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Huia rtns to Hawke’s Bay Dannevirke museum

Leanne Warr, Dannevirke museum finally able to put huia bird back where she belongs, NZ Herald, 26 February 2024

Paul van Ommen from Wētā Workshop with the birds in the display case. A new leg for the female was created using a 3D printer, allowing her to be placed on a perch. Photo / Leanne Warr
Paul van Ommen from Wētā Workshop with the birds in the display case. A new leg for the female was created using a 3D printer, allowing her to be placed on a perch. Photo / Leanne Warr.

A huia bird, stolen more than three years ago, is finally back home where she belongs.

The female huia, part of what was thought to be a mated pair, was stolen in 2020 in what the man convicted for the theft claimed was to repay a drug debt.

The birds were shot in 1889, then preserved, and given as a wedding present by Tom Thompson to his daughter Caroline.

The preserved pair was kept in the family until being given to the museum and the theft of the female upset the Dannevirke community.

Volunteers at the museum, housed in the old courthouse, had despaired of her return, even offering a reward.

Then, two years after she was stolen, police informed both the museum and local iwi that the bird had been found.

But unfortunately, she was damaged – one leg was missing.

Last year, she was brought back to Dannevirke by a confederation of iwi, starting the journey at Waikanae, and handed over to Rangitane o Tamaki nui a Rua at Makirikiri marae before the precious taonga was returned to the museum.

“We were really lucky to get it back,” Murray Holden, president of the Dannevirke Gallery of History says.

But she still needed repairs before she could be truly reunited with her mate.

Now, with the help of Wētā Workshop, she has a new leg and has been placed back in the display case with her mate.

 The team from Wētā Workshop who restored the female huia. From left: Paul van Ommen, Beth and Murray Holden (Dannevirke Gallery of History), Wal Smith and Jonathan van den Brink in December last year when Murray and Beth went to pick up the bird.
The team from Wētā Workshop who restored the female huia. From left: Paul van Ommen, Beth and Murray Holden (Dannevirke Gallery of History), Wal Smith and Jonathan van den Brink in December last year when Murray and Beth went to pick up the bird.
Murray had asked at Te Papa museum what could be done to restore her and it was suggested to approach Wētā, a special effects and prop company in Wellington, to see if they could make her a new leg using a 3D printer.

“It’s absolutely amazing what they’ve done,” he says.

Paul van Ommen works on placing the birds in the display case. Photo / Leanne Warr
Paul van Ommen works on placing the birds in the display case. Photo / Leanne Warr.

Wētā Workshop prop maker and senior technician Paul van Ommen had been assigned the task of restoring the huia, and was in Dannevirke to return the birds to their rightful place.

He also replaced the organic material inside the case.

He says anything to do with natural stuff is usually assigned to him.

Paul has worked on such films as Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Prince Caspian, making miniatures which recreate the natural world. “Especially forests.”

Murray is keen to ensure there will be no further attempts on the bird pair now that they are back on display, and has stepped up security.

There are also plans to buy another display case which will be more secure than the current one and the museum is working on raising the funds for it.