An 18 month collaboration between Rimutaka Prison and Whitby’s Postgate School came to fruition recently when a 2.2m x 4m waharoa was unveiled at the entrance to the school’s hall.

While the weather was inhospitable for the unveiling at day break, the school’s hall was filled with warmth and aroha as the school’s community of parents, pupils, teachers, board of trustees, iwi, local mayor and guests gathered to celebrate the waharoa carved by men in Rimutaka Prison.The Postgate School community gather under the waharoa after its unveiling.

Residential Manager Murray Todd describes the project as a “journey”, with the prison and lead carver working with the school and local iwi to take a brief and formulate a design.

“The design pays tribute to Māori ancestors, as well as the whanau groups of the school, among other things,” he says.

Ranginui the sky father sits at the centre of the waharoa while references to Porirua Harbour, its kaitiaki the stingray, Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha and his uncle Te Pehi Kupe adorn its posts.

Carved from a mighty totara from the Far North, it took around 300 hours to complete, with the lead carver assisted by up to four men.

At a packed school assembly after the official unveiling, Principal Adam Campbell outlined to pupils the journey from the original suggestion of a carving to the unveiling, and how he and his team made regular visits to the carving workshop in Rimutaka.

Not long after the assembly, new entrants and their whanau were welcomed with a powhiri performed by pupils before passing under the waharoa.

The waharoa has been described as a taonga, with many stopping to touch it as they passed under it, tracing the patterns and paua and admiring its ancestral details.

Principal Adam Campbell says “It’s been a dream of the school to have a carving like this” and “It’s very special”.

“The waharoa will be a heirloom for the school,” Murray says.