Tim Shadbolt has never been exactly backward in seeking the limelight, but his willingness to let people think a park named after his relative, Spanish Civil War nurse Rene Shadbolt, also memorialises him is just plain pathetic.
Back in June, Auckland Public Library research historian David Verran wrote to Waitakere City Council proposing a sign be put up in the New Lynn reserve known as Shadbolt Park pointing out that its full name, as resolved by New Lynn Borough Council on February 23, 1942, is the Sister Rene Shadbolt Park.
The mayor of the day, Stan Rickards, proposed the naming, according to the borough minute book, "as a tribute to the service to humanity rendered by Sister Shadbolt, who was one of the three nurses who went overseas to administer to suffering humanity in the Spanish Civil War".
As Sister Rene Shadbolt Park is the reserve's official name - but has been abbreviated for decades - Waitakere City's infrastructure and works committee has been asked to remind people, with signs, how it got its name.
It was at this stage that the Aucklander asked relative and one-time Mayor of Waitemata City Tim Shadbolt what he thought. Gracelessly, Mayor Tim, now first citizen of Invercargill, said, "I think leaving it as Shadbolt Park tends to cover the whole family ... While I think it's good to honour her, Sister Rene Shadbolt Park was more that she was a friend of the mayor of Blockhouse Bay at the time. Since then, there have been other Shadbolts who have come into prominence."
Though none, one could point out, who went and put their lives on the line for their beliefs like Rene did. Tim's taunting of authority during the anti-Vietnam War protests was all very invigorating, but hardly the same as standing up to German and Spanish fascists firing real live bullets and bombs at you.
Mr Verran's interest in the park was sparked when he attended a seminar in 2006 on New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War. He has since been assisting historian Mark Derby, who is preparing the first book about the 30 or so New Zealanders who served, either as soldier volunteers alongside the republican government troops or in non-combatant roles.
In their research they found the New Lynn park was the only memorial they could discover honouring these anti-fascist fighters.
It's unfortunate that in the briefing paper prepared for councillors, the bureaucrats have assumed the title "Sister" must signify that Rene was a nun of the Catholic persuasion. Ironic when the Catholic Church in Spain was aligned with the bad guys. She wasn't a nun. She was a nursing sister.
Family member and novelist Maurice Shadbolt notes in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography that "she had a healthy and somewhat waspish suspicion of her fellow human beings", followed no particular political programme and "so far as she was anything, she was a theosophist".
She was also, in 1936, head sister of the casualty ward at Auckland Hospital, and when the New Zealand Spanish Medical Aid Committee raised enough money to send three trained nurses, she was one of the first to volunteer. She left in May 1937 for the front, after a grilling by the police who accused of her of being the secretary of a communist cell. Maurice Shadbolt says she replied, "I've never been even a secretary of a tennis club."
They spent two years in horrific conditions, tending the wounded and dying while ducking bullets and bombs. One of her companions was injured by shrapnel while driving an ambulance. Sister Rene returned in January 1939, with the cause lost, to a rousing mayoral reception in Auckland. After a lecture tour, she was at first shunned in her profession as a dangerous leftie, but as always, trained nurses are always needed. She became matron of Hokianga Hospital in 1949, retiring in 1967.
Maurice Shadbolt says she remained "a formidable figure - in anti-nuclear demonstrations, for example" until she died in Henderson in 1977, "widely mourned as a brave and remarkable woman".
I don't know about you, but I think she deserves her plaque - and a park all of her own without some whipper-snapper of a relative trying to steal some of her thunder.
Maybe Tim's having intimations of mortality and is worried his celebrity status will die with him. Even so, trying to limpet oneself on to a memorial to one of your relatives is pretty desperate stuff. If it's so important, surely there's space aplenty in deepest, darkest Invercargill to put up a Dear Leader statue all of his own.By Brian Rudman Email Brian