100 years to the day, since the “birth” of our nation. Wellington has seen an outpouring of World War One nostalgia and whakamatauranga – remembrance – for those who lost their lives. Yesterday was a quite wonderful piece of street theatre produced by Sir Peter Jackson, who seems to have a slightly unhealthy fascination towards war battles. But to me the real hero of the remembrances has been the new Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. It functions well as a memorial space, enlarging to accommodate the crowd as necessary. Apparently there were over twenty thousand people there at 5.30 this morning, although I thought that the number was far higher. There is something quite surreal about standing still, silently, in the small dead hours of the morning, quietly watching and waiting for the dawn ceremony to start. Dead quiet.
In terms of urban design, Pukeahu Park is crisply perfect. No money has been spared on this project – yes, it was completed on time – even a month ahead – but the final cost is still unknown, but will be astronomical. Quality levels that good donâ€™t come cheap – the beautiful red stone (from India) commemorating the Australians, setting off the clean crisp grey basalt (from China) commemorating the New Zealand presence in the war. Wraight and Associates will be rightfully rewarded with many awards, Iâ€™m sure, for the crispness of the design and the clarity of the design intentions. The plan is clear from above, with lines of stone and concrete fanning out from the centre, and the road nicely subdued into the background. The real success of the scheme is of course that the state highway / motorway onramp is now tucked away firmly below ground. What a god-awful mess it would have been if allowed to go through the park at ground level, as was planned for so many years.
Iâ€™m not sure really why we went to war then – or why, indeed, New Zealand goes to war at all. As the only country in the world that can truly claim the title of being entirely at the other end of the world, we could have quite safely not gone to war against the Germans and the Turks, or against the Vietnamese, and certainly not against the Iraqis and the Afghans. We would have – could have – been a very different nation.
Iâ€™m a little disturbed that there has been so much commemoration of the effects of war, and yet not a single mention of peace in any of the speeches that I have heard. Surely, surely this should be a celebration of peace, even if it has not lasted. And Iâ€™m also really uncomfortable with the lack of commemoration for the Turks, who gallantly (and very successfully) defended their own shores against the waves of lunatic warriors from the opposite end of the earth, senselessly throwing themselves against the barricades of the cliffs of Gallipoli. Turks killed our men, and rightfully so, as it was their own land that was under attack, but still, many thousand of Turks died in WW1. Perhaps one of the first nations to be invited to install a memorial at Pukeahu Park, should not be the British and the Americans, but should be the Turks.
Two very appropriate sayings deserve an airing here, firstly:
“That the first casualty of war, is truth.”
“That history is written by the winners.”