E. Mervyn Taylor: COMPAC terminal, Te Ika-a-Maui

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Te Ika-a-Maui
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: H2625mm x W3430mm
Date: 1962
Original location: Commonwealth Pacific Cable Terminal, 1 Akoranga Drive, Northcote, Auckland
Architect: F. G. F. Sheppard, Government Architect
Current location: Research Library, Level One, Takapuna Library, 9 The Strand, Takapuna, Auckland. Property of Spark NZ
Heritage status: On loan to Auckland Council, registered as a “considered item”


In 1961, E. Mervyn Taylor was commissioned by the New Zealand Post Office to develop a mural for the new Commonwealth Pacific Cable terminal in Northcote, Auckland. The terminal was to house the major new COMPAC telephone cable system that provided New Zealand with a much-needed reliable international telephone connectivity.

Taylor responded to the idea of the cable with a metaphor distinct to Aotearoa: the traditional Māori creation story of the demi-god Māui fishing up the North Island, also known as Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui). A press release about the mural at the time stated, “there was an analogy, [Taylor] thought, between the ‘fishing up’ of New Zealand by Maui and its modern counterpart where the new cable again draws New Zealand out of the Pacific into the telephone systems of the world.”[1]

Created in ceramic tiles, visitors to the terminal could experience Māui and his brothers in close quarters as the mural occupied a full wall within a relatively small foyer area. Over time tiles began falling off the wall and the mural was removed and stored in cardboard boxes in an adjacent office.

In 2014 Taylor’s mural was rediscovered in boxes by artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, during a commission for public art platform Letting Space with marketing agency JWT. The resulting project, Te Ika-a-Akoranga, included the restoration, digitisation, and photographic reconstruction of the mural in JWT’s Queen Street Auckland offices.

Following this, the Spark Foundation arranged further restoration work on the mural. Replica tiles were created to fill the gaps left by sixteen missing tiles, and the fully-restored work was exhibited at City Gallery Wellington in 2018 as part of Holloway-Smith’s project The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour.

Five years after its initial rediscovery it resumed its intended status as a public artwork when it was installed in Takapuna Library in March 2019. It remains there for the foreseeable future.

[1] “New Zealand Murals,” Daily News, July 9, 1962.

Further reading:

E. Mervyn Taylor: Masterton War Memorial, Lest We Forget

Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Lest We Forget
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: H1995 x W3685mm
Date: 1963 / 1966
Original location: War Memorial Stadium Hall of Memories, 2 Dixon St, North Masterton 5810
Architect: Daniell & Wevers
Current location: Intact, in its original location
Heritage status: The mural is on the Masterton District Council’s heritage list. Prior to any change to the mural’s status a resource consent would be required. In the case of demolition, the council would require the owner to remove the mural in such a way that it could be reinstated.


Following the end of World War II Masterton resolved to create a series of ‘Living Memorial’ projects including the construction of a large community hall or stadium. Funding was approved in March 1960 and the project’s architects, Daniell & Wevers, recommended a decorative feature on the southern wall of the War Memorial Stadium’s Hall of Memories. E. Mervyn Taylor got the job, proposing a glass mosaic mural made from tiles sourced by Smith & Smith from an Italian factory.

Almost from the start things started to go wrong. Muranite produced the tiles in Venice and shipped them to England, where they were found to be water damaged. One year later the repaired/replaced tiles arrived from Italy and were installed in the Hall of Memories. Taylor, Daniell & Wevers, and a representative from Smith & Smith inspected the mural finding a series of faults: 5 colour variations; 4 variations from the original design; outlines of shapes not clean enough; and joints between tiles haphazard and not tight enough. Taylor himself wrote to the architects requesting that the mural be covered up so the public could not see it.

The NZ agent for Muranite, dismissed the criticism as ‘exaggerated’, but conceded that the toning down of some of the colours, combined with some lines not being as well defined as they should have been, had reduced the desired clean impression. Daniell & Wevers were not prepared to accept a ‘patched up’ mural, saying a complete replacement was the only sensible option. A stand-off ensued. The council’s solicitor became involved. Finally, by March 1964, Smith & Smith, Taylor and the Council had resolved to replace the mosaic with ceramic tiles mural manufactured by Carter & Co. of England. Tragically, Taylor died in June 1964. His wife, Teddy, arranged a revised design for the mural based on Taylor’s existing drawings. The tiles were finally installed in March 1966 just prior to being unveiled on Anzac Day, nearly 21 years after the end of the war they memorialised.

Text adapted from Gareth Winter’s essay “Lest We Forget: The Battle for the Mural” in Wanted: The Search for the Modernist Murals of E. Mervyn Taylor (Massey Press, 2018).