Maori link with snowy Antarctica

22:32, Jan 20 2013
Carving
Prime Minister John Key poses by the new Scott Base sign and carving after the unveiling ceremony.

New Zealand's Maori links have been stamped firmly on Antarctica with the unveiling of a pou whenua at Scott Base's 56th birthday.

Ngai Tahu leader Sir Mark Solomon and Prime Minister John Key jointly uncovered the totara carving in a formal ceremony yesterday with Scott Base staff and invited guests from the United States' McMurdo Station.

As they removed the sleeping bag covering, the sun briefly shone and a patch of blue sky appeared above, a brief break in the constant snowfall that has blanketed the base since soon after the prime minister arrived on Friday.

Sir Mark joked with the crowd that the pou did not mean Ngai Tahu was about to lodge a claim on Antarctica.

"I thought I better reassure the prime minister of that."

He said it was a privilege that Ngai Tahu, as the southern-most iwi, was asked to carve the pou.

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The pou, called Navigator of the Heavens, was made of totara from the West Coast, which he was confident would withstand the rigours of Antarctica's harsh environment, despite it developing several cracks since its arrival on the frozen continent.

Mr Key said the pou was a "very meaningful addition" to the base.

"Scott Base has a place in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders even if they haven't visited here. Maori culture is enshrined in who we are as New Zealanders and to have this representation here is a lovely touch."

Two woven tukutuku panels were also unveiled, a project headed by Ngai Tahu master weaver Ranui Ngarimu, assistant to Sir Mark.

One panel symbolised Maori ancestors interwoven with New Zealanders who had died in Antarctica, including the 257 passengers and crew killed in the 1979 Mt Erebus plane crash.

The other paid tribute to the scientific work continuing on the southernmost continent.

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Lou Sanson said about a third of his staff at the base were military and many were Maori.

A new carved wooden sign for Scott Base was also unveiled.

The Dominion Post