The Peo­ple of the Sea

Auckland needs a ma­rine mu­seum and here's why, writes Si­mon Wil­son

Weekend Herald - - News -

The fash­ion in city build­ing is for small and steady. Keep rolling out the lit­tle changes and they'll turn into big­ger ones. Do learn do. Fail of­ten and fail fast, and each time do it bet­ter. Fail for­ward. Peo­ple prob­a­bly get paid to dream up these slo­gans.

Do­ing lots of lit­tle things gets you lots of lit­tle progress: more fre­quent pub­lic trans­port, shared spa­ces, cy­cle lanes, pop-ups, events, food stalls, com­mer­cial life, an in­cre­men­tally bet­ter city. All good. You look around in 10 years and the city is dif­fer­ent.

But it isn't as­ton­ish­ing. Small and steady in­vites you to think good enough, not great. It closes down the dream that one day our city might do what Paris did with the Eif­fel Tower, and Syd­ney with the Opera House, and Bil­bao with the Guggen­heim Mu­seum.

Be­come a won­der­ful ver­sion of it­self, for vis­i­tors to marvel at and, even more, for lo­cals to love. So what about it? Time for the One Big Thing?

Why don't we build our­selves a mag­nif­i­cent Mu­seum of the Sea?

Out on the head­land of the Tank Farm, which we're now sup­posed to call Wyn­yard Point. De­voted to mi­gra­tion sto­ries and our re­la­tion­ship to the sea, with col­lec­tions from the Auckland Mu­seum, the Mar­itime Mu­seum and ev­ery other source. The ne­go­ti­a­tions would be tricky but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

A place that reaches from myths and deep his­tory into the fu­ture, pre­sented with cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy to of­fer vis­i­tors thrillingly im­mer­sive vir­tual ex­pe­ri­ences.

You could nav­i­gate un­der the starry heav­ens from Hawaiki. Pitch and yaw on an Amer­ica's Cup yacht. Swim with whales. Be a mid­ship­man on Cook's En­deav­our, a war­rior on a waka, a sea­man on the re­frig­er­a­tion ships of the 1880s, and they'd keep ad­ding more: an im­mi­grant on an ocean liner, a fish­er­man on a trawler, a sailor on a Navy frigate, an ad­ven­turer on the South­ern Ocean, a sci­en­tist at the bot­tom of the sea.

Also real ex­pe­ri­ences. You could sail an Op­ti­mist, gather kaimoana for a bar­be­cue, surf an end­less wave, be­come a ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist for the af­ter­noon and ex­plore the rocky shore.

I've got a name for it, al­though it's not my place to give it a name. Tan­gata Moana. The Peo­ple of the Sea.

Tan­gata Moana would be a tri­umph of en­ter­tain­ment and ed­u­ca­tion, a show­case for the rich­ness of our cul­tures, our coast­line and the ocean depths be­yond. A show­case also for an open-minded peo­ple with open-hearted skills as tech­no­log­i­cal and so­cial lead­ers, de­ter­mined to em­brace the fu­ture. That would be us.

A re­ally big place, with in-wa­ter and on-land ex­pe­ri­ences. A trea­sure trove of knowl­edge, with kauma¯tua of all kinds and sto­ry­tellers too, ready to share.

It would change and keep chang­ing. Its very fa­cade would as­ton­ish us. Per­haps it would look like a cube of wa­ter, or a cor­nu­copia of seal­ife. Or maybe it would be a boat. Or a hei matau, a bone or pounamu fish­hook? I don't know, it would be de­signed by some wizards of ar­chi­tec­ture and cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy, not by me.

It would be the best of us. We would love go­ing there and go­ing back again and so would ev­ery vis­i­tor. This would be the thing we of­fered the world that only we could of­fer the world.

It would be the thing we of­fered each other, too, all of us, the multi splen­did­ness of us. And it would be an ex­pres­sion of the treaty part­ner­ship, a liv­ing build­ing that hon­ours Mãori and Pãkehã and ex­plores what we mean when we say we are proud to be us.

There are lots of rea­sons to do this. The fu­ture of the wa­ter­front can't be just restau­rants, play­grounds and apart­ments. It also needs some­thing with weight and heft.

Some­thing that helps le­git­imise the sense of im­por­tance we feel about place, and draws crowds, be­cause mu­se­ums bring peo­ple. And that uses the great lo­ca­tion on the Waitem­ata¯ to help us ex­plore our own his­tory and own evolv­ing cul­ture. Which we're not all that good at do­ing.

Think­ing even big­ger yet? It could be more than one thing: a pair of won­der-venues, this one on the Tank Farm and the other, a sta­dium, on the land that will one day not have car im­ports or even con­tain­ers on it. Seen from the wa­ter, twin mon­u­ments fram­ing the city. Why think big when you can think big­ger?

Or, maybe, there are good ar­gu­ments for this: put it on the Manukau?

To ac­knowl­edge the cen­tral im­por­tance to our story of the peo­ple who live on that har­bour. How rare it is that we of­fer the South the chance to play a cen­tral role in the life of Tã­maki Makau­rau.

I don't have a fixed view on that, Waitem­ata¯ or Manukau. But I do want it built.

This would be our Syd­ney Opera House, but more so. Our Eif­fel Tower, but much more so. It would claim ca­reers and ruin politi­cians and swal­low for­tunes and be much, much harder than any­one brave enough to take it on ever thought. And it would be to­tally worth do­ing.

It could take 50 years, al­though I re­ally hope not. The peo­ple who start it will die be­fore it's fin­ished. That's not a rea­son not to do it. It's a rea­son to get started sooner. Think of it as plant­ing the tree of our cultural life.

Tan­gata Moana. Be­cause we are the peo­ple of the sea and this is our story.

Wyn­yard Quar­ter, aka the Tank Farm, could be the site of our great­est tri­umph.

An artist's im­pres­sion of the pro­posed Auckland Wa­ter­front sunken sta­dium.

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