Artist: E. Mervyn Taylor
Title: Te Ika-a-Maui
Medium: Ceramic tiles
Dimensions: H2625mm x W3430mm
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.”
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.
 “New Zealand Murals,” Daily News, July 9, 1962.
Te Ika-a-Maui installed for the first time since its cleaning, with photographic prints filling the gaps. Massey University, November 2015.
Holloway-Smith at work creating paintings of the 16 missing tiles in the Te Ika-a-Māui mural. Visible in the background is one of two photographic reproductions made of the work as part of a commission by Letting Space and JWT. The sister work is located in JWT’s Auckland offices. Image: courtesy Creature Design.
Photograph of COMPAC mural, 1975, taken by K. V. Lunn. Collection of Archives NZ. Item ID: R20940427
Te Ika-a-Maui stored in cardboard boxes in the former COMPAC station. Photo: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, 2014.
Te Ika-a-Akoranga installed in JWT’s Auckland office. Photo: Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, 2014.
The Southern Cross Cable: A Tour, installation showing (L–R) The Speargun Conspiracy,and Te Ika-a-Maui, City Gallery Wellington, 2018.
Te Ika-a-Maui installed in Takapuna Library, March 2019.