Friedensreich Hundertwasser was born in Austria and already had an international reputation as an artist when he first visited New Zealand in 1973 to accompany a major exhibition of his works that was touring the country.
He liked the place so much that he bought a little slice of paradise on the Waikino Peninsula, at nearby Waikare Inlet in the Bay of Islands. His intention was to divide his time between Europe and New Zealand, but he soon made the only truly rational choice: he became a New Zealand citizen in 1983 and gifted the nation a new flag – featuring a bold, green koru motif – as a kind of quid pro quo.
Waikino, where he made his home, translates as ‘bad water’, but by 1998, any bad water lying about there had nothing on the 40-year-old public dunny at Kawakawa. This had become just another powerful incentive for tourists to bypass the burnt-out, coal-mining town. The Community Board decided something had to be done about it, and they consulted Hundertwasser.
Using an eclectic assortment of materials, including bricks recycled from the recently demolished Bank of New Zealand building, tiles that were made for the purpose by students at Bay of Islands College, empty bottles, concrete, steel, copper and bits and pieces of ceramics from his own studio, the Austrian maestro constructed the new Kawakawa convenience around a tree.
The new loo became an overnight cause célèbre, receiving an award from Creative New Zealand and another for landscape design.
Foreign television crews showed up – presumably much to the discomfort of those using the loo at the time – and soon the Hundertwasser toilet had become one of New Zealand’s most photographed attractions.
As the maestro died in 2000, the Kawakawa toilet will remain the only Hundertwasser-designed structure in the southern hemisphere (although other little, brilliantly-coloured, eccentrically-devised objects about town bear the unmistakeable Hundertwasser touch).
Picasso has his Guernica. Da Vinci has his Mona Lisa. Michaelangelo has his David. Hundertwasser has his dunny.