Suffrage and service, celebrating women in Auckland’s public art

Part of the Women's Suffrage Centenial Memorial in Auckland. Designed by Claudia Pond Eyley, tiles made by Jan Morrison. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Part of the Women’s Suffrage Centenial Memorial in Auckland. Designed by Claudia Pond Eyley, tiles made by Jan Morrison. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

I mentioned in passing a couple of weeks ago, that I’d been inspired by a post by Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter (Hidden Histories) to search out the monuments and memorials to women in Auckland.

And since this week’s Daily Post Challenge asks us to be a tour guide in our home town, why don’t you grab your virtual sunscreen and water bottle and let’s take a wander around the places in which women collectively are acknowledged in Auckland.

Note: Auckland are has several public statues of and memorials to individual women — but that will have to wait for another post.

New Zealand was the first country in the world to legislate for women’s suffrage, and this is commemorated in a couple of pieces of public art here.

The most visible is the Women’s Suffrage Centenary Memorial, a tiled mosaic which covers several walls in a CBD plaza. The memorial was unveiled in 1993 by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and NZ’s (first woman) Governor General at the time, Dame Catherine Tizard.

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Women’s Suffrage Centenary Memorial, Te Ha o Hine Place, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

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Detail of Women’s Suffrage Centenary Memorial, showing the Suffrage Petition signed by over 25,500 women in 1893. Te Ha o Hine Place, Auckland.

The memorial was created by artists Claudia Pond Eyley and Jan Morrison.

In the early 2000s, the council planned to remove the mosaic as part of an upgrade to the area. Fortunately there was sufficient public protest that instead (after years of debate and indecision) the memorial was instead expanded, and part of the plaza renamed Te Ha o Hine Place.

This comes from a Maori proverb, ‘Me aro koe ki te Hā o Hine-ahu-one’ and translates as ‘pay heed to the dignity of women’. (Stuff, 2 September 2016)

Much better in my opinion than the original name — Khartoum Place — which commemorates a 19th century siege from Britain’s colonial past.

Stylised corten steel camellia forms the Women's Suffrage Memorial (2013), created by MVS Studio and located in Rose Park, Mt Roskill, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Women’s Suffrage Memorial (2013), created by MVS Studio and located in Rose Park, Mt Roskill, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The second Women’s Suffrage Memorial is an stylised representation of a camellia, fashioned of corten steel (MVS Studio, 2013). Around the base, names of local women who signed the 1893 Suffrage Petition are inscribed.

The sculpture is located in a small rose garden at the intersection of two main roads.
I have driven past it dozens of times since it was unveiled in 2013, and had no idea what it was until I actually researched suffrage memorials.

Equally hidden in plain sight is the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall, which seems (confusingly) to also be called the Ellen Melville Centre.

The Pioneer Women's Hall / Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall / Ellen Melville Centre, Freyberg Place, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

I mentioned to quite a few people that I was doing this post, and would include the hall. I was met with universally blank stares, until I described its (quite prominent, CBD) location. Then I got “oh, is that what it’s called.”

The building has recently been refurbished and now has a bronze sculpture by artist Lisa Reihana adorning one wall.

Entitled Justice, it references Ellen Melville, the second woman in New Zealand to qualify as a lawyer (admitted to the Bar in 1906), and very important figure in the country’s women’s movement.

Justice, by Lisa Reihana. Sculpture in bronze on the wall of the O-Connell Street facade of the Ellen Melville Centre, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Justice (2017), by Lisa Reihana. Sculpture in bronze on the wall of the O-Connell Street facade of the Ellen Melville Centre, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

 

The Ellen Melville Centre and camellia memorials may be hidden in plain sight, but the sculpture, Statue of a Cloaked Woman by Christine Hellyar, is just plain hidden.

Amongst the trees, Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, 1994. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Amongst the trees, Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, 1995. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

The sculpture is located in Alice Wylie Reserve (1) in the suburb of Mt Albert. It was commissioned in 1995 by the Mt Albert Women’s Memorial Committee to acknowledge and celebrate the contribution of women to the well-being of the local community.

Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, cast in bronze. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Statue of a Cloaked Woman, Christine Hellyar, cast in bronze. Located in Alice Wylie Reserve, Mt Albert, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie, 2018

Statue of a Cloaked Woman is a bronze, cast on site by the artist. It sits in the middle of a garden, surrounded by tall trees and barely visible from any part of the park or the street beyond. There is no path leading to the sculpture, and access is through a garden.

This seems particularly sad, as amongst the women who have served Mt Albert (as Members of Parliament alone) are Helen Clark, NZ’s first elected woman Prime Minister; and our current PM, Jacinda Ardern, who is not only our youngest, but also the first Prime Minister of NZ to be pregnant in office.

I suspect, that tucked away in other parts of Auckland, there will be other monuments to women — collectively as well as individually. Now my task is to find them.

Daily Post Photo Challenge | tour guide


  1. Alice Wylie was a local Councillor, Deputy Mayor and political figure in the Mt Albert area.
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56 thoughts on “Suffrage and service, celebrating women in Auckland’s public art

  1. I had no idea that New Zealand was the first place to grant women the right to vote. I need to go read about this. Wasn’t NZ part of the British Empire at that point? Wonderful memorials—and a claim to history for which NZ is rightfully proud.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We can be pretty cool for a tiny place at the end of the world 🙂 We’ve had our own House of Representatives since the 1850s. We still have a governor general (as a representative of the Crown) as our head of state, but unlike Australia, the GG has never intervened in the affairs of our govt.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s normal to focus our attention on “local” people and events, and to assume our way is the best way. We get so much of our popular culture from outside NZ (UK, US and Australia mainly) that I think we tend to be quite widely informed (or mis-informed).
        I have to say though, when I’ve been in the US, the thing that’s really struck me is how many people I met who had no idea of where NZ is, or even that it’s an actual country. The Lord of the Rings movies have changed that a bit; now people think we’re all hobbits 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOL! Hobbits, heh? But don’t feel bad. Probably many Americans don’t even know where some of our 50 states are or the names of their Senators.

        We’ve watched some Australian TV series, including A Place to Call Home, which takes place in the 1950s. I was surprised to see children playing Cowboys and Indians, which I think of as uniquely American—-since “Indians” are native Americans. Back then I guess it was from watching Westerns at the movies.

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      • We used to play Cowboys and Indians when I was a kid; definitely inspired by American movies and TV shows. Interestingly, we went to school with kids whose parents were from India, and who we identified as “Indian”, while at the same time never questioning why the Native American characters in movies were also called Indians. We knew they weren’t the same as our friends, but kids seem to be able to accept contradictions very easily.

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      • Kids do accept all kinds of contradictions and take things on blind faith—the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, etc. I mean—why would a parent who tells children not to talk to strangers allow two strangers to enter their homes while they’re sleeping??

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      • Hehe. Totally with you on that one. We couldn’t buy into the Santa Claus, tooth fairy thing when the boy child was little and I guess we fudged it a bit. When I was pregnant we were walking through a shopping centre at Xmas, and there were all these mothers and children queueing to have photos taken with “Santa” and most of the kids were screaming in terror. Yet the women were trying to shush them so they could “get the shot.” Horrible!

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      • LOL! Yep, I’ve seen that here as well. We had the opposite issue—our kids wanted to know why Santa didn’t visit us and why we didn’t go talk to him at the mall. And one of my daughters told us in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want the tooth fairy coming into her room while she was sleeping. So we just paid her outright instead. 🙂

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    • Amy, the suffrage fight was part of my own family history, and I wrote a novel about two of the main characters: Kate Sheppard, the astute and charming leader of the campaign, and my more confrontational great-grandmother Ada Wells. If you’d like an easy way to learn all about it, find “Farewell Speech” on Kindle. It’s only $3.50. I’d love to know your opinion! It’s a novel, but the historical facts are accurate, and the fictional aspects have found their way into official biographies.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Su! I love this post so much. Each monument is so lovely. I am especially happy about this: “Around the base, names of local women who signed the 1893 Suffrage Petition are inscribed.” In Utah, the right for women to vote was given twice, first in 1870 when we were a territory and then in 1895 when we were a state. I wish I knew the names of the local women who fought for those rights. I guess I need to look it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great post, Su! Love the variety of the memorials and especially the first one with the tiles! I knew that NZ was the first country but only because I’ve recently watched “The Suffragette”. If you haven’t seen it I can very much recommend it. The fight for women’s rights is a fascinating topic but it makes me sad that it is still not over, even in Europe. Did you know that even our chancellor Merkel earns less money than her male predecessor? Okay, it’s still enough but even though…

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    • Thanks Sarah. I love the tiles too, and was so upset when the council wanted to remove the memorial. It took a lot of fighting by women to keep them!! Incredible that your Chancellor could earn less because of her gender. And you are right; the fight is definitely not over!!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. As you might imagine, Su, I was thrilled to find this post of yours. My warmest thanks for doing the research, taking the glorious photos, and telling the world about these memorials and what they represent. The only one that I knew about is Ellen Melville House, and then only because I was at the NZ Conference and Festival of Poetry last year. I’m a fan of Christine Hellyar, so her garden figure will haunt me. Of course the quiet, secret placement is somehow apt for our foremothers’ campaign.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this lovely comment Rachel. I really enjoyed researching this post, and feel there are probably memorials I’ve missed. I really like Christine Hellyar’s work too. Have you seen Change/Exchange which is being exhibited in the Auckland Art Gallery at the moment? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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