Te Hononga Com­mu­nity Hub racks up an­other first

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Peter de Graaf

By the time it is com­pleted Kawakawa’s Te Hononga Com­mu­nity Hub will boast all sorts of firsts, but that is hap­pen­ing al­ready.

The first fe­male build­ing ap­pren­tice taken on by a ma­jor North­land con­struc­tion firm is among those at work on the $6.4 mil­lion rammed earth struc­ture, which is now tak­ing shape be­hind the town’s fa­mous Hun­dert­wasser toi­lets, which will in­clude a pub­lic li­brary, the town’s Far North Dis­trict Coun­cil ser­vice cen­tre, a gallery, work­shop, show­ers and toi­lets for free­dom campers, and an in­ter­pre­ta­tive cen­tre ex­plor­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Kawakawa and Aus­trian artist Frieden­sre­ich Hun­dert­wasser.

The project also in­cludes coach and car park­ing to ease Kawakawa’s sum­mer­time traf­fic woes, and a town square, which will be cre­ated by de­mol­ish­ing the old Post Of­fice and li­brary, link­ing the main street and the hub.

Last week 20 pre­vi­ously un­em­ployed lo­cal peo­ple, who will gain qual­i­fi­ca­tions while help­ing to build the earth walls, were wel­comed on to the site, join­ing a work­force that al­ready in­cluded 19-year-old Michiko Cooper, of Nga¯ ti Hine de­scent, who moved north from Christchur­ch ear­lier in the year to pur­sue her pas­sion for car­pen­try.

The first fe­male ap­pren­tice em­ployed by Whanga¯ rei firm Har­nett Builders, the project’s lead con­trac­tor, she orig­i­nally had her sights set on an ar­chi­tec­ture de­gree, but changed tack af­ter com­plet­ing a pre-trade qual­i­fi­ca­tion in car­pen­try last year.

She had no luck find­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship in Christchur­ch, so at her fa­ther’s sug­ges­tion she moved to Mo­tatau and con­tacted North­land build­ing firms.

Petite and not as strong as some of her male work­mates, Michiko said she wasn’t be­ing treated any dif­fer­ently. And she was en­joy­ing be­ing in­volved in ev­ery step of the project from the foun­da­tions up.

“If I was work­ing for a showhome com­pany we’d pretty much just be stand­ing up frames ev­ery day. Here we’re do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent ev­ery day, plus the project is quite unique be­cause ev­ery­thing’s made of curves, there are no straight lines. It’s been a re­ally good ex­pe­ri­ence, and I’ve learnt a lot,” she said.

Site fore­man Sam Fielden said Michiko was the firm’s first fe­male ap­pren­tice, and the first woman he’d worked with in 18 years on build­ing sites.

“It’s about time the build­ing in­dus­try caught up with the times. It takes a lot of courage to do what Michiko has done. I was pretty in­tim­i­dated when I started as a guy, and she’s moved up from Christchur­ch as well,” he said.

Mean­while 22-year-old Poai Niha, also from Mo­tatau, started work on Te Hononga last week un­der Ahipara rammed earth ex­pert Rueben Taipari.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing to work along­side the ex­perts and lis­ten to their ko¯ rero. The fu­ture of Nga¯ ti Hine will only grow with this, which is beau­ti­ful,” he said.

Te Hononga is be­lieved to be the first com­mer­cial rammed earth build­ing in New Zealand, and the first to use Sire­wall, a high-strength rammed earth build­ing method de­vel­oped in Canada. Un­like tra­di­tional rammed earth, it is strong enough to sup­port more than one storey.

While Sire­wall has Cana­dian con­sul­tants on site for the next month it is other­wise a wholly North­land project, from ar­chi­tect Pip Bolton, of Avail Pa­cific, to the Whanga¯ rei build­ing and earth wall con­trac­tors and the Kerik­eri com­pany that built a ‘float­ing ri­braft’ as an al­ter­na­tive to driv­ing piles into the swampy soil.

The project is a partnershi­p be­tween Kawakawa Hun­dert­wasser Park Char­i­ta­ble Trust and lo­cal iwi Nga¯ ti Hine. It is funded by the Pro­vin­cial Growth Fund, Lotteries, Foun­da­tion North, Far North Hold­ings, and the Far North Dis­trict and North­land Re­gional coun­cils. It is due to open in April next year.


Build­ing ap­pren­tices Michiko Cooper and Kyle Par­sons at work on Kawakawa’s Te Hononga com­mu­nity hub.

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