Prominent voices honoured

Robert Jahnke set up New Zealand's first university-level Maori arts course.
Murray Wilson/ Fairfax NZ

Robert Jahnke set up New Zealand's first university-level Maori arts course.

An artist and two former mayors lead the list of Manawatu-Whanganui people to receive New Year's honours.

Robert Jahnke, who set up the first Maori arts programme at university level, has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. He is joined by former Tararua mayor Roly Ellis and former Whanganui mayor Annette Main as officers of the order.

Jahnke​ has spent more than 30 years as an artist, teacher and researcher.

Roly Ellis was mayor of Tararua District from  2010 to 2016.
Warwick Smith/Fairfax NZ

Roly Ellis was mayor of Tararua District from 2010 to 2016.

In 1995 he founded the Massey University Toioho ki Apiti (Maori visual arts programme), the first Maori arts programme in the country at university level, which he continues to lead.

"I believe that the students needed to learn their own history before they became familiar with the Renaissance and gothic and baroque," Jahnke said.

"We have a lot of younger staff members who are graduates, so they interpret the programme and ensure it has a future, so I'm quite pleased."

Annette Main had an 18-year career in local government.

Annette Main had an 18-year career in local government.

The Palmerston North-based artist is trained in design and animation, but works mostly in sculpture. In November a 6.4-metre-tall metal archway created by Jahnke was installed in The Square in Palmerston North. Called Nga Huruhuru (feathers of the chief), it celebrates the huia bird, which was last seen on the Tararua Range, and draws the eye to a statue of Rangitaane leader Te Peeti Te Awe Awe. 

His influence internationally includes exhibitions and research presentations offshore, and participation in discussions at major indigenous arts centres. 

Ellis said being named in the list came "out of the blue". 

"I have accepted [this honour] because I believe the staff and councillors of Tararua and all those people behind the scenes that we don't hear about have done a fantastic job," he said.

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"So it's in recognition of what they've done, not just me. It's very much a team effort."

After growing up in rural Berkshire, in south England, he served with the British army for four years before moving into farming. A pair of travelling Kiwi shearers talked him into visiting New Zealand in the late 1960s, where he briefly worked in farming. He moved to New Zealand in 1992 and in 1996 he bought a paint, curtain and wallpaper business in Dannevirke. He was Tararua mayor for six years, standing down this year.

Main, who also stood down this year, was honoured for an 18-year career in local government.

Main was a councillor on the Horizons Regional Council for 12 years before she became Whanganui's first woman mayor in 2010.

Her efforts to improve tourism and environmental sustainability in the Manawatu-Whanganui region were cited as the main reasons for the honour.

Main said Whanganui used to be seen as a divided, rural city with limited business opportunities, and she made it a focus during her two terms as mayor to change that perception.

This isn't the first time one of the Main family has been named in the New Year's honours list.

Her father, Bill Main, received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his work with New Zealand cycling, including helping bring the Junior World Cycling Championship to Whanganui in 1983.




 - Stuff

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