Our small population means we've produced few world-renowned people warranting commemorating by the ultimate tribute of a statue, a well-located bust being next best.
If the standard is global fame, then only Ed Hillary justifies one. His name crops up frequently in foreign literature, in the sense of "Do you think I'm Hillary? That's some task you're asking of me." Kiri is world renowned in opera circles, and to the wider Australian and Britain public, but not in any Callas sense.
Ernest Rutherford, who's on our $100 banknotes - ironic considering the infantilism here to things nuclear - is unknown beyond the physics world, his accomplishments being largely a team effort. Our sports journalists voted Peter Snell as our 20th century top sportsperson but outside of athletics buffs, his name means nothing abroad, as is the case with other record-breakers or gold medallists.
That said, I once met an Irish woman whose life revolved around equestrianism. She was adamant that Mark Todd was the greatest equestrian in history, which was certainly news to me.
The greatest in history in anything warrants a statue, unless it's mass murder, although that hasn't stopped Mongolians idolising Genghis Khan, or the French the war-mongering Napoleon.
A main Wellington thoroughfare has a statue of Queen Victoria. It's part of our history and there'd be a carry-on were it removed. On the other hand there's an absurdly inappropriate statue of Gandhi outside the Wellington Railway Station, donated a decade back by the Wellington Indian community to be placed on the waterfront. The mayor despaired, knowing it was ludicrous. I hammered her to refuse it but she weakly settled for it at the railway station to appease the Indians. It should be removed, being utterly irrelevant to NZ.
There's a large Wellington Indian hall where it would be fine outside. So too a proposal a decade back, for a statue of Mandela in central London. Jeremy Clarkson rightly kicked up a fuss on the same grounds, namely total irrelevancy to Britain, and it was dropped.
I was persuaded by the local authorities to pay for a Bob Fitzsimmons statue in central Timaru. David Lange, a knowledgeable boxing buff, unveiled it to a 1000-strong crowd in the rain in 1987, this 100 years after Bob won the world heavyweight title. In hindsight I wonder whether it's appropriate. After all, Fitz arrived from Cornwall as a 9-year-old, left in his early 20s and was a naturalised American when he won the title. The only New Zealand-born boxer to win a genuine world championship was featherweight Billy Murphy, born in Auckland in 1863. Enthusiasts have been fundraising to erect a statue of him but I've argued he was an unexceptional champion, not warranting such commemoration.
Being world renowned is not a bar we need set; rather outstanding New Zealand achievement is sufficient. A statue of Colin Meads in Te Kuiti would be well received, as would busts of John Reid, Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee at cricket grounds. Similarly, one of Kiri in the Wellington opera house foyer would be appropriate. But let them be done well.
There's a ridiculous statue of Robbie in Auckland's Aotea Square. Regardless of whether long-standing mayor Robbie deserves such commemoration, why is it insultingly in miniature?
Wellington economist Rufus Dawe once astutely observed that our Prime Ministers recognised with statues were those fortunate to have been in office during good economic times. The Holyoake statue opposite Parliament epitomises this, Keith enjoying an easy economic ride up until his last few prime ministerial years. That could apply to John Key, who's been blessed with luck in so many ways. Inheriting an excellent financial situation from Sir Michael Cullen to deal with the banking crisis, facing Cunliffe in the last election, the Christchurch earthquake creating an economic stimulus plus a boom in dairy prices, all confirmed the truth that chance is the major force in human affairs. But let's not forget the adage that you make your own luck, for which he also earns points.
Vogel, Seddon, Savage and Douglas were the most deserving of our politicians for such commemoration, all effecting massive change for good, irrespective of the economic climate. I'd certainly chip in for a statue of Douglas. God knows how bad things would be without his sweeping reforms, which put our country on a strong structural footing. That statue will happen.
Hundreds of public buildings, roads and parks are named after past office-holders, achievers and worthy citizens. Katherine Mansfield's childhood home is enshrined by enthusiasts in the capital, as is her Menton house, where many of our writers have enjoyed a six-month fellowship stint - a silly fad in my view. All of these commemorations, unlike the biannual medal awards, provide a tangible sense of our history and identity.