Restored Tuku Tuku Panel at Putiki. Photo by Crispin Kay.

A plain white church, neatly mown grass, a large totara and a pretty lychgate to walk through. There must be a good reason for us to be here, but there is little indication from the outside. We leave the bright sunshine, enter the dark porch and move into the church where we are surrounded by a richly decorated interior. This is why we are here.

We see tukutuku panels, painted kowhaiwhai boards and a glint of paua on the cross. For now, a maze of scaffolding fills the sanctuary to allow restoration of this precious art work. We shuffle into the pews and Huia Kirk and Margaret Tauri stand before us. Now the space truly comes to life, resounding with their voices telling the story of the church. Consecrated in 1937, this is the fifth church building on the site, the first being erected in 1842 to be an Anglican Church Mission Station. Huia directs us to look carefully at the tukutuku panels. Each is different and each carries a Christian message. Original to Whanganui is the dog’s paw pattern. “As the dog is faithful to its master, so must the Christian be faithful to God.”

We leave the softly lit church. A sign announcing that the church is closed for renovations is ready to be put back in place. We were lucky.

Lois Daish
Member, Friends of Te Papa