Memorial for Lange

By Jared Savage

A peaceful landscaped garden where people can sit and relax is among the possible plans being drawn for a memorial for the late David Lange.

His widow Margaret Pope is behind the proposed public tribute to the much-loved former prime minister in the humble surroundings of his home town, Otahuhu in Auckland. The David Lange Memorial Trust will be launched on August 16 - shortly after the first anniversary of his death - to fundraise and manage the project.

No plans have been set in stone, but the trust has called for artists, sculptors and landscapers to submit ideas to honour Lange, who was best remembered for creating New Zealand's anti-nuclear stance.

His brother, Peter Lange, supported the idea of a peaceful area, rather than an impersonal object, as the best way to remember David. A skilled potter himself, Peter said he'd like to be involved in the planning of the memorial. "I gather it will be a planted area that people can relax in and sit and have their lunch. It's more that sort of approach, which I think is fine."

This month, Pope and members of the Labour Party approached Auckland City Council with their proposal to remember Lange publicly. Penny Sefuiva, chairwoman of the council arts and culture committee, said the trust was keen to build the memorial in Otahuhu rather than in a more central setting, as he was a big part of that community.

"I thought it was a really lovely idea. It's a really generous gesture, a great gift to Otahuhu."

Sefuiva said the land surrounding the Otahuhu Recreation Centre was the most appropriate site for any memorial, given that there were not many available public spaces in the suburb. A sculpture of some sort was mooted by the project team, and Sefuiva said there was council funding for a public art work in the area. "It has to have the prominence it deserves."

Andrew Beyer, Labour Party regional organiser, was one of the people who spoke at the council meeting. He said the memorial would definitely be in the Otahuhu township, although the actual site and type of tribute was still under consideration.

"It's a project that has brought together a number of different initiatives ... We want a memorial that is thoroughly appropriate for David."

Shamila Unka, manager of Otahuhu Recreation Centre, said no plans had been made to redevelop the grounds yet, as other sites may be preferred. "I think it's a great idea, but there's a lot of ideas floating around, nothing has been finalised at all," she said.

Project manager Deborah White, an art curator in Ponsonby, said the memorial would be a "significant" public tribute in Otahuhu, and design proposals would be called for.

Lange grew up in Otahuhu, the son of a doctor, and graduated from Auckland University with a law degree in 1966. He practised for a few years in Northland before returning to tutor at university and complete a master's degree in criminal law, criminal behaviour and medical law.

Lange entered Parliament in 1977 after a by-election in the Auckland seat of Mangere. He became leader of the opposition in 1983 and, at 41, the country's youngest prime minister of the century. As prime minister, he was responsible for creating New Zealand's nuclear-free policy, and in 1985 he took the floor in a live worldwide television debate, arguing that "nuclear weapons are morally indefensible".

Lange died last August, aged 63.

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