Petone flagpole considered for highest heritage protection
BY SIMON EDWARDS
It has been proposed that the Anzac Memorial Flagpole just south of Petone Railway Station be given the nation's highest heritage recognition.
The 21-metre-high flagpole, soaring above the Jackson St/Hutt Rd intersection, was erected in 1916 in time for the inaugural Anzac Day commemoration on April 25.
It was a project between railway workshop employees at Petone and Hornsby, New South Wales, in honour of their workmates who had fought in the Gallipoli campaign.
In a report outlining why the flagpole deserves a Category 1 listing on the New Zealand Historic Places Trust national register, historian Karen Astwood said the initial unfurling ceremony was the first Anzac Day commemoration attended by a large group of the highest ranked politicians in New Zealand, including then-Prime Minister William Massey.
In front of hundreds of railway workers, their families, and many people who had travelled from Wellington, Mr Massey unfurled the Australian Red Ensign provided by the Hornsby workers on the crossbar of the flagpole, opposite a New Zealand flag made by the Petone Workshops Trimmers Department.
On the same day, in New South Wales, on the new flagpole next to Hornsby railway station, the state governor's daughter unfurled a New Zealand flag.
"Petone's Anzac Memorial Flagpole not only symbolises the immediacy and intensity with which the Petone railway workshops' employees felt they needed to commemorate the loss of colleagues killed at Gallipoli, but its conception was a trans-Tasman initiative designed to be reminiscent, and honouring, of the Anzac spirit," Ms Astwood said in her report.
"As such, the flagpole is a unique place, and one of outstanding national significance."
It has been said that the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps fighting on the beaches of Gallipoli cemented an enduring feeling of "mateship" between the two nations, which is symbolised by the fact the Petone flagpole is made from Australian hardwood and New Zealand kauri.
This is echoed by the fact the two trees closest to the flagpole are a pohutukawa and a gum tree. These trees have grown in such a way that their branches extend out over the platform and touch in the centre.
Ms Astwood said it was one of the few remaining early vestiges of the railway workshops, which played a central role in establishing Petone as an important industrial and manufacturing centre in New Zealand.
The workshops, built in 1877, played a vital role in the Railway Department's contribution to the war effort. Staff there helped maintain existing trains and equipment, manufactured the army's Maxim machine guns, converted carriages for transporting the wounded and made stretchers that soldiers at the Trentham military camp slept on.
Railway staff not only paid for and made the flagpole, but were otherwise "visibily patriotic during the war, with the staff contributing to charitable institutions involved in the war effort, such as the Red Cross, and through other demonstrations like their impromptu parade down Jackson St in May 1915 when news came through of the efforts in the Dardanelles".
In total 37 NZ Railway employees were killed at Gallipoli (447 during both World Wars). The ceremony at Petone in 1916 took on extra poignancy for the local staff when they found out the next day that one of their colleagues, Major Norman Frederick Hastings, had died of wounds sustained during fighting there.
The workshops remained a Petone industrial powerhouse until 1929. With the construction of the Hutt Valley branch line between Petone and Waterloo, new workshops were built at Moera and the 900 employees shifted there. The Petone plant was demolished soon after, making way for the Todd Motors assembly plant.
The focus of Petone Anzac Day ceremonies switched to the Memorial Gardens after a monument was erected there in 1921, but resurgences of ceremonies at the flagpole have happened in the 1960s and since 2000. In 2004 the flagpole underwent a major conservation project. It was taken down for several months and decaying sections were removed or replaced.
People have until February 9 to make submissions on the registration proposal. Further details are at www.historic.org.nz
Petone historian Gerald Davidson says it is great that Petone's Anzac Memorial Flagpole may get official recognition by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The Petone Community Board chairman can claim a hand in this.
Five years ago he gathered details of the flagpole's significance and history, later published in a booklet which included research by Sherril McNabb on the Petone Memorial Gardens.
Ewen McQueen and Mike Mellor, of the Rail Heritage Trust, included his information in a submission on the flagpole to the historic places trust in 2005.
Mr Davidson says a Category 1 listing adds weight to his contention the Petone flagpole site is the perfect place for Anzac centennial celebrations in 2015.
The Tinui Cross in the Wairarapa is recognised as the first Anzac memorial in New Zealand, but its launch was a private ceremony. The Petone flagpole gathering in 1916 was the first public Anzac commemoration, Mr Davidson says. The fact it was attended by the prime minister and Cabinet gives it additional significance, he says.
He argues there are strong reasons why Petone would make a better focus for the centennial commemorations. The Tinui Cross is in a country district and access is over private land.
"It would be ridiculous bringing thousands of people into that remote location."
- Hutt News