COMMENT:

Dear Aucklanders. Despite what many of you might believe, there are those of us beyond your city limits who take enormous pride in the fact that, not only are you our largest city, you are also the largest Polynesian city in the world. Nestled on the three great harbours Auckland is a truly spectacular gateway to Aotearoa.

Over a thousand years ago our Polynesian ancestors crossed Te Moana Nui a Kiwa, the largest stretch of open water on the planet, to reach these shores. They came, guided by the stars and the ocean currents, in state of the art sailing vessels. They were astronomers, astrologers, designers engineers, innovators.

There were those who once argued the discovery of Aotearoa by these Polynesian explorers was an accident, that they were blown off course and were fortuitously carried to these shores by the winds and tides. Of course that would mean that on their way they also "accidentally" bumped into Micronesia, Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, indeed all of those tiny islands of the Pacific. If they weren't amongst the greatest navigators in the world they were surely the luckiest.

Advertisement

Next year we mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain Cook who, incidentally, was guided to these shores by the Polynesian navigator he picked up in Hawaii on the way. What a wonderful opportunity this presents us with to at last acknowledge the incredible culture that was already here when he arrived.

Sadly the reaction this week to the idea that we might acknowledge that history, here on the shores of the largest Polynesian city in the world, by erecting a giant pou — our own Statue of Liberty or Christ the Redeemer — was a reminder that after 250 years we still did not get the message that this beautiful city of ours, all of ours, is a melting pot of cultures, at the core of which is Māori and Pasifika.

Our team of Pākehā designers in Dunedin had no hesitation in helping to bring to life the original vision of a group of carvers who proposed a spectacular Pou created from the fallen kauri of the Waitākeres. Te Pou o Te Ao was not just any pou, it was the pou for everyone who called this country home. From the earliest settlers to the latest arrivals.

If this was to be our Statue of Liberty then it was a statue for the entire country, Auckland was its natural home. We had hoped this vision we had created as a partnership between Māori culture and Pākehā technology could start a discussion that we all took part in, from North Cape to Stewart Island.

The original vision did not contemplate that Auckland ratepayers should pay for it. If we did this right, if we shared the vision across the entire country, then this could be, would be, a work of national and cultural significance that we all contributed to. That remains our vision.

Where you place her, quite rightly, is your decision. Papatūānuku, the earth mother, reaching out to Ranginui, the sky father on Bastion Pt would be spectacular and should be part of this national discussion. But she cannot be owned, she belongs to all of us and in this time of sustainability and environmental awareness she is our perfect "Statue of Liberty".

In making that decision let me share the other part of our vision, our gift to Auckland. It is a state of the art visitor attraction that would sit alongside Te Pou o Te Ao. We called it from "A Nation Born of Sailors" and it celebrates the journey we have taken as a nation, from our ancestors who were guided here by the stars, through to innovative thinkers such as Peter Beck who is taking us back to those stars, in partnership with Māori, from the first place on the planet to see the light of a new day.

We originally designed the visitor attraction for the World Expo in Dubai but we believe it's true home should be here in Auckland, alongside our Statue of Unity.

Now I'm going home to Dunedin where we are unified behind a wonderful harbourside vision for our future. It has been an inclusive process which, after less than seven months, is already bearing fruit. Perhaps we can all learn from this.

Ian Taylor is chief executive of Animation Research Ltd in Dunedin.