A press statement from the Wellington City Councilsays dragons and taniwha, as well as bears and sharks, “are moving into Opera House Lane”.
Until he was disabused by subsequent information in the statement, Alf saw this as a great opportunity to round up every bloody taniwha in the country and have them corralled in one place, well out of the way of modern developments they otherwise would frustrate.
But nah, no such luck.
In this case, we are dealing with arty-farty stuff.
At least 20 young people are right now buffing, undercoating and preparing the lane before they take to the fresh canvas with their stencils and paints over the weekend.
Led by the Boys and Girls Institute (BGI), this is the start of a number of projects Wellington City Council wants to undertake in Opera House Lane to improve people’s sense of safety.
Improve our sense of safety?
And how will this sense be improved by the aforementioned dragons, taniwha, etc?
But you will have to look real hard in the press statement for an answer.
The council’s Social Portfolio Leader, Councillor Stephanie Cook, says the project came about through the Council-led Ethnic and Pacific forums that took place last year.
“There was an overwhelming call for greater visibility of ethnic and Pacific communities in the city’s public art. And when Opera House Lane was identified as an area that needed to be cleaned up in time for the Rugby World Cup 2011, local young people leapt at the chance to create something new for the lane. It’s going to look great,” says Cr Cook.
Yeah, right. We all know what comes of committee-organised art.
Horses finish up looking like camels, for example.
The statement goes on to say a BGI youth worker, Rod Baxter, has been working with a large group of young people over the last few weeks to plan the collaborative artwork.
He has long been interested in urban and street art, and was the perfect choice to lead the project. The primary artist – Thijs de Koning (aka Yelz) – is also well-respected in the street art scene, and has worked alongside Rod and the other participants to bring the design together.
Rod says the mural includes the journey of Pacific people to Aotearoa, as well as the people who have populated the land since.
At this point of the press statement, Alf was still uncertain about how his sense of safety would be improved.
Maybe the next bit will help.
“The animals that you see on the mural – the bear, the shark and dragons – all signify the four elements Pacific people battled all those years ago to get here (earth, fire, wind and water).
“We’ve also got Maui hauling Wellington up out of the sea and, as we approach Matariki, we felt it was a good idea to represent the stars among the artwork,” says Rod.
Nope. Nothing about safety there.
But wait. There’s more.
Young people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds – European, Pakeha, South American, Pacific Islander, Maori and Asian – will get the chance to make their mark on the lane.
The Council’s Arts and Culture Portfolio Leader, Councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer says the mural will go a long way to rejuvenate the tired old lane.
“And by all accounts, it will be a great addition to a large number of murals in Wellington,” says Cr Ahipene-Mercer. “Tournament Parking – the guys who own the building – have been immensely supportive of it, and we expect we’ll encounter a similar level of enthusiasm from other building owners in the city.
“This is just one of a number of public art projects that we have under way around at the city at the moment – work is also about to take place at Te Aro Pa and also Te Aro Park. And we’re also having a look at Luke’s Lane,” says Cr Ahipene-Mercer.
That’s where the statement ends.
Safety be buggered.
But if Alf was invited to sit on the committee, he would urge them to forget about art and seriously consider the round-up of the nation’s taniwaha.
He is particularly interested in the taniwha that stopped work on State Highway One a few years ago.
The fact that local Maori acknowledge it is a mystical creature – a figment of their imaginations – did not stop it delaying some much-needed progress.
Karu Tahi, the one-eyed taniwha, is one of three mythical creatures which live along the Waikato River, says Ngati Naho, a hapu of the Tainui iwi.
Its lair is a small swampy area about 1km south of the Meremere power station beside State Highway One, surrounded by a grove of protected kahikatea trees, lush grass and noisy cicadas – and right in the middle of the new Waikato expressway.
Spokesman Rima Herbert said Ngati Naho believed Karu Tahi, whose name means one-eyed taniwha, could move out of its boggy marsh when the river floods and into a second home further along the river, which is not on the route of any developments.
The Herald at that time explained how taniwha, spiritual creatures to Maori, had been in the spotlight after work was halted then began again, though not around the disputed lair.
In this case, what happened would have been regarded as utter farce in any other civilized country.
Government officials actually sat down with a bunch of wildly imaginative locals to talk about the non-existent creature and what could be done to push the road through without upsetting it.
The talks obviously went on for some time.
Negotiations between Ngati Naho and Transit will begin again next week.
Oh, and the Ngati Naho believe in two other taniwha, Waiwai and Te Iaroa, which live north of Karu Tahi.
Waiwai, named after Ngati Naho ancestors, lives on the banks of the Waikato River, across the road from the Meremere power station.
Te Iaroa, meaning The Long Current, is believed to live where the Mangatawhiri River enters the Waikato River.
Its lair was not on the expressway route so gave Ngati Naho little reason for concern.
Further north, another reputed taniwha will be the subject of a Court of Appeal hearing on November 25.
The buggers who invoke their sad superstitions to stop the building of modern highways would be locked up, if Alf had his way.
But when it comes to locking buggers up, get this.
The proposed Northland Prison at Ngawha could be delayed if an appeal is based on a taniwha called Takauere succeeds. He is described as a guardian of the waters, with the shape of a kauri log or an eel.
A group, including the Friends of Ngawha, has already unsuccessfully appealed in the High Court against an Environment Court decision to grant resource consents for the prison.
The Environment Court ruled on the taniwha, saying it respected the rights of people to believe in the spiritual, metaphysical taniwha, but the court was part of a secular state.
The Resource Management Act required it to consider the well-being of physical people.
“While respecting the freedoms of those who believe in Takauere, the members of the court are not compelled to find that the taniwha exists, or that its pathways and other characteristics would be adversely affected, if we are not persuaded by the evidence of those facts.”
Praise be for common sense in the judiciary.
Inevitably, the media were able to dig up an academic who could explain the taniwha phenomenon.
Dr Ranginui Walker, former professor in the Maori studies department at Auckland University, said taniwha were embedded in Maori culture.
“It is cultural, just the same as goblins are part of European culture – it’s the same sort of thing.”
Yes – but Europeans who believe in goblins do not allow the wee rascals to stop their motorways or prisons.
Dragons, of course, are a different proposition.
Alf is descended from a bloke who was a dab hand at dragon slaying, back in St George’s day.
If Alf was married to some of Labour’s female MPs (perish the thought) he suspects he would soon be into a bit of dragon slaying himself.
He imagines the court would be very lenient.