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Proposed Beyer sculpture a bust?

Carterton’s deputy mayor is “disappointed” and “disgusted” at the response to a proposal to erect a memorial sculpture of the late Georgina Beyer.

“I’m just really disappointed at how some people have expressed their views by tearing apart a deceased person and their character when they can’t defend themselves,” Carterton’s Deputy Mayor Dale Williams said.

Beyer, who died last year, was elected mayor of Carterton in 1995, making her the world’s first openly transgender mayor.

Williams said he is “disgusted” by the comments his council has received regarding a proposal to erect a life-sized bronze statue of Beyer.

Carterton councillors met on Wednesday to discuss the proposal, but decided to seek public feedback on the idea and potential location before supporting the project further.

The sculpture would be externally funded and has been endorsed by the executors of Beyer’s estate. The estimated price to complete the sculpture is between $300,000 and $500k.

In 1999, Beyer went on to become the world’s first transgender Member of Parliament, serving as an MP until 2007, and was celebrated for her courage, sharp humour, and fierce advocacy of the communities she represented.

Williams said he is “incredibly disappointed” in some of the discussions in the Carterton community about the project and at “how the conversation deteriorated from a discussion around a memorial or public monument into Georgina’s character, sexuality, politics, all of that”.

“As a human being, I have been disgusted at some of the comments that the council has received and people have said.”

Williams did, however, acknowledge concerns from the community that now is not the time to be discussing the project.

“It’s absolutely clear, separating the principle and the person … the two things that have come forward is that it’s controversial and it’s a distraction.

“Most people are grappling with [the] Long-Term Plan [LTP], with life, with a whole lot of things, and I guess for me … I don’t have a strong opinion ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but I believe not now.”

Williams said the proposal be discussed once the council has completed its LTP process and representation review.

“I believe we can have a responsible and respectful conversation around this particular topic and do fair justice to the person involved”.

Mayor Ron Mark said he has received some emails regarding the proposed memorial sculpture. “I always remind myself that communities have their top 1 per cent and they have their bottom one per cent,” Mark said.

“Knowing Georgina, as a parliamentary colleague and a friend, she’d be laughing right now because she has always been controversial.

“Anything you do – naming a street, putting a little brass plaque down, or putting a memorial up – is going to be controversial because that is the nature of Georgina’s life.

“Georgie was a controversial mayor, a controversial parliamentarian, but one thing she certainly did was put Carterton on the map.

“If we can’t recognise someone who has performed on the international stage, who are we ever going to recognise?”

Many of the online comments regarding the project were focused on the cost and impact on other fundraising initiatives in the district, or the desire to erect a memorial of other mayors who contributed to the town.

Councillors resolved to “seek public feedback on the development of a Georgina Beyer memorial sculpture and location subject to external funding before the end of the calendar year”. – NZLDR

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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