A farmer's best friend

Past Times

Last updated 11:18 14/07/2009
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JOHN BISSET/Timaru Herald

The inscription on this monument's plaque reads: This monument was erected by the runholders of the Mackenzie County and those who also appreciate the value of the collie dog, without the help of which the grazing of the mountain country would be impossible. Unveiled on March 7, 1968, by Sir Arthur Espie Porritt, BT, GCMG, KCVO, CBE, Governor-General of New Zealand. ``Beannachdan air na cu caorach.''

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Tekapo's monument to the working dog has been photographed innumerable times, and with the advent of digital cameras and the internet, its image has gone global, more than meeting the hopes of those who attended the official unveiling in 1968.

MARCH 8, 1968 - New Zealand's sheep dogs, particularly the hard-working ones in the rugged Mackenzie Country, had become invaluable, and man owed them a great deal, said then governor-general, Sir Arthur Porritt, before unveiling a bronze statute of a collie at Lake Tekapo yesterday.

"It was Charles Kingsley who said, `Every dog must have his day' and it seems to me that this is the day," said Sir Arthur.

"I think the whole idea of this memorial is delightful ... there is something magnificent and mystical about it. And it is wonderful to think it was conceived in this district. There is a local atmosphere about it all. One can see the site is perfect almost alongside the Church of the Good Shepherd."

Sir Arthur, on behalf of Lady Porritt and Miss Porritt, thanked the residents of the Mackenzie Country for their wonderful hospitality and the warmth of their welcome.

Hopes were expressed by many of the 300 present that the native setting of the memorial would be preserved. The knoll on which it stands is covered with matagouri and spear grass. The statue is mounted on a huge greywacke boulder and the base consists of rocks and stones taken from the Jollie River.

Extending a welcome on behalf of Mackenzie Country residents, the chairman of the Mackenzie County Council, HW Fisher, acquainted Sir Arthur of the vastness of the Tekapo riding, which covered 2000 square miles (almost 518,000 hectares) and is one of the largest of any New Zealand county ridings.

RLG Talbot, MP for the district, said the Mackenzie was an area steeped in the history of pastoral farming.

"Even during your term as governor-general you are destined to see many changes in the Mackenzie. Science and modern technology will play a vital part, but the shepherd's friend and servant, the sheep dog, will remain to muster the profits of pastoral progress," said Mr Talbot.

AT Murray (chairman of the Mackenzie branch of Federated Farmers) outlined the history leading to the erection of the statue. The sculptress, Innis Elliott, was among the official party.

"Throughout the history of the high country we have seen the bullock teams replaced by horses, in turn replaced by motor vehicles, and station hacks, to an extent, by four-wheel-drive vehicles," said Mr Murray. "But the collie dog has and always will be with us."

Before asking Sir Arthur to perform the unveiling, Mr Murray read the last Gaelic line on the bronze plaque: "Beannachdan air na cu caorach" Blessings on the sheep dog.

A smile creased the face of Sir Arthur at the Fairlie reception when Mr Fisher addressed these remarks to him: "With your great interest in athletics, I am sure it will be of interest to you that the late Dr Jack Lovelock, one of New Zealand's first great milers, lived in Taylor St, Fairlie, with his mother and sister, Olive. His father was buried in the Fairlie Cemetery in 1922.

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"Amongst those we can justly lay claim to for their fame and development, and I stress the word development, could be Jack Lovelock, Sir Edmund Hillary, who has climbed extensively in our mountains, and Jock Mackenzie, the sheep stealer. They all improved their techniques in our wide-open spaces."

Sir Arthur quickly acknowledged Jack Lovelock as a "close friend throughout". He knew him at Oxford University, watched all his running, "looked after him" at the Berlin Olympic Games, found him a position as a medical student in a London hospital, and later helped him find jobs in London and New York hospitals.

"As a matter of fact," said Sir Arthur, "Dr Lovelock's eldest daughter is my god-daughter. It is quite a thrill for me to visit the town where he spent his early years."

Mr Talbot said the vice-regal visit had been a memorable day in the history of Fairlie and the Mackenzie Country.

It would be necessary for Sir Arthur to return many times to witness all the beauty and development of "this important area".

Before and after the official ceremony the Mackenzie Highland Pipe Band played selections.


MARCH 23, 1968 Tekapo Dog Memorial by DMC Burnett.

In the Mackenzie Country we felt that by building the Tekapo dog monument we were paying our respects to loyal servants and in many cases gallant ones. Happily, too, it was felt this would add ornament and interest to the amenities of this increasingly attractive settlement, hence our care in choosing this site.

Of all the art forms, bronze sculpture is relatively unique by reason of its complicated fabrication, its cost and the comparatively few craftsmen capable of making high-class castings. It is essentially European and we owe much for its origin to the ancient Greeks who evolved the simple art forms of the Phoenicians and ancient Egyptians (relics of which are graphically displayed in the museum at Beirut in the Lebanon) to the near perfection of classical sculpture to be seen in the city museum in Athens. This culminated in the wonderful bronze Charioteer and the Athlete which over 2000 years ago caught the rippling muscles, the ideal figures and latent strength of the perfect human physique.

Although we think of this as a young country, we inherited the European tradition as a going concern (for example Samuel Butler's writings of 100 years ago) and so it is a matter for regret, and perhaps lack of finance, too, that we have so few examples of this form of art in this country. Of the unusual ones there is Tania of the Reef gracing the Napier marine parade.

Travellers from the Old World will surely pass the Tekapo dog monument travellers familiar with the special sculptures which are particularly associated with each city.

London has among its ever so many bronzes Eros performing his endless task above the mostly unheeding thousands. Kensington Gardens has its attractive Peter Pan. The famous bronze mermaid sitting on the rock outside Copenhagen entices seafarers into the haven.

The unusual animal studies in bronze in the Tuileries Gardens by the Louvre showing the eternal battle for survival in the kingdom of beasts make Paris especially remembered.

Thence to Berlin where its pre-war glories included the bronze groups of figures of Grimms' Fairy Tales still delighting the children of East Berlin. Then to the wonderful complex which once made the four-mile long Unter den Linden world famous. It was almost destroyed in World War II and is now replanted and the statuary is being replaced.

Innsbruck, Austria, in its mountain setting has its well-known collection of bronze statues of kings and leaders in the Hofkirche, and also the very striking bronze statue of the Tyrolean patriot and guerrilla fighter, Andreas Hofer, who defied the tyranny of France and now stands sturdily on his old battlefield on the verge of the forest of Berg Isel not far from a museum containing relics of the famous Tyrolean Kaiserjaeger Regiment.

Also close by is the big 90 metres Olympic ski jump, the scene four years ago of the ceremonial opening of the Olympic winter sports and battleground of 20th-century heroes.

Off now to the three lovely cities which were the centre of grace and elegance in the golden years of the Austro-Hungarian empire, to Prague with the sculptured Karlsbrucke spanning the slow-flowing Moldau made known in Smetana's Vitava music, and then the great bronze equestrian of King Wenceslas who has left us one of our loveliest Christmas carols and which sits surveying the wide tree-lined boulevard of the same name.

On to Budapest with its troubled history as well as its gaiety expressing itself touchingly in its lovely bronze and marble tributes to military and political leaders down the years. These are found in several city galleries besides Parliament buildings and down the banks of the Danube to the spectacular decorated Lanchia Bridge joining the hilly city of Buda, once a Stone Age settlement, to Pest on the Hungarian plain.

Returning to the third charming city in the Danube basin, Vienna, there are the remains still of Roman Vindobona and the aura of the Emperor Franz Josef still lingers on in Schonbrunn Palace, entered under the cold stare of two high-perched bronze eagles.

Within minutes of the Opernring and Staatsoper, the city centre we enter the lovely parks of the Volksgarten, the Burggarten and the Maria Theresien Platz with the majestic bronze statue to the Empress Maria Therese and another to Mozart standing in almost sylvan surroundings.

The empress, an able woman, imported some of the first merino sheep exported from Spain and established a prosperous flock at Meropail in Hungary, some stock from which eventually reached Australia. We leave regretfully as the zither strains of the Cafe Mozart waltz sound sweetly in a Heurigen.

We can be sure that travellers familiar with all these and more will not pass the Tekapo Dog without a second or a third look.

We would like to think this monument is dedicated to the good and faithful dogs who give of their best in burning heat and frozen snow, even sometimes with paws bleeding; but not to the ones who "button up their coats" as soon as the going is hard.

It is most appropriate that Sir Arthur Porritt, a man of action and familiar with Olympic athletics, should perform the symbolic act of unveiling the statue because similarly the men who fed, trained and handled these collie dogs on the hill were not a faint-hearted type, but tanned and fit, hard and contemptuous of summer heat and winter's icy blasts and believe me they can be icy!

Here's to the brave past, to the problems of the present and the hope with which we face the future, which is built not only on the past but on our attitude to the present. In spite of the possibility of troubled times may the mosses and lichens grow on this monument undisturbed in the words of the song "Memories Are Made Of This". So in the language of the first Highland shepherds: "Beannachd leibh." "Slainte!"

- South Canterbury

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