Tony Garnier: Erebus Memorial – A credible solution in the wind?

At last, some common sense! A dedicated Erebus Memorial proposal is on the table.

If the Government is listening and wise, they will seriously explore the offer by the Erebus Memorial Park Working Group to identify a stand-alone memorial park dedicated solely to sharing the full story of the Erebus tragedy in perpetuity.

The EMP Group’s proposal is on Western Springs land free from historic heritage and other constraints:

• No sharing of the Erebus Memorial with Mayor Robbie’s Memorial, diluting the significance of both and underselling the singular importance of due recognition of the Erebus tragedy.

• And no sharing with the groups of unified Aucklanders dedicated to protecting Mataharehare – the remnants of the ancient Parnell headland and its great trees, including the biggest Pohutukawa in urban New Zealand and now under immediate threat from Erebus. As the EMP Group state – it is time to reflect and respect what exists. I say: Let’s not create another tragedy!

The scale of the Erebus tragedy - 257 lives lost, a huge recovery operation by Overdue Ice Phase Members and a deep-seated, still smouldering row over cause – deserves a dedicated national memorial - a destination in its own right and a true place for reflection and remembrance, as an independent Boffa Miskell report suggested to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage three years ago.

The EMP Group’s proposal is a get out of jail card for the Ministry’s ill-conceived Parnell proposal. They apparently concealed the Boffa Miskell report from Erebus families and the public. Not only does Parnell’s Rose Garden have no connection to Erebus or aviation, but it is a multiple-use park, is noisy and has limited scope to tell the full story of Erebus including family memories.

There has never been a valid reason stated as to why the national memorial should be in Parnell. There are plenty of reasons why it shouldn’t.
It locks in a long-term genesis of conflict with existing memorials, been rejected by numerous groups including Erebus Families, Ngati Whatua hapu and locals who have noted the scale of the planned memorial is destructive to the park itself and blocks the prime view of the Waitematā Harbour.

But at the heart of the conflict is a sentiment showing up currently in nationwide opinion polls. While a relatively small number, the still-growing petition of more than 15,000 signatures reflects a loss of support through a lack of listening and resulting weak leadership to ensure a logical outcome – a site dedicated to Erebus and Erebus alone.

If an ongoing positive, celebratory National Erebus Memorial outcome in Auckland is the goal, the project deserves a location that does not need to be constantly defended; a location at which New Zealand’s political leaders can hold ceremonies without fear of reproach.

A National Erebus Memorial near Christchurch airport is an option favoured by some of the Erebus families. Appropriately designed to evoke the stark beauty of Antarctica, the memorial could record the flight’s non-arrival.

With the Antarctica museum nearby, it would be a well-understood memory lasting for generations – on a dedicated site that enables full recognition of the gravity of the tragedy and that gives the victims their place of honour untouched by other events, conflicts and disagreement. It deserves its own exclusive location.

But if the memorial is to be in Auckland, a dedicated location adjacent to MOTAT delivers benefits through association with the Museum and New Zealand aviation history. (Tony Garnier)

A Parnell resident for 15 years, Tony Garnier is a former political journalist who worked at Parliament in the 1970s and eighties, and ‘covered’ some of the early political fall-out of the Erebus disaster.