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Barry Loses His Head + The Largest Bottle Collection in the South Pacific

Kati Kati remains the Murals Capital of New Zealand and that status has been reinforced again in 2002 by the inauguration of the latest mural, Our People – Our Story, by the Governor General, Her Excellency Dame Sylvia Cartwright. So it was in awe and with a proper deference that I approached the town once again for an update on what’s been happening. I was due to meet the Open Art Kati Kati Chairman, no less, which group has been responsible for the town’s Murals from their inception over a decade ago. Bruce Warden is by profession an accountant on Main Street and indispensably well known for keeping facts and fantasy in the appropriate perspectives. He moved and walked the land at Kati Kati when the 1st International Conference on Arts & Tourism was convened to celebrate the town’s 10th anniversary in the last century, the precursor of Karl Schutz’s current Global Series.

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But as so often happens on these occasions, events took their own turn. We arrived early and our clansman mentor on all matters Kiwi, Hans Maurer, steered me towards the famous Kati Kati Museum for a quick look. The old Goal House seemed an obvious outdoor snapshot, with the stocks in front, but no sooner had the camera clicked than the proprietor Nancy Merriman emerged. and required to know what brought us here and how we were unwise to contemplate anything less than a 90 minute museum tour, which she personally would conduct at 2 p.m. with the assistance of her husband Ken, who was in charge upstairs. Aware that we must first meet and lunch with Bruce Warden, Nancy was able to brief us on the origins of the murals initiative when she had been a Regional Councilor herself, especially in the light of the long standing threat of a bypass taking ‘casual’ traffic away from the town.. Indeed she had been enthusiastic for the initiative but had never joined the committee, preferring with her husband to spend their retirement building up a very fine museum indeed.

The ground floor managed by Nancy tells the history of the region from Maori times to the European settlement. School visits are a regular phenomenon. Makes history come alive observed Nancy… and we told her about Sheffield and Lindsay with their annual mural plays. The European settlers in the area were led by a daring entrepreneur, George Vesey Stewart, who gained the right to 10,000 acres of land in the township if he could persuade and bring to New Zealand 40 families within two years. He returned with 43 in 18 months for what he had advertised as The Second Ulster Plantation, harking back to less fortunate times when William of Orange settled Protestants in Ulster at the end of the 17th century. Upstairs Ken rules supreme with a magnificent collection of early farming equipment and important local memorabilia including the pre-STD telephone exchange. As a former dairy farmer Ken’s most prized equipment is the milking machine which still operates with the virtual cow pictures here.

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The largest bottle collection in the South Pacific was suspended above our heads throughout, and included the ‘World Famous in New Zealand’ beverage, Lemon Paeroa, created in the small town next door to Kati Kati to puts its name on the map and now part of the Coca Cola global enterprise as L&P.

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Luncheon with Bruce Warden was a businesslike affair, and afterwards a short walking tour took us to see the new mural depicting significant figures in the town’s history from 1875-2000, Our People – Our Story, brought us back to the information centre. We encouraged Bruce to join the group for the photograph shown below. 98 tiles had also recently been completed to create a mural entitled Fruits of Kati Kati Festival which includes the unique New Zealand Pueko or blue bird. A second tapestry is also being created depicting A View of Western Bay in France by Sylvia Weber, sister of a local resident who had visited the town and been inspired. (The first tapestry is on display at the information centre and is shown at the end of this report.)

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But the talk of the town was Barry’s sculptural decapitation by an over enthusiastic youngster a fortnight earlier as he continued his lifelong habit of siting and reading on the bench just outside that information centre. Barry was away when we visited undergoing ‘re-constructive surgery’ and the collection boxes were out for him in many stores. He was expected back within a matter of weeks and a very profuse apology from the assassin had already been received! Barry in earlier times surrounded by admirers is shown below as are some of the other mural scenes we captured including the first tapestry mentioned above.

Our parting message to Bruce Warden, as it had been in Sheffield, was to be sure and come to the Bowen Regional Seminar in 2005; and if he and his colleagues can make Ely, Nevada in 2004 so very much the better. Rumour has it that that will be where Sheffield, Tasmania will be making its bid to host the 2008 Global Conference.

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Published Date: December 9th 2002

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