Fairfield College's 'magnificent' marae

A place to belong: Fairfield teacher Heemi Walker in the ornately decorated wharenui, Te Ihorangi.
A place to belong: Fairfield teacher Heemi Walker in the ornately decorated wharenui, Te Ihorangi.

Shafts of light cut through the stained glass windows of the wharenui in one of the most intricately designed marae in the Waikato.

From the purple carpet on the floor, to the layered two-dimensional relief patterns on the ceiling to the motorised rotating pou in the centre of the whare, every aspect of the marae has been ornately designed.

The marae, tucked away in a corner of the Fairfield College campus, is a salute to the growth of the child throughout their life and is te reo Maori teacher Heemi Walker's classroom.

"It's different from a classroom where you are dealing with behaviour," said Mr Walker. "You are almost teaching behaviour, but when they come in here they already know it because they know the expectations when they come into something like this."

Tainui master carver Kereti Rautangata built the whare on land gifted to the school by Ngati Wairere. It was blessed by the late Maori Queen Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu and welcomes all people.

"The carvings on that side of the wall represent the different cultures, different ethnicities and different religions of the world because our college is made up of heaps of different kids from heaps of different backgrounds. On this side are the Maori kids."

Te Ihorangi was opened in 1995 in a hidden corner of Fairfield College's school campus but already, some carvings are in need of repair.

The treasured pou inside the whare are protected but outside, the maihi (barge boards) and amo (bearers) have been exposed to the elements and rot has set in.

Mr Walker said work needed to be done and funds raised but they would get the marae restoration going and back to its former glory.

"Our goal is to get the front looking how it used to," he said. "It's not just the front of the whare but if you look at the fence line, there are these circular platforms and on them, there were these warriors that are in storage at the moment."

Fairfield made headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2011 and the mud stuck but Mr Walker said the restoration of the whare would trickle through the school.

"That's our view on the school as well," he said. "Our school has been through quite a bit and you can see the scars. Once we get the heart back up and healthy again, the school will be healthy again."

The rotating pou tells of the birth of a child, their growth to adolescence, adulthood and finally death and gives a visual pathway for students to achieve in their lives.

Junior students who have entered the wharenui have looked on the work with awe and have grown to love the marae in their years at school. "They get blown away, they get told the history and they are just so amazed with the carvings, the look and the purple carpet."

Many of his Maori students grew up in the city and were divorced from their cultural heritage and the marae was a place they could feel at home.

"Regardless of whether it has purple carpet or concrete floors, regardless of if it had 3-D pou or hanging pictures, it's still a place for them to feel a sense of belonging. They don't know who they are, don't know where they come from but this gives them a sense of belonging and it's just a bonus that it's just so magnificent."


Ko Te Ihorangi te wharenui, Ko Aratiatia te marae, Ko Ngati Wairere te iwi haapai, Ko Kukutaaruhe te mana whenua. Te Ihorangi is the wharenui, Aratiatia is the marae, Ngati Wairere is the iwi which gifted the land, Kukutaaruhe is the name of the whenua.