Thursday, April 26, 2012


It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant or appropriate place to observe Anzac Day than the charming little village of Tinui.

It was here, 40 minutes’ drive east of Masterton on the Castlepoint road, that the world's first Anzac Day ceremony was held in 1916, when Anglican vicar the Rev Basil Ashcroft held a service in the tiny Church of the Good Shepherd (still in use) before leading a procession up nearby Mt Maunsell to erect a permanent memorial.

But that’s not the only quality that makes Tinui a special place in which to remember New Zealand’s war dead. The picture-book setting also provides an idyllic backdrop, since the little settlement has been proudly preserved largely as it might have looked 90 years ago.

Tinui was then the centre of a prosperous farming area, and it must be a very long time since it last experienced the sort of crowd that gathered in front of the war memorial hall yesterday. I estimated the number (very roughly) at about 1000, ranging from small children – there were lots of family groups – to gnarled old veterans in blazers and berets.

The service was simple but moving. We stood in brilliant sunshine as local schoolchildren recited the names displayed on the small memorial in front of the hall. Thirty-six locals died in the First World War and 12 in the Second.

It’s hard to imagine the impact these deaths must have had in what was then a remote, sparsely populated area. Among those killed in the 1914-18 war were two lots of three men with the same surnames – cousins if not brothers.

Emily Wellbrock of Tinui led the crowd in the singing of the national anthem, in Maori and English. A chorus of tuis in a clump of kanuka trees across the road obligingly chimed in.

We sang a couple of hymns too, accompanied by Mrs Val Mellish on a piano that had been wheeled out into the sunshine.

Colonel Paul Curry of the Royal New Zealand Engineers delivered a thoughtful speech in which he reminded us that Gallipoli, although not a military victory, was a triumph of valour. He acknowledged that the Turks had made an immense sacrifice too, and pointed out that Gallipoli formed part of the national identities of three countries: Turkey, New Zealand and Australia.

Col Curry went on to quote the Greek general and orator Pericles, who said (and I hope I took this down correctly) that freedom is the possession only of those prepared to defend it.

Several prayers were recited and then, as we stood in silence, we heard the distant rumbling of aircraft engines. Right on cue, three First World War biplanes – I presume they were replicas built by the Vintage Aviator, which is based at Masterton’s Hood aerodrome – appeared over the hills to the south and flew low overhead. I don’t mind admitting that the combination of the glorious autumn morning, the historical significance of the place, the reverence of the crowd – and yes, the tuis too, just to remind us that this was a uniquely New Zealand experience – produced one of those lump-in-the-throat moments.

Afterwards we all trooped into the hall where the local Women’s Institute had produced a classic Kiwi morning tea: club sandwiches, bacon and egg pie, mince savouries, asparagus rolls and (of course) Anzac biscuits. I’m delighted to report that Tinui is a panini-free zone.   

But wait, there’s more. A large number of us then drove or walked the kilometre or so to where a 4WD farm track leads three kilometres up to the summit of Mt Maunsell, 300 metres above Tinui. Many walked the track; others took advantage of the farm quad bikes that were on hand to shuttle pilgrims to and from the top.

It’s a steep climb, and boggy in places, through farmland, pines and regenerating bush to where a cross of jarrah hardwood was erected in 1916 – the first memorial of its type. It stood until 1965, when it was replaced by one made of more permanent materials. Schoolchildren helped erect the new cross by carrying small bags of cement up the track.

The cross, 3.6 metres high and stoutly braced to protect it from the fierce winds that can batter the hilltop, is now officially registered with the Historic Places Trust as a Category 1 historic site. Though the track is on private land and open to the public only on Anzac Day, it’s hoped that it may become a public walkway.

I can see Tinui becoming something of a national institution as the significance of this exquisite little place becomes more widely known. I have mixed feelings about this. The size of the crowd yesterday was about right; anything bigger and the settlement might have been overwhelmed. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Tinui Parish Anzac Trust, which organises the event, will be to ensure it retains its unique ambiance.

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