Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

Art tribute to wharf 'thugs' covered up

Work about strike-breakers a century ago raises city councillor's ire.

The controversial art work on the waterfront has been covered up. Photo / Greg Bowker
The controversial art work on the waterfront has been covered up. Photo / Greg Bowker

An artwork depicting controversial strikes on Auckland's waterfront 100 years ago has been covered up ahead of its removal this morning to avoid upsetting descendants of harbour workers.

The two-dimensional black silhouette shows a baton-wielding "strike-breaker", one of the rural Aucklanders employed to disrupt protesting dock workers in 1913.

The work is on Queens Wharf as part of Tamaki Makaurau - The Many Lovers of Auckland, a Waterfront Auckland project that tells the history of the waterfront.

The artwork is part of a display telling the history of the waterfront.
The artwork is part of a display telling the history of the waterfront.

Yesterday, city councillor Mike Lee protested to Waterfront Auckland chairman Sir Bob Harvey after reading the plaque attached to the work. It quotes strike-breaker Jim Ross from a 1913 newspaper saying, "From our homes in the backblocks of Auckland we came to help down the strike and keep the town's name."

An accompanying description gave a brief history of the role of strike-breakers and labelled Mr Ross "one of the many lovers of Auckland".

Mr Lee said the artwork paid homage to "thugs and bashers on the people's wharf. We have really lost our way if heritage experts believe vigilante thugs rounded up to attack striking working people are deemed to be heroes."

Mr Lee's great-grandfather and grandfather were both dock workers.

Sir Bob, a former president of the Labour Party, said he agreed with Mr Lee that the figure might offend some people. Even though it was an honest account of the wharf's history, he had requested that it be removed today.

The public art on Queens Wharf and Shed 10 also includes tales of royal visits and wartime departures.

The artwork had been covered up this morning.

- NZ Herald

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