Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bob Jones on Waikato University

The Case of the Farming Family Statue has perhaps not registered on the national consciousness, but in Hamilton it is a big story. The Hamilton Central Business Association has proposed that the statue, commissioned and paid for by Bob Jones 20 years ago to commemorate early dairy farmers’ contribution to the region’s development, be shifted from its present location on a traffic island in the busy main street to let children touch and play on it in safety.

The local comparison is with the statue of a horse located outside the Cambridge town hall, which has children climbing over it every day. OK, that’s not everyone’s idea of art appreciation, but the Cambridge experience beats the Hamilton experience hands-down.

The Hamilton CBA first suggested moving the statue to Claudelands Events Centre, wherever that is. Readers of the Waikato Times wanted, by a hefty majority, the statue to stay where it is so people – especially visitors to the city – can see it. Jones was “insulted”.

Next to offer an opinion was Waikato University community psychologist Neville Robertson who called the statue’s plaque “incredibly offensive” and “racist”. He said the statue:
should be moved to Garden Place and joined by other statues telling the region’s entire farming history. But not before the inscription at the bottom of the statue is rewritten. At present it reads: “Commemorates the ordinary farming family as the unsung heroes of our first 150 years.”

“It pretends there is nothing before 150 years ago,” Dr Robertson said. He said it should be rewritten in a way that indicated it was part of the region’s farming history because the current wording excluded the role Maori played in the farming before the 1840s.

Dr Robertson also took the word “ordinary” to mean “Pakeha”. “What we have is essentially a Pakeha statue pretending to represent everybody’s history.”
There seems now to be a general view that moving it to Garden Place, the city’s main plaza which is about to get a long-overdue revamp, is a good plan. The CBA thinks so, Times readers think so, and even Jones is said to be “warming” to the idea.

But he is not warming to Neville Robertson whose comments, he told the Times:
“touched on two Waikato traditions, one a source of great pride and the other of great embarrassment. The first is the region’s renowned pastoral industry, rightly admired throughout New Zealand. The second is Waikato University, ridiculed across the land in academic circles for its lightweight standards.

“Robertson upholds that inglorious reputation superbly with his idiotic remarks. In commenting that the statue ignores pre-European Maori history he overlooks the fact that it was commissioned to commemorate New Zealand’s 150th anniversary since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Nevertheless we could satisfy his doubtless predictable concerns of omission by having the sculptor reshape the father’s face to have Maori features but with one arm foppishly behind his back to cover homosexuals.

“The wife could be recast sitting in a wheelchair to avoid Robertson protesting that we’ve ignored the enormous contribution of the disabled.

“Finally, we could put a mortar board on the sheep’s head with a sign around its neck bearing the message, ‘psychology graduate of Waikato University’.”

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