Thieves go eeling at gardens

02:54, Jul 21 2014
Eel Sculpture
SOMETHING FISHY: This hefty sculpture was stolen from the Auckland Botanic Gardens only to be found damaged at a nearby scrap yard.

Sculptor Bing Dawe is in no doubt why thieves made off with his $30,000 bronze eel from the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

"I would like to think it was because of the artistic content," the Christchurch artist said.

"I don't think there is much value in the metal - it's just bronze, not gold."

The 90 kilogram bronze sculpture called "Tuna" - the Maori word for eel - was stolen from the Auckland Council-owned gardens in Manurewa, South Auckland, last night .

It was bought for the gardens' permanent collection by Friends of the Auckland Botanic Gardens, a not-for-profit group that supports the regional park through fundraising initiatives.

Gardens manager Jack Hobbs said the thieves carried sculpture away overnight.

"The bolts attaching the bronze sculpture of a long-fin eel have been sawn clean through, leaving the mounting plate and the spiral carved base," he said.

Dawe said it was important to him that the work was in the rare and endangered plants section of the garden because indigenous eels were also endangered.

He doubted that the work had much value melted down because it was hollow.

"There is not a lot of bronze in it," he said.

"I honestly don't think it is to do with the metal content. You would be better off sawing boat propellers."

He said he still had the caste and could make another.

But the theft has him worried about the fate of public art.

"Some people say it is a bit of a strange honour to have a work stolen," he said.

"But the novelty of that wears off. It tends to affect people's approach to commissioning work and putting it in public places. That is the downside to it."

Friends' president Bill Burrill said the theft was sickening.

"This stunning piece belongs in the gardens and belongs to the people of Auckland," he said.

"It is expertly crafted and tells a story of a species under threat so had a perfect home in the threatened native plants garden."

The sculpture is made from carved wood, painted steel and bronze.

Dawe caused some drama in 1990 in Christchurch with a collaborative project called the Reintroduction of the Fabulous Races of Greek Mythology. Views on the sculpture were polarised even before its installation. However when it was located in Cathedral Square the sculpture caused a large controversy.

If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of "Tuna" or its theft, they can contact Manukau police on 09 261 1300 or the Auckland Botanic Gardens on 09 267 1457.