Poet rests in peace

16:00, Feb 06 2014
Wynne Davis
TRIBUTE: Friends and family of poet ARD Fairburn pictured at his relocated grave in Albany this month.

Late poet Arthur Rex Dugard Fairburn lies in a new grave at the Albany Cemetery after being disinterred from his original resting place as part of a motorway widening plan.

His remains, along with those of his mother Teresa, would not have been disturbed by the roadworks but lay within 1.6 metres of the expanded highway.

Family members objected to the close proximity of the project and were pleased when Auckland Transport came up with a plan to shift the pair 25 metres away to somewhere a little quieter.

Relatives and friends gathered at the new site on February 1 to pay tribute to a man many regard as a literary great - 57 years after his death. Writer C K Stead was a student when Fairburn was in his prime and remembers an articulate poet who could swim to the city from his home in Devonport.

"He was a very fluent natural poet, an interesting essayist and also quite a controversial figure who liked to make very challenging statements about this and that," he says.

Fairburn's life was cut short by cancer when he was 53 and he originally lay in an unmarked grave.


His late brother, writer and historian Thayer Fairburn, once said the father of three died with very little to his name and a plot at the small Albany Cemetery was all his family could afford.

Friends later pooled resources to buy a large memorial stone which was transported from a quarry in Warkworth and placed on top of the grave with the poet's initials, surname and the years of his birth and death.

Harold Innes, a prominent businessman and long-time supporter of the arts who died in 1985, was among those involved with the project after getting permission from Fairburn's widow Jocelyn.

"Rex would have hated the idea of a tombstone," he told media of the day. "But his friends think it is wrong that the grave should go unmarked."

This month's disinterment also had the blessing of family.

"We are quite happy now," daughter Dinah Holman says. "It is a very nice part of the cemetery they have been moved to. It is under a tree and on a nice embankment. You can even see the top of the Albany Stadium which would make Rex very happy because he was very fond of rugby."

Auckland Transport spokesman Mark Hannan says the families of two other people buried near the original Fairburn grave were also offered the option of disinterment but declined. Neither plot will be disturbed by the earthworks.

Mr Hannan says the remains of stillborn babies from two other graves lying in the path of the motorway were relocated last winter.

"Just one member of one of the original families was able to be contacted and they were comfortable with the decision," he says.

One of the graves dated back to the 1880s.

The Fairburn grave was included in a heritage walk established at the cemetery several years ago and is frequently visited by students of literature from Massey University.

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