Poetry and musings under the bridge downtown

By Mathew Dearnaley

The box girders at Northcote carry words from notable New Zealanders including poet Kendrick Smithyman (1922-1995). Photo / Steven McNicholl
The box girders at Northcote carry words from notable New Zealanders including poet Kendrick Smithyman (1922-1995). Photo / Steven McNicholl

Poetry and other ponderings of eight notable New Zealanders are adorning the underbelly of a well-known Aucklander, the harbour bridge, in a $300,000 project.

The Transport Agency is using words writ large of such literary luminaries as Janet Frame, Bruce Mason, Frank Sargeson and A.R.D. Fairburn to make Stokes Pt beneath the northern end of the bridge less gloomy after an $86 million steel structural upgrade.

Passages from Maurice Duggan, Kendrick Smithyman and Robyn Hide are also wrapped around bridge supports, as is a quotation from the Waitakere chief Te Waatarauihi, talking in 1860 of his relationship to the area.

Their words have been painted on to piers, or "trestle legs", holding up the bridge's northbound clip-on structure following the addition of 920 tonnes of steel to strengthen it and its city-bound counterpart.

Iwi representatives joined literary experts and artist Catherine Griffiths in choosing material for "The Trestle Leg Series", with the superimposition of technical progress on the natural landscape an apparent theme.

The poems by Frame and Smithyman, first published between when the bridge was built in 1959 and when the two clip-ons were added 10 years later, deal with reclaiming land from the sea and the march of progress.

"When they reclaimed the land, the sea made little fuss about possession, or such legal niceties as who was first owner," wrote Frame in The Road To Takapuna, after having stayed as a guest of Sargeson at his Esmonde Rd home.

Smithyman, who moved to Auckland in the 1930s, wrote in Building Programme how "they are changing the way of my city. The Skyline is not what it was, nor are we".

Transport Agency acting highways manager Steve Mutton said the artwork was provided for about $150,000 as the first stage of a landscaping programme costing around $300,000.

"Given the importance of the bridge as the critical transport link across Waitemata Harbour, it is fitting to recognise these eight New Zealanders who themselves have links with the harbour and the North Shore," he said.

The rest of the project, promised to residents after their neighbourhood was used as the main staging post for the structural upgrade, would include better lighting and paving and greater recognition of natural and cultural landmarks. Mr Mutton said that would acknowledge Stokes Pt as a former home to a busy Maori community of Te Onewa Pa.

Promoters of a cycling and pedestrian pathway which they hope to build under the city-bound clip-on by the end of next year for about $28 million are welcoming the improvements to what they predict will become part of a busy tourist route.

- NZ Herald

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