OPINION: Here in the south we're not known for erecting memorials to our civic leaders, certainly not while they're still in office, and we probably don't celebrate our achievements as much as we should.
So when the Invercargill City Council reaches into its furnishings and fittings budget and finds a spare $7000 to buy a striking painting of long-serving Mayor Tim Shadbolt, we say fair play.
There's nothing too controversial here. It's a good painting. The Southland Times lays no claim to the lofty realms of art criticism, but Cromwell painter Deidre Copeland's piece, entitled Seriously Tim, captures two of Mr Shadbolt's best-known public faces well - the affable grin and the thoughtful repose with the twinkle in the eyes.
At $7000 it's not a steal but it seems a fair price for such a significant portrait. And an undisclosed chunk of that money is going to the Southland SPCA, so why quibble?
No doubt there will be those who see it as an unnecessary expense when the money would otherwise be invested in lightbulbs and door knobs, but let's have some perspective: who could put a value on the publicity and high profile Mr Shadbolt has brought to his adopted city since he moved south in 1993?
Back then his arrival was like a burst of colour in a sea of grey. National media hung on his many words and Mayor Tim never wasted an opportunity to sing Invercargill's praises.
Out of necessity, the city dared to change during the Shadbolt era. A decade or so ago Invercargill's population was moving out en masse and the future looked grim. It took some radical thinking to turn it around and if there's one thing everyone can agree on about Tim Shadbolt it's that he is a radical thinker.
The innovative Southern Institute of Technology was the major driver in reversing the exodus. The unprecedented, prolonged and unlikely-to-be-repeated success of the Southern Sting netball team coincided with this new era of optimism. Mr Shadbolt cannot claim credit for either of those happy events, but he will always be inextricably linked with both. Buoyed by his unwavering enthusiasm, energy and wit, major social and economic change was achieved and Southland's profile was elevated to the point of envy from other provinces.
Mr Shadbolt's instincts for left-field pet projects raised eyebrows at times, but he was way ahead of the pack when he recognised the potential life-saving qualities contained in the cells of Auckland Island pigs.
His gift of the gab and boundless personality have made him a national media celebrity, highly sought after raconteur, TV ballroom dancing show contestant, comedian and, briefly, Guinness world record holder for the longest on-air television interview at 26 hours straight, every moment of it pure publicity gold for Invercargill.
The past 18 years and counting of Mr Shadbolt's mayoralty have been eventful, colourful, sometimes surprising, always entertaining and, commendably, never dull, and it is premature for anyone to start writing his political obituary. It is not too soon, however, to reflect on the enormous contribution he has made to the city he chose to represent.
The painting that will hang in the stairwell of the civic administration building is just one small way to mark Mr Shadbolt's legacy. Coming just a week after the announcement that he will have a grandstand named after him at the new Stadium Southland, it appears his chapter in Invercargill's story is being written on his watch.
That's fairly radical thinking for Invercargill. Must be rubbing off.
- The Southland Times
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