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Ashton brothers facilitate return of heirlooms, seek to build museum on Aitutaki

Tuesday 12 March 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Features


Ashton brothers facilitate return of heirlooms, seek to build museum on Aitutaki
Garry Ashton, John Hewett, Mama John and baby Andrew Ashton in Aitutaki. GEORGE ASHTON/24031112

Priceless stone pre-European artefacts will be returned to the Cook Islands later this year.

The Ashton brothers, who inherited the artefacts from their father, will bring the adze back to the Cook Islands.

George Ashton, their father, served as the Superintendent of the Aitutaki Airport in the late 50s and early 60s.

George arrived to Aitutaki from Aotearoa New Zealand on the ship Moana Roa with his wife Jean and three sons, Des, Garry and Peter, and a year later their son Andrew was born. George was gifted the adze when he completed his service on the island.

In a statement, his son Andrew Ashton said that they feel the adze belongs back at “home” in the Cook Islands.

“We feel strongly that that returning these treasures is the right thing to do.”

In July 2017, some of the adze was returned to the Cook Islands by one of the brothers, Peter.

The Ashton brothers also harbour a desire to establish a museum on Aitutaki and have been in contact with Tauranga Vananga Ministry of Cultural Development Secretary Emily Kairua.

Gary Ashton has contacts with a volunteer organisation that carries out work/projects overseas assisting communities and has initiated discussions about the possibility of building a small secure museum facility on Aitutaki.

While he was Superintendent of Aitutaki Airport, George was involved in clearing O’otu of leftover munitions and explosives from the Second World War, including possibly HE aircraft bombs.

George was also responsible for preparing the Aitutaki Airport communications, control tower and runway for the first Polynesian Airlines’ commercial flights on the runway.

During this period, the Ashtons formed a close association with “Mama John” and her family from Vaipae who owned the local store now known as Neibaas.

Sadly, the Ashton brothers have lost touch with the wife of the late John Hewett, who was Mama John’s son, and would appreciate any information on how to contact her or members of their family.

The Ashtons have several photographs of the Aitutaki Airport development and welcoming ceremony.

On the occasions they have visited the island they have noticed the photographs on display inside the terminal building, many of which were taken by their father.

The Ashton brothers are looking forward to their visit in August or September.