Monumental New Zealand
At Victoria University in Wellington, an unofficial memorial plaque pays tribute to a tree sacrificed to make space for one more car park. While memorials to trees aren't common in this country, memorials of other kinds certainly are. Every town has a war memorial or two, most have historic markers and commemorative plaques, and a few have statues to famous sons and daughters. It seems there's a near universal urge in this country to physically record our memories in stone or bronze or marble. But what do we remember with these monuments and why? Who decides who we commemorate? And can we really freeze history just by building a statue to it?
War memorials abound in this country. We love 'em, and they're every where. As the song says, "New Zealand small towns are all the same; pub, church, war memorial". And our own Wanganui was once described by an historian as the war memorial capital of the world. Possibly one of our more beautiful memorials stands in and around Oamaru. The North Otago Memorial Oaks were planted to commemorate every soldier from the district who never made it home from the Great War. Justin Gregory stands respectfully with local historian Kathleen Stringer to hear the story of the oaks and the people they commemorate.
There are no less than three swimming pools named for the late Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk in this country. And while that's great, it's not quite the same thing as, say, the impressive Michael Joseph Savage Memorial at Bastion Point, or the Massey Memorial above Wellington harbour. How -and why - did we move from the impressively ornamental to the useful but mundane? Are we no longer impressed by our politicians? And why did we feel the need to memorialize them in the first place? Justin Gregory travels to Waimate to dip his toe in the pool, and ask a few questions.
A weakness most monuments share is a tendency to fix one view of history, often a view not everyone shares. The Moutoa Monument in Moutoa Gardens, Wanganui, is a perfect example. Erected by grateful settlers to honour local Maori who died defending the town against the Hau Hau, it uses some pretty strong language to describe what was essentially a ritualized battle between close family members.