From timber-trash to artistic treasures

By Marena Mane

Mike Paora of Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Tūwharetoa was never your average builder. 

His bosses would laugh at the young apprentice as he went through the rubbish looking for old timber scraps, but today he's making a living out of turning timber trash into artistic treasures.

Based in Whangārei, the now full-time artist has created his own brands, SMOG, an acronym for 'Straight out of my garage,' and 'Sketchy Fulla.'.

Paora says he was inspired by history and driven by his love of timber.

“I just think as almost a duty to those old guys we shouldn't be throwing this stuff in the landfill, things, especially our native timbers. You cannot buy that stuff anymore,” he says.

For the past two years, Paora has been creating art and also setting up a hub for creatives in Whangārei where he can teach young and old how to breathe new life into discarded materials. 

“A lot of the youth would come our way … the same old story, the broken families or very, very much living in poverty. I would say to them, bro, there are heaps of ways we can make money from rubbish. I'm proof of the pudding.”

With his philosophy of manaakitanga (support), Paora is realising his dream to give something back to his hometown community. 

He's come a long way from the dark place that sparked his need to create.

“I went through a divorce and that was my way of pulling myself out of that dark time. So that just lifted my wairua and I wasn't creating to make sales or anything, it was just looking after me.”

Today he's building a reputation for quality work and creative collaboration.  He and his partner Ruth are based in their workshop, Journey Collab, the home of their three design brands SMOG, Mercy Clothing and Sketchy Fulla.

“When I think of my dreams, yeah they're no longer dreams. They're just goals.”