Pearl and Florrie’s Musical Mural

An exciting new project is about to be unveiled in the village. Kāpiti’s Phill Simmonds revitalises the gripping story of Pearl Mills, Florrie Ward and an angry bull in a graphic art musical mural at the end of Beach Road. The mural will be launched on 12 December 2021.

Photo: Phill Simmonds

From Sunday 12 December a colourful especially-commissioned 15 metre mural will run the full length of Pearl and Florrie’s Way down to the beach at Paekākāriki.

The walkway is named in honour of identical twins, Pearl Mills and Florrie Ward, and provides beach access from the corner of Beach Road.

Just before their 80th birthday, the twins were out for a Sunday stroll when they were attacked by a bull.

The story reached a wider audience in 2003 when Kāpiti Coast animator Phill Simmonds completed his first hand-drawn animated short film Pearl, Florrie and the Bull in which Pearl and Florrie tell the story of their near-death encounter with an angry bull.

‘Pearl, Florrie and the Bull’ by Phill Simmonds.

Already local legends Pearl and Florrie received red carpet treatment and found the attention hilarious. They shared a beachside house just a few paces from the location of the mural.

Florrie Ward and Pearl Mills. Photo: Phill Simmonds

When it appeared in the 2003 NZ Film Festival line-up director Bill Gosden summed up the film in three words: “beautifully-crafted kiwiana”.

Seventeen years later, in what could be the world’s first ‘musical mural’ Phill is retelling the story – this time in paint and song. 

Scan a QR code at the start of the mural and you play a song “Take the Bull By The Horns: The Ballad of Pearl and Florrie. Lyrics to the song interweave the images so those who are suitably enthusiastic may sing the song and follow the twins’ fate as they amble down the hill to the Paekākāriki beach.

‘Take the Bull By The Horns: The Ballad of Pearl and Florrie’. Written by Phill Simmonds. Performed by RhythmPlant: Phill Simmonds: vocals, mandola & mandolin; Rachel Keil-Taylor: guitar and backing vocals; Gina Keil: backing vocals; Joe Simmonds: bass; Jeff Simmonds: accordion. Poncho del Costillo: recording

The project was conceived by the Paekākāriki Station Precinct Trust who created an ‘Arts Walk’ around the village in an attempt to connect the Station Museum with the village and to recognise some of the local artistic talent.

The artwork takes its place in a route that starts at the Paekākāriki shops and wanders along the shore, across to Tilley Road, finishing at the PaekākārikiRailway Station.

The mural has been funded by the Kāpiti Coast District Council and the Wellington Community Trust, and is supported by the Paekākāriki Community Board, Ngāti Haumia and descendants of Pearl and Florrie – the Mills and Ward families.

Photo: Phill Simmonds

Phill on the background to the project:
I was approached by Dave Johnson and Jenny Clark from the Paekākāriki Station Precinct Trust with the initial idea of digitally printing some scenes from the animation. One thing led to another. I saw it as a great opportunity to reinvent myself as a mural artist. I’ve worked with digital illustration and animation for years but never painted with a real brush. So when the project was discussed I was keen to paint by hand and see how I liked it. Turns out I loved the whole process and am looking forward to doing more painting.

There were several stages to the project: creating the design, writing and recording, the song, painting and installing the panels.  For my own sanity I haven’t recorded all the hours I’ve spent on the project but so far I’ve spent 150 hours painting in my home studio.

Why do I keep coming back to the story? Every small community has its own stories and local legends. And this story is a real life-and-death situation. Florrie had a broken ankle and could hardly stand when Pearl decided to leave her injured sister alone with the enraged bull in order to get help. It could have been a total tragedy! Fortunately help was found in the form of a young boy with a broom. This turns the story into classic comedy.

But wait there’s more! The story definitely ‘has legs’ as they say. A children’s picture book called ‘Take The Bull By The Horns!’ will be launched in 2022!

Photo: Phill Simmonds

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