COMMENT: An open letter on Erebus memorial plans from Heather Levack and Ann Robinson, the daughters of Sir Dove-Myer Robinson.

We do not want to reiterate the arguments expressed by other petitioners as to why the Erebus Memorial should not be placed in the Dove-Myer Robinson Park. There are others more qualified than us to do this.

What we would like to do is to remind everyone how our father came to be so influential in Auckland, the contribution that he made to the city he loved and why the park came to be named after him.

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Our father arrived in Auckland in 1914 as a 13-year-old, having left England with his family to follow his three elder sisters, who had married and immigrated here.

The story goes that he was camping on the foreshore of Devonport beach, with a stray dog he had found. He lay on his back and looked up at the stars in the clear night sky. In the morning he looked over to the fledgling city, the sparkling waters of the Waitematā Harbour and the green hills that surrounded it.

Former Mayor of Auckland, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. File photo / J Pettitt
Former Mayor of Auckland, Sir Dove-Myer Robinson. File photo / J Pettitt

He remembered the smoky industrial city of Sheffield that they had left and the taunting bullying he had suffered as a Jewish boy. In a flood of gratitude, he fell in love with Auckland city.

Thirty years later, as a rising businessman and father, the words of a neighbour would change his life.

He had built a house on the cliffs of Glendowie, looking straight out to Browns Island. He knew that the city council planned to build a pumping station that would discharge raw sewage into the harbour but a neighbour's remark of, "I guess we won't be able to swim at our beach if this plan goes through, it will be polluted," spurred him into action.

As a family, we were used to walking down the cliff track to the tiny beach at the base and swimming there, probably as nature intended.

Dad was outraged by the thought that ordinary people would not be able to swim in the harbour and his response is part of Auckland's history. He managed to stop the plan, even though the contract to build the huge pipeline had been let.

The statue of Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in Aotea Square. File photo / Richard Robinson
The statue of Sir Dove-Myer Robinson in Aotea Square. File photo / Richard Robinson

As a result of his oratory, research and persistence, the plan was ditched, the Waitematā was saved and he found himself entrenched in local body politics. First as a councillor and later as mayor. He became New Zealand's longest-serving mayor and a hero in his time.

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He is still remembered today. People still talk about him and say, "If only we had listened to Robbie."

In 2001, the Auckland City Council erected a statue of him in Aotea Square. In 1981, the Auckland City Council renamed Parnell Park, Dove-Myer Robinson Park. He died in 1989 and his ashes were sprinkled on the Waitematā Harbour. The family's memorial plaque to him is located there, along with a bench so that the people of Auckland can sit quietly and enjoy the view of the harbour he saved.

Our concern as a family is that if the Erebus Memorial were to be placed there, it would not be long before the park became known as the Erebus Park. It seems an outrage to us that a park, named to honour our father, is being considered as the site of a memorial to another group of people. Doing so would destroy the one and in no way adequately recognise the other.

Our father is not some long dead, dusty figure. He still lives on in the memories of people alive today. Young people who never knew him gather at his statue to have their photos taken.

People watch the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship at the entrance to Waitemata Harbour from Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park in 2009. File photo / Dean Purcell.
People watch the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship at the entrance to Waitemata Harbour from Sir Dove-Myer Robinson Park in 2009. File photo / Dean Purcell.

At the time of the March 15 massacre in Christchurch, his statue was surrounded by flowers, toys and messages from people appalled by the disaster. They saw it as perhaps the one point in the city where they could collectively express their support and outrage.

His mana is enshrined in the park that was named for him, in recognition of the massive contribution he made to our city.

To suggest that the National Erebus Memorial be placed there is totally disrespectful to his memory and his lifetime's work.

The park has no relevance or connection to the Erebus disaster. The plane flew south, across the Manukau Harbour, and tragically never returned.

Dove-Myer Robinson Park is a memorial to the man whose insight and tenacity protected the Waitematā from disaster.

Sir Dove-Myer Robinson unwittingly posed for his own statue when suggesting Aotea Square could be New Zealand's answer to Trafalgar Square. File photo / Ross Land
Sir Dove-Myer Robinson unwittingly posed for his own statue when suggesting Aotea Square could be New Zealand's answer to Trafalgar Square. File photo / Ross Land

We are totally supportive of a memorial to the Erebus victims but placing it in the Dove-Myer Robinson Park, besides being abusive to our father's memory, is underselling the importance of the memorial to the Erebus families.

The Erebus families need their own place that symbolically reflects the gravity of their tragedy and which does not have its genesis in conflict and disagreement.

Allow our father to retain his place of honour undisturbed and give the Erebus victims their place of honour, one that fully acknowledges the scale of their tragedy and which is born of a sensitive and sympathetic understanding of their need for peace and closure.

Heather Levack and Ann Robinson are daughters of the late Sir Dove-Myer Robinson.