In the midst of my 100 run challenge, this year I decided I would do a ‘remembrance’ run.
Wellington is a great place to be on ANZAC day. There are national events, parades, military personnel ebbing and flowing through the streets, brass instruments in oversized suitcases, wreathes, scouts and guides, suits, medals on the chests of veterans’ children, politicians, reporters and their umbilical television cameras, traffic police marshalling, flags and poppies.
On this day monuments that I walk passed each day, part of my landscape, become the centre of the city’s universe – they have their day in the sun.
Normally I would attend the ANZAC parade or dawn service, but today I feel a tour of duty more appropriate. So my remembrance run starts in the centre of town. It’s a beautiful Wellington day.
First I take in the National War Memorial which is on Buckle Street. Dedicated in 1932 it houses the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and is notable for its Carillon. It stands on the hill, visible across the city and from the harbour. When I get there preparations are underway for a mid-morning service. Uniformed personnel go through ceremony rehearsals, news crews check angles and both the New Zealand and Australian flags stand to attention in the breeze.
100 metres away, on the corner of Taranaki and Buckle Streets, are naval barracks. It’s where I have my first glimpse of the camaraderie of the forces – guys and girls mulling about adjusting hats, smiling.
The streets are quiet today, several blocked to traffic, perfect for reflective running.
Next stop is along the waterfront to Queens Wharf where the Australian frigate HMAS Perth blocks the morning light. It’s the only real Australian presence that I see all day.
As I run I think about Australians and New Zealanders, our similarities and differences.
My impression is that Australia sees New Zealand as part of the family – imagine Western Australia and South Australia as good mates or brothers then New Zealand is a cool cousin – you enjoy hanging out, they’re in the family, you just don’t see them that often.
New Zealand on the other hand views Australia differently. We are more inclined to look at Australia as a whole and it’s hard to ignore the gravity of such a big landmass over your shoulder. Our media, news, soap operas, even reality television feature Australian content. I wonder how much New Zealand content there is in the Australian media.
(I am a fan of TVNZ 7 and despair to think of the cheap imported television that will remain once the channel ends mid-year.)
I must say at this point I have a problem with our current political aspirations to be like Australia. I think New Zealanders have different values. For me the essence of being a New Zealander involves our relationship with our unique natural environment, our cultural heritage, our egalitarian spirit (somewhat fading), our ability to show the world how it’s done and all done with humility and a smile. As much as I enjoy my Australian friends and travelling in Australia I aspire to be a New Zealander. I wish for both countries to prosper because of their uniqueness.
The Cenotaph is the next stop. Next to parliament this is where dawn service has recently concluded. I walk into the chamber beneath the cenotaph and share a moment’s silence with a list of soldiers long departed.
From parliament’s grounds to the front of St Pauls where servicemen, dignitaries, children and their parents gather for a memorial service, I stop for a moment and take in the scene. Next on my list is the British High Commission then up the road to Premier House (The Prime Minister’s Wellington residence as opposed to his Hawaiian one).
From here a climb takes me to the top of Tinakori Hill now known as Te Ahumairangi Hill. This climb is really steep and I have to stop reflecting, and concentrate more on breathing. On top of the hill were situated four large guns, part of a ring of hilltop guns protecting Wellington Harbour from the Japanese in the WW2. At one point there was accommodation for 150 men at this site. It’s now greenbelt frequented by joggers, dog walkers and the wind. The views are expansive and stunning taking in several of the other hilltop gun sites.
It’s hard to imagine the Japanese travelling this far south. But my understanding is that there were a couple of aeroplanes sighted and that Japanese magnetic mines were laid in the harbour entrance. A degaussing station was established on Matiu-Somes Island to change the magnetic polarity of the hulls of ships so they could pass the mine field safely.
Looking over Matiu-Somes Island it’s also hard to imagine that we incarcerated Japanese, Italian, German and other nationals with foreign sounding surnames on the island during the Second World War years. What a bleak place and time.
My return to the CBD takes me through the botanic gardens and into the Bolton Street Cemetery where prominent Wellington pioneers and communities are interred. Cemeteries are great places for reflection – so many stories. New Zealand is relatively young (and so too its cemeteries) but I can see that in 50 years, when most of the names and stories have faded from view, these places will remain peaceful enclaves. Like the old London cemeteries which have evolved into green-spaces – natural oases.
My run has taken 2 hours – enough reflection for one day I think. How lucky we are to live in a safe and peaceful place.