Efforts to establish a National Erebus Memorial have been met by protest action at the Auckland site this morning.
Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage Chief Executive, Bernadette Cavanagh, announced today that site preparation for the long-awaited National Erebus Memorial at Taurarua / Dove-Myer Robinson Park in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland had begun.
The Memorial will be a place for the families and friends of those who lost their loved ones in the Erebus accident to gather, to remember and to reflect, she said.
“It will also be a place where all New Zealanders can learn more about the tragedy and its significance.”
As construction crews arrived on the site at Parnell Rose Gardens this morning, they were met with a group of around 20 opponents of the project.
A group of kaumātua have also reportedly placed a rāhui, or ritual ban, on the site. Around 30 security guards are now stationed at the site.
Erebus remains the worst civil accident in New Zealand’s history, and the scale of loss shocked the nation. The plane crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, on 28 November 1979 killing all 257 passengers and crew.
“Starting site preparation for the construction of the Memorial is a significant milestone, and I want to thank the Erebus family members for their continued support and resilience throughout this process,” said Bernadette Cavanagh today.
“Erebus families have waited more than 40 years to have their loved ones acknowledged with a national memorial. We are in regular contact with many family members who are eager to see this Memorial built.”
She said construction of the Memorial has faced significant delays as Manatū Taonga took time to fully understand and respond to questions from the community.
“The site of the Memorial is home to a notable pōhutukawa tree that is cherished by the local community. We’ve done everything we can to provide assurance that this tree will be protected during construction of the new Memorial. Designed with the long-term wellbeing of the pōhutukawa in mind, no part of the Memorial reaches the protected root zone or extends under the canopy of the tree.”
“We have listened to the community, and we have sought independent expert advice to ensure all environmental, cultural and heritage values of the park remain respected and protected. With the support of Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei, whose rohe the memorial site lies within, we are confident site preparation can begin.
“Beginning site preparation now ensures there are no further delays to the start of the project and maintains momentum for the many people who want this Memorial built as soon as possible, especially the Erebus families.
“At the same time, it acknowledges that the Office of the Ombudsman is currently undertaking an investigation of this project at the request of a small group of opponents.
“Everyone has the right to engage the Ombudsman, and we are cooperating fully with his Office. We are confident in the integrity of the process followed to select the Memorial’s site and design.
“Out of respect for the Office of the Ombudsman, we have agreed to only carry out site preparation works at this stage, which can be reversed if necessary.
“Our intention is that this phased approach will give the Office space to undertake its investigation.
“As we begin site preparation, the health and safety of everyone at the park is our priority,” said Ms Cavanagh.
She encouraged people to keep up to date on the project through the Ministry’s website.
“We know a lot of people are interested in this project, so we’ve been working hard to keep our website up to date. It’s a one-stop-shop for details about the Memorial.”
People can find out more about the history of Erebus, and keep up to date on the project through the Ministry’s website: mch.govt.nz/erebus-memorial