Auckland City Mayor Dick Hubbard has stepped in to save the tiled suffrage centenary memorial in Khartoum Place ahead of a visit today by Women's Affairs Minister Lianne Dalziel and several prominent Dames.
The Dames, who include Catherine Tizard, Thea Muldoon, Dorothy Winstone and Georgina Kirby, are gathering to save the memorial, threatened by the council's redevelopment of Khartoum Place.
Documents obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act show council officers have spent $200,000 on consultants and a design competition for Khartoum Place. Entrants were told they could remove the memorial.
None of the 12 entries kept the 2000-tile mural and water feature celebrating the struggle for the emancipation of women.
The amount the council has spent is nearly three times the $75,000 cost of the memorial, which Dame Catherine unveiled in 1993 when she was Governor-General to mark 100 years of women's suffrage.
"This is not about who likes the tiles and who doesn't," Mr Hubbard said. "It's about respecting and preserving an important part of our history." Khartoum Place needed revamping but "the tiles must stay".
The National Council of Women and other women's groups are stunned the council has even been thinking about removing the memorial.
Marie Taylor, who chaired the women's suffrage centennial committee for Greater Auckland in 1991-1993, has organised today's gathering.
Memorial designer Claudia Pond Eyley has been invited to explain the artwork's significance.
National Council of Women Auckland president Vicky Carr, YWCA chief executive Di Paton and feminist Sandra Coney are also expected.
Art, community and recreation general manager Dr Jill McPherson last month said the memorial's future had not been decided. Consultation was planned in the New Year.
But documents show council officers had pushed strongly to remove the memorial.
One meeting, attended by Auckland Art Gallery director Chris Saines and Khartoum Place project manager Cameron Rennie, said the tiles should go because they were not the ideal "welcome mat" for the soon-to-be-redeveloped art gallery.
And when the memorial surfaced in the media, council communications officer Carley Smith said: "We need to talk to the artists ASAP so that they don't get wind of things and go to the media. That's something we want to avoid at all costs!"
Consultant Helen Cook also recommended "keeping the relationships with the artists on a tight rein" until the council came up with a decommissioning policy for artworks.
Officers met the artists, Claudia Pond Eyley and Jan Morrison, on October 17. They discussed removing the memorial, keeping the existing camellia tilework panel and commissioning a new suffrage artwork at another site in the city.
In a written response to the council, the artists said: "The response from the public has been overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the mural."