Auckland doesn’t have many of the artistic flourishes that other cities have. Those little bursts of colour and quirkiness that soften the concrete edges of a city and are treasured by visitors and locals alike. Khartoum Place is one. Bright tiles, gentle water and shady trees make this a really delightful route through the city from Lorne Street to the Art Gallery, Albert Park and Auckland University.
I go out of my way to walk this route regularly but it is only recently that I started to wonder why this little corner of Auckland shares a name with the capital of Sudan. I discovered that Khartoum Place is linked to the 1885 seige of Khartoum, a skirmish that ironically New Zealand refused to join. In fact, not only would we not take part, but our sympathies were on the side of the Sudanese rebels who the British forces were trying to suppress.
It would be nice to think that Khartoum Place commemorates this moment of New Zealand defiance, but sadly this is not true. Instead, Khartoum Place is named after a somewhat less dramatic event that took place decades later when Lord Kitchener, the British warlord who eventually lifted the siege, was visiting New Zealand just before World War I.
Notwithstanding this historical tidbit, Khartoum means nothing to the average Kiwi but Khartoum Place has another link to history which most certainly does. The mural that covers the walls and steps of Khartoum Place is the centenary celebration of the moment when New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. A proud moment indeed.
The mural – the Suffrage Memorial- is itself a strange thing. The suffragette figures themselves wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Monty Python (who remembers those strange, slightly creepy puppet-like animations?) and the tile art itself is somewhat clumsy but to criticise the quality of the art is to miss the point completely.
Categories: New Zealand