera Hapu we wish him Kia Ora and good hunting in his new sphere." 


"Ake! Ake! Ake! Kia Kaha! [Forever and ever and ever be strong!]" 


Wanganui Savage Club Protocols, pinned to the back wall of the hall, near the foyer:


And a tantalising glimpse of the Savage Club farewell song board, hanging from ropes above the stage:


One of the various emblems of other Savage Clubs hanging along the side walls:


The following are photos of various "cultural" groups, in increasing order of un-PCness:


Note the use of advertising placards above as substitutes for sporrans - an offence to any Scotsman...


The above photo is interesting because it gives a glimpse of what the Savage Club Hall looked like in 1953.


Judging from appearances and the surname (Karaitiana), there were at least two Maoris in this 1936 haka group. The fact that the various Pakehas (Europeans) have full-face moko painted on is vaguely disturbing, but nowhere near as disturbing as the following photo... 


... the faint-hearted may prefer to close their eyes and just scroll down a few inches... 


... no seriously... 


... really, I'm not joking on this one... 


OK, you have been duly warned. From here on in I decline all responsibility:


The Wanganui Savage Club Minstrel Troupe, 1933. 


This was of course back in the days when people like Al Jolson used to wear blackface as part of their stage act. 



Moving right along, on a less controversial note, the Wanganui Savage Club also has a great collection of velvet paintings on its walls:


And a fairly large collection of its own humorous artworks:


My next step is to hit the libraries and find out about the Wanganui Savage Club's history prior to 1928. 




Part 10: Maori Language Nest School, Castlecliff 


Here are some photos of the Maori language primary school in the beachside suburb of Castlecliff:


There is a traditional-style entrance too:


And some academically-oriented tikis on the foyer entrance:




Part 11: Some odds and ends 


Here are a couple of modern pieces from the Wanganui public library:


Each one shows a taniwha, if I'm not mistaken. 


And how I missed this fellow on the wall of the Whanganui Regional Museum, I don't know:




Part 12: The Wanganui Savage Club - Its Earliest Days 


Three primary historical sources for your perusal:

Wanganui Herald, 9 March 1891, p.2

Wanganui Herald, 31 July 1891, p.3

Wanganui Herald, 1 August 1891, p.1


In other words: "please mind your own business". 


This looks like it is going to be a harder job than I thought... 




Part 13: The Wanganui Savage Club Hall's Original Décor 


Judging from this article, there used to be a lot more internal fittings in the Wanganui Savage Club Hall than there are now. While all the paintings etc. on the walls remain, among other things, the nine whares created in the bays along the sides of the hall in the early 1930s and described in the following newspaper article are no longer there. It is interesting too to see from this article that the whole spirit of the hall was intended as a respectful tribute to the Maori and their culture... 


The Wanganui Chronicle, Saturday 25 March 1933 











Co-operative effort, stimulated by a touch of originality and the knowledge of a great race will, in some measure, be preserved, has created for the Wanganui Savage Club a new and novel home in the old museum buildings. Going within is like stepping out of the world of to-day, from a setting typically English, to a scene from the far-away days of Captain Cook. Without, English plane trees, just before the fall, wave indifferent, dropping leaves over concrete steps and among wires charged with that new man-mastered agency - electricity. Within, New Zealand ever-greens surround a typical native pa, with its meeting-house, or marae, in the distance and its wharepunis in rows down the side. Even the emblematic tui, and the kaka, have not been forgotten, and in leafy branches above weird figures that guard the entrance to the marae, these birds are shown in realistic attitude, just as they must have appeared when the very first of the Maori race set foot on the shores of the Long White Cloud. 


Just inside the folding doors that give entrance from the street, the sightseer is greeted with the outer defences of a great Maori pa, complete even to the tongue-displayed figure which guards the gateway. Beyond that gateway is the pa itself. The marae, majestic in its historical associations, occupies the full width of the room at the far end. Three carvings, one at each side, and the third erected at the apex of the facade, and looking down on all who might come within the gateway of the pa, link this new home with a famous house at Tieke, on the Wanganui River. Each figure represents a personage whose mana is just as great to-day as it was when the Maori held uninterrupted sway in the Valley of the Whanganui. Punga ferns, neatly cut, [and] well designed water colour effects, which display typical native trees, provide a background for the marae, and a curtain, in colours of blue and black, emblematical of Wanganui, and bearing the Savage Club’s badge, has been introduced. Its presence indicates the union of the two races. In other words, the marae is a stage, just as it was in the days of old, when the rangitiras of the tribe gathered to the korero and manifestations of loyalty were made. 


Nine whares have been created from the nine bays that are peculiar to the architecture of the hall, and in each the endeavour of the creators has been to preserve a Maori setting. The whare on the right of the stage is that of the heketari and tohangas of the tribe and it will carry his insignia above its apex. Three other whares on the same side are dedicated, respectively, to the Auckland, Masterton and Christchurch Savage Clubs. On the opposite side and next to the stage, is located the whare of the ariki and rangitira, and in the same row are whares that will be dedicated to Napier, Hawera, Gisborne and Poneke (Wellington). Above each has been painted trees and shrubs of the New Zealand forest. Naturally there had to be totaras above the whare of the ariki, but ratas, rimus, the pohutakawa, even the beautiful flowering clematis, have all found a place. Badges of those clubs to which the whares are to be dedicated will be placed above each facade in the settings of scrolls. Each whare, with a cluster of toe-toe on the one side and raupo reeds on the other, will have two specially erected punga seats at the entrance and within there will be seating accommodation for 12. So that members of the tribe may provide fitting korero music, a special enclosure has been provided, ringed with punga trunks suitably scrolled. 


All this presents an imposing sight from the entrance, but on reaching the marae and looking back one is greeted with the outlook from within the pa, and it is just as imposing. Strong pointed shafts of the stockade fringe the lower portion up to a height of several feet. Above is the look-out point and beyond the sky and the bush. Clear cut in the centre is the gateway. 


Undoubtedly this new home of the Wanganui Savage Club does its tribesmen credit. Away back in that distant past, out of which an inspiration to create anew has come, these warriors, under the guidance of Ariki Dr George Adams, have unconsciously developed one of the finest characteristics of the Maori race – loyalty to a leader and a cause. Just as it was in the days of noted chieftains and tribal conference, so can it be to-day. Material has had to be bought to build this novel setting, but labour has been entirely voluntary. More than that, it has been so directed and so applied that one would really believe that these tribesmen of the Wanganui Savage Club have within them strange ancestral chords that have sprung to life. 


On March 20 there is to be much korero, joy, feasting and dancing when the new pa will be opened and the marae and wharepunis dedicated. His Worship the Mayor (Mr. N. G. Armstrong) is to declare the hall open. Mr. Ifekonui Whakarake, grandson of an early chief of the river district, is to specially dedicate the marae and wharepunis to the Wanganui Savage Club. Mr Hope Gibbons is to speak on behalf of the Alexander Museum Trustees and each whare will be dedicated to the representatives of distant units present. By that time it is believed that the club will have a full membership – 250. It is well up to 200 now, and on April 8 a special korero is to be held at which 150 new members will be initiated. This will probably be a record for an old-established club. 


Dressing rooms, a library, a well fitted supper-room and adequate stage dressing rooms have been provided in the general lay-out and indications point to many happy koreros resulting in ideal surroundings. Other activities to be fostered by the club include Badminton, for which an up-to-date court had been provided. A literary and debating society will retain the interest of members during the winter season and will encourage the study of desirable, if controversial, subjects. 


Night after night, several keen voluntary workers have operated until the small hours of the morning, building, little by little, with that infinite patience characteristic of the Maori, a model pa that will be the first of its kind in New Zealand and a monument to the co-operative spirit that is steadily lifting Wanganui to the high plane to which it rightfully belongs – “Whakatane Kia Kaha” (Quit You Like Men. Be Strong!) 


© W.S. McCallum 11 August 2010 - 19 November 2011








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