Rock art graffiti clean-up mission a success

The recent collaborative graffiti clean-up mission at the Hazelburn rock art site near Pleasant Point is a great example of practical problem-solving in action.

Red graffiti on the side of the Hazelburn rock art site. Cleaning products sit in the foreground on the grass.
Paint stripping apparatus in front of Hazelburn rock art. Photo: HNZPT.expand/collapse

Nigel Harris, Pouarahi Southern for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, was contacted by the Timaru District Council when it was reported that offensive graffiti had been spray painted above the caged rock art site. Nigel worked closely with Ngāi Tahu Māori Rock Art Trust staff, Phil Brownie and Barbara Gilchrist, to remove the graffiti.

“We had a lot of discussions about what treatments and apparatus to use,” says Nigel. “We worked out that the paint product used in the graffiti was Tell Tail, which is used to tag cows.”

After discussions with conservation specialist, HNZPT’s Deputy CE Kaihautu Māori, Dean Whiting, the Te Ana team decided to set up a testing process.

“Phil and Barbara bought a variety of paint removers from Bunnings and Mitre Ten. They then sprayed scrap limestone with the Tell Tail paint and tested the different removers,” explains Nigel.

A product called ‘Strip Off’ was the most effective. They then assessed different removal techniques, such as using a toothbrush or dabbing with a damp cloth. They discovered the best method was leaving the Strip Off on the paint until it bubbled, then gently spraying it off with cold water.

It took half a day to remove the graffiti.

“Fortunately, the rock art wasn't damaged, as the graffiti was applied outside of the cage, away from the art,” says Nigel.

“We were very careful and the fact that it was outside the cage meant we were able to direct any liquid away from potentially damaging the rock art inside the cage.”

Although the Hazelburn graffiti is now gone, the wider problem remains.

“We are seeing that damage and graffiti on Māori rock art and Māori sites is becoming more prolific,” says Nigel.

“The psychology seems to be that people want to leave their mark. At Kura Tawhiti we will soon be testing whether putting in a visitor’s book and introducing better interpretation about the site’s historical and cultural significance can reduce graffiti.”

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga is collaborating with other stakeholders such as the Department of Conservation and Te Puni Kōkiri on developing a wider plan to deal with this problem.

- Rosemary Baird