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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Symbolic and Abstract Forms

Notwithstanding the varied character of memorial design, there are certain forms which have been used consistently throughout the history of our people. Many of these, such as arches, obelisks, pedestals, and statuary, had their origin in ancient times; yet, when used in later periods, they are unmistakably characterised by the prevailing outlook on design. Though dated by their treatment, they retain the common principles which by traditional usage have become associated with, or symbolic of, their objective. The arch, for example, has been synonymous with a “march of victory” since the time of ancient Rome; yet the lovely Arch of Remembrance at Christchurch, designed by Gummer and Ford, is a significant design of our age. It captures the principle but retains its individuality; it was a happy thought because many New Zealand soldiers of two world wars had marched that way.

The popularity of the obelisk, of which there are many New Zealand examples, is due in part to its traditional associations but mainly because the tall shaft has vitality expressive of “deeds” or “endeavour”, a quality appropriate to many types of memorial. The Logan Campbell Memorial to the Maori people on One Tree Hill, Auckland, designed by R. A. Abbott, is a true obelisk, but its clean shaft and lava base give it individuality. Another true obelisk in shape, but sheathed in stainless steel, was used by R. B. Finch for the Whangarei War Memorial erected on Parahaki Hill; the vitality of the tapering shaft is fully appreciated when seen, on approach, against the arching sky.

Two good examples of the modelled shaft or pylon, both by Gummer and Ford, are the Dunedin City and the Auckland Grammar School War Memorials. Their success is due to the finely proportioned and detailed shafts, as well as to the symbolic sculpture by R. O. Gross. The Grammar School pylon is surmounted by a symbolic figure standing with one arm outstretched to the sky above. Its vitality is unmistakable when seen in silhouette against a setting sun. Another obelisk of very different treatment was used by Cecil Wood for his design of the Dobson Memorial in Arthur's Pass Park. It is a simple rustic stone shaft built on the crest of a rocky outcrop; the spirit of “endeavour” is expressed by its verticality, and the rough-hewn stonework fits it perfectly to its environment. The memorial and tomb of M. J. Savage on Bastion Point, Auckland, has a modelled shaft as the climax of an elaborate plan. The design was won in competition by T. K. Donner: it embraces a park with a formal garden and reflecting pool. The shaft is used as the climax of the main axis of approach; it also gives contrast to the surrounding horizontal features.

Another monument which happily harmonises with its surroundings may be seen in the Mount Cook district. It is a memorial to Sydney King and his two guides, Darby Thompson and J. Richmond, who were swept away by an avalanche in 1914 when they were returning from a successful ascent of the famous mountain. It is really a cairn, perhaps the oldest form of memorial used by man, which in this case takes the form of a roughly dressed stone obelisk mounted on a rustic stone base. Finally, there is the Cargill Monument at Dunedin which follows the Gothic tradition.

The pedestal traditionally supported columns or statuary. Nowadays it is frequently used to support and frame descriptive tablets; but in some cases it is developed to become the major part of the memorial. An example in its simplest form may be seen in the French cemetery at Akaroa where a rectangular block encloses a memorial tablet to the pioneers of the district. Another simple pedestal, a little more elaborate, is at Totara Point on the northern side of Hokianga Harbour which commemorates the first mass conducted by Bishop Pompallier in New Zealand; it is an important historic memorial but rather difficult of access. At Gisborne there is a monument to mark a landing place of Captain Cook; it consists of a pedestal supporting a short obelisk. It is not very effective because the obelisk is too short to express its character properly, but is large enough to conflict with the pedestal. The Cook Memorial at Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound, has a sloping pedestal which is almost a truncated pyramid. It is a dominant element of the design given interest by the anchor which surmounts it.

Wellington's lovely War Memorial at the corner of Lambton Quay and Bowen Street, designed by Grierson, Aimer, and Draffin, is an outstanding example of a monumental pedestal supporting as its climax a beautiful bronze equestrian figure. This has been so skilfully designed that it captures the vitality of a vertical shaft yet it is happily coordinated with the other elements of the memorial.

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