Sunday, November 10, 2013

War memorials

Hidden away in a presentation given by Auckland Transport to the select few privileged enough to be informed about the proposed East-West link from Mangere to Highbrook, is a list of heritage sites that are in the new motorway's firing line. Otahuhu is an old suburb: it was once the southern edge of Auckland and the redoubt protected the areas northwards from marauding Maori. The large homesteads of settler farms in Mangere are still dotted along Massey Road. The old homestead on the corner of Piki Thompson Way and Great South Road could serve as a metaphor for Auckland's development. It was the surgery of former Prime Minister David Lange's father, now it houses a payday lender, and seems likely to soon make the ultimate sacrifice to a motorway. This is progress?

Across the road is the historic Otahuhu war memorial, which is also listed in the heritage areas threatened by the proposed new motorway. How historic is the memorial? Quite historic, as it turns out. Here's some dingy Sunday afternoon snaps.

The big phallic thing is a memorial to the Maori wars, while the headstone is a memorial to one Colonel Nixon who died in 1864. Poor old Mr Nixon has been shifted once already to make way for a motorway, now it's a distinct possibility he may have to be moved again. Obviously Auckland has learned nothing in the intervening 45 years.

There's also a larger memorial in honour of those who were killed in the First World War.

A later memorial plate commemorates those who died in, among other places, Malaya and Borneo. Why the hell did New Zealanders die in Malaya and Borneo? I still have no idea. Something about empires and Communists.

 And lastly, another metaphor for Auckland's lack of social and economic progress, especially for its working class. This is not only a memorial to the railway workers who died in the First and Second World Wars, but is a poignant memorial to the railway workshops themselves. The workshops existed in an era of full employment, where New Zealanders really did enjoy an egalitarian education system and could do clever stuff with their hands. Now it seems the only things we make are coffee and large, pointless infrastructure projects. Sorry, Auckland Transport, but this small slice of South Auckland is worth another fight of its own.