Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: City pioneers would turn in their graves at state of cemetery

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City Cemetery. Photo / Dean Purcell
City Cemetery. Photo / Dean Purcell

Earlier this week, letter writer Robin Brickell was expressing amazement at the lack of any statue or memorial commemorating the founders of Auckland. Instead of burning away money on celebratory fireworks this anniversary weekend, he called for a bronze statue of William Hobson, who chose Auckland as capital in 1840. Even better, he suggested, would be a grouping of Hobson with other pioneers.

Before Mayor Len Brown seizes on this as an add-on to his 100 projects in a 100 days list, perhaps it's the moment to point out we already have such a monument. One that's been there since the birth of the town, stretching along the Symonds St ridge by Grafton Bridge.

And if there was a deserving candidate for a mayoral, roll up the sleeves and get stuck in list, then it's this dreadfully neglected Symonds St cemetery. Indeed, if we continue to ignore the last resting place of Governor Hobson and our earliest pioneers for much longer, all that will be left is the sterile updated concrete and marble slab marking Hobson's grave, and the austere concrete wall erected in the 1960s to record the names of old Aucklanders whose remains were moved to make way for the adjacent motorway.

Yesterday at noon, Hobson was sharing his space under the spreading oak trees with a gathering of street people, busy pulling the tabs on breakfast cans of beer. "Are you looking for this guy?" shouted one, helpfully pointing in Hobson's direction.

The Governor's grave was in better nick than on previous visits, but down the pongy concrete stairs/urinal into the old part of the cemetery, it was a different story. The lack of money spent here continues to leap out at you. Sure the grass is trimmed, and the jungle of undergrowth once enveloping the older parts has been tamed. But the derelict asphalted paths remain a twisted ankle waiting to happen. At one spot, a piece of orange plastic netting has been erected in case James Austin Parker, died January 2 1860, aged 26, and his brother, who died in 1885, slide out of their crumbling tomb on to the path below.

Nearby lie three pieces of the broken headstone marking the grave of youngsters Harold Probert, who died just after Christmas 1866 and presumably his sister Evelyn Gertrude, who died just before Christmas 1872. It's hard to tell whether this is new vandalism or old.

Since my visit a year ago, the memorial to the Rev Robert Kidd, first headmaster of Auckland Grammar, and his wife, has been restored - the only sign of recent upgrading. I'm guessing that the gleaming white skull - sheep I think - that crowns the cross atop the Kidd's gravestone, is the work of a prankster and not the restorer.

In remarkably good nick, perhaps because it's off the beaten track, is the tall monument to generous benefactor of the 1880s Edward Costley, who, we're told, "was eminently successful throughout a long life in business pursuits and living temperately and unostentatiously amassed a considerable wealth". On his demise in 1883, his money was bequeathed to seven public and charitable institutions, "thus relieving by his munificent bequests, the sick, destitute and infirm, the homeless and the orphans ...". He also left something "to spread a taste for literature amongst all classes."

Unfortunately, he forgot to leave a note of his birth date for the stonemason, who has written "Born:" without any corresponding date. However when he "died" was not a problem. April 18, 1883.

Back in 2000, I was taken with the brief account of the last days of Fredrick Maning, author and Maori land court judge. "Stricken with a painful malady he sought relief in the mother country where he died on 25 July 1883, aged 72 years. His last words were, let me be buried in the far-off land I love so well." He was. But the inscription is now so covered in grime and growth, that not a word of this little colonial era snapshot is now readable.

This old graveyard is a historic treasure house, full of names and stories reminding Aucklanders of our past. It's also a wonderful, tree filled, greenspace.

On both counts, it's a wonderful resource that for too long, has enjoyed nothing but neglect. Any room left on the list Len?

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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