Otago Daily Times
Devil in the detail when plaquing for posterity
THERE’S a plaque plague about. Maniototo is awash with commemorative plaques. It’s a well established tradition and one more has just been unveiled.
Famously, Ranfurly already has a plaque dedicated to Krum, the deceased library cat. Of course, plaques are a fine way of honouring people and recording the exact details of events and they should be encouraged. At Naseby a plaque will point you to the spot where gold was first discovered by William and Richard Parker on May 20, 1863. The longgone hotel and post office at Eweburn have their story told on a plaque, while a Ranfurly plaque and statue commemorate early surveyor John Turnbull Thomson. At Waipiata, plaques under a tree near the site of the old railway station mark the contribution of a pioneering family and there are dozens of others all around the district.
The grandest plaque of all is at the Hamiltons cemetery where the names of all those buried there are to be found. High on a hill, the cemetery offers probably the finest panorama of Maniototo, a view wasted on the inhabitants of the graveyard, but the detail on the plaque gives a potted history of the pioneer days.
The name, age and year of death provide a handy historical index and will lead you to find out more. There are tragedies and triumphs. Read there the name of mail carrier Edward Barber who was killed in an accident in 1871 while taking letters to Linnburn Station and left behind a widow who became an honoured publican at Hamiltons, and of John French who was an early contributor to the famous Puketoi Station diaries.
Even a tiny settlement like Patearoa is plaque minded. You may remember a column a year or two back which told of plans for a Patearoa Writers’ Walk with plaques like those in the Octagon but a lack of local writers of any ability stymied that idea. But, all the same, we are doing well.
A golfing stalwart is honoured with a plaque near a tee at the golf club and at the hall a plaque honours the poetry of David McKee Wright, another is dedicated to the jubilee of the school and cricket club. Nearby, the bowling club honours its generous benefactors.
Prime Minister David Lange’s opening of the irrigation scheme is remembered with a plaque on the exact spot where the water flows through the township. No event goes unnoticed and when the pub turned a hundred in 1986, the publicans erected a plaque under a nearby tree to mark the occasion.
No wonder, then, that when another important community anniversary rolled around recently it was easy to decide on how to commemorate it. The tiny Patearoa Library chalked up 125 years this month and such a milestone cried out for a plaque. But plaques aren’t cheap, so the wording had to be minimal. (The imagination boggles at the thought of the vast sum which needed to be raised for the giant plaque at Hamilton’s cemetery).
A meeting was called, and the township’s great literary minds got down to it. One insisted that her favourite quote about reading should be included. It goes something like, ‘‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.’’ We all agreed with the sentiment, of course, but the treasurer pointed out that using all those words would be expensive and probably leave little cash for the aftermatch function. ‘‘We read to know we are not alone,’’ suggested the secretary, noting it was only eight words. We thought that a bit pretentious so decided to keep it simple and ‘‘Patearoa Library 125 years 1895 2020’’ was decided on.
When the plaque came back, we were delighted until an eagleeyed committee member let out a gasp. The plaque read ‘‘Patearoa Library 125 years 1995 2020’’ and the unveiling only days away!
I delivered my usual lecture about the need for careful proof reading, emphasising the necessity of having at least one woman on the proofing panel. (It was the razorsharp mind of the assistant librarian’s wife which had picked up the error).
The corrected plaque arrived just in time for the dignified dedication ceremony last Saturday morning and there was even a history of the library to be launched, cunningly called The Library Book. Free morning tea was turned on and the funds might just cover a few drinks at the pub when it reopens shortly.
In fact, the pub will be 135 next year. Just time to organise a plaque.