Where are the women? Wellington’s statues have a gender problem

By Joel MacManus, originally published on Stuff

From atop perches in the middle of busy walkways, great leaders from our history look upon us. 

The statues that a city erects become a reflection of its values. They're a signal to the citizens that the people immortalised in stone and metal are worth looking up to, figuratively and literally. 

Wellington features over 150 pieces of public art. Of those, 18 are statues featuring literal depictions of at least one person.

There are just two statues of historical women in the capital: Queen Victoria on Cambridge and Kent Terrace, and Katherine Mansfield on Lambton Quay, the newest statue in the city, unveiled in 2013. 

Hine Te Apārangi, wife of mythical explorer Kupe, appears as a secondary figure beside him in the statue Kupe's Group. 

The only other woman featured is on Hinerangi, a statue at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park symbolising all families who lost loved ones in war. 

In total, the 18 statues depict 21 people, four of whom are women. 

The Wellington City Council lists another 19 sculptures of monuments built to memorialise individuals. Only one is dedicated to a woman, also Katherine Mansfield.

In 2014, Women's Refuge built a 2.5m acrylic statue of Kate Sheppard to be temporarily installed at Parliament as part of a domestic violence campaign, but was blocked by then-Speaker David Carter.

Lisa Lawrence, President of the National Council of Women NZ, said New Zealand needed to make a better effort to celebrate diverse achievement. 

"All efforts to bring celebration of local people and their achievements need to work together, to drive progress in the long term. We need a conscious effort to create a broader culture of inclusion- and this needs to reflect all walks of life."

"We welcome a more diverse reflection of people to be celebrated for their achievements. This should be supported by the teaching of NZ history and development in our schools"

There is no one authority accountable for statues in the capital. The four statues of former Prime Ministers and the statues at Pukeahu Park were government-funded, but others have been arranged by council, private fundraisers, and foreign governments.


The National Council of Women suggested a list of eight women who could be worthy of a statue in Wellington:

Mere Te Tai Mangakaahia - Women's suffrage leader

Kate Sheppard - Women's suffrage leader

Dame Whina Cooper - Maori women's activist

Princess Te Puia Herangi - Kingitanga movement leader

Jean Batten - Aviator and first person to fly solo from England to New Zealand

Kate Edgar - First woman in New Zealand to gain a university degree

Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan - Long-serving MP

Elizabeth McCombs - First woman elected to parliament in New Zealand



There are 15 statues which resemble specific individuals, and another six which are not meant to be a specific person, but instead represent a group or idea. 

Keith Holyoake, Molesworth Street - New Zealand's longest-serving Prime Minister, Holyoake governed from 1960 to 1970, and also served as Governor-General.  The statue was unveiled in 1990, seven years after his death. 

John Plimmer and Fitz, Plimmer Steps - Often called the "father of Wellington", John Plimmer was an early settler who arrived in 1841, and became an influential businessman and political figure on the Town Board and the Provincial Council. 

Peter Fraser, Lambton Quay - Fraser was the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1940-49, taking over after the death of Michael Joseph Savage and guiding the country through most of the second World War. The statue was commissioned at the same time as the Holyoake statue. 

John Ballance, Parliament Grounds - Ballance was the Premier of New Zealand from 1891 to 1893, when he became the first New Zealand Prime Minister to die in office. He was a strong supporter of women's suffrage and issued in a number of land reforms, some of which came at great cost for rural Māori. A twin statue in his hometown of Wanganui has been repeatedly defaced and even beheaded in protest. 

Mohandas Gandhi, Railway station -The life-sized bronze statue of the Indian spiritual and political leader was gifted to Wellington by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, on behalf of the Indian people. It acknowledged "the commitment of the people of New Zealand for setting an example to the world of a tolerant, open and inclusive society". The location was chosen because Gandhi was a man of the people and regularly used trains for transport. 

Queen Victoria, Kent and Cambridge Terrace - For the first 60 years of European settlement in Wellington, Victoria was the only queen the city ever knew. Her death in 1901 triggered an outpouring of donations for the statue. It was originally unveiled at Post Office Square by Queens Wharf in 1905, before being moved to its current location in 1911. 

Richard Seddon, Parliament Grounds - 'King Dick' was one of the most influential leaders in New Zealand's history, serving as Premier from 1893 until his death in 1906. The statue was built by Sir Thomas Brock, who is best known for the Victoria Monument at Buckingham Palace. 

Katherine Mansfield, Lambton Quay - When 'Woman of Words' was unveiled in 2013, Mansfield became the second woman to have a statue dedicated to her in Wellington. The 3.3 metre steel figure is adorned with phrases from her writing. 

Kupe, Harbour waterfront - The Coming of the Māori was first unveiled in 1939 and spent most of its life as a plaster cast in the railway station. In 1999 it was cast in bronze and renamed Kupe's Group. It depicts the Māori figure Kupe alongside his wife Hine Te Apārangi, and his tohunga, Pekahourangi.

John Simpson and Richard Henderson, Pukeahu War Memorial Park - The Man with the Donkey is a memorial to medical staff who served alongside New Zealand troops. It shows the story of Henderson and Simpson evacuating wounded men from the frontlines in Gallipoli. 

St Patrick, St Patrick's College - The white stone figure of the Irish saint stands perched on a ledge above the entrance to St Patrick's College in Kilbirnie. 

Richard Byrd - American Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd was one of the greatest explorers of the earliest 21st century. He launched several flights to explore Antarctica from New Zealand. 

Harry Holland Memorial, Bolton Cemetery - The memorial to the second Labour Party leader is probably New Zealand's most over-dramatic political statue. It depicts muscular naked man gazing skywards, chiselled marble backside and genitals on display to the world. The figure's face bears a resemblance to Holland, but it is not officially a statue of him. The figure represents "emancipated youth, looking upwards to higher things."

Brooklyn War Memorial, Charlotte Avenue - Unveiled in 1922, the Brooklyn War Memorial depicts a carved, marble statue of a male soldier as ease, holding his hat by his side and looking out over the harbour. The design was chosen by the Brooklyn RSA, and is meant to show a solider looking out towards the harbour, where his comrades left on ships to never return. It is not a depiction of any specific person. 

The Will to Peace, Bowen Street - The statue on top of the 20-metre tall Wellington Citizens War Memorial shows a young man riding a Pegasus, clutching a victor's wreath.

Hinerangi, Pukeahu War Memorial Park - Meaning Woman of the Infinite Sky, Hinerangi shows a woman in a kākahu facing the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in memory of non-fighting people who lost family members to war. 

Rugby World Cup Celebration, Civic Square - The sculpture, designed by Weta Workshops, shows a rugby player leaping to win a lineout between two teams, stylised as crashing waves of the Cook Straight. For the sake of this story, we have only counted the one central figure as a statue, the other players would be better defined as a relief. 

Solace in the Wind, Harbour waterfront - The two-metre iron statue of a naked man leaning into the wind on Wellington's waterfront is arguably the city's most iconic piece of public art. It was a personal piece by artist Max Patte, about the contrast of pain and serenity. 

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  • National Council of Women New Zealand
    published this page in News 2020-05-15 12:10:29 +1200

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