The W(h)anganui River

“The Wanganui River.”  Oil on canvas. 22×28”


This is the Wanganui River. I realise in their apparent wisdom the powers that be who reside in Wellington have decreed that the river and city must be spelled with a “h”. Bless them. The historical fact is that in the 19th century the missionaries who first wrote the Maori language using the English alphabet were punctilious in spelling the local pronunciation correctly. All the local people at the time agreed that however other tribes in other areas pronounced Wanganui (as whanganui) here in their own area, speaking about their own river it was pronounced Wanganui, without the “h”.

I can see the academic’s point, in that they are attempting to produce a national standard orthography and spelling. Even so, in historical terms, it was pronounced without the “h” and was written as such for well over 150 years. That is the city I was born in, and this is the river we played and swam in our youth. This particular view is just South of Opokongaro, about 15km up from the city. It is where we used to have our bible class picnics.

If you look at the bank on the left side of the painting you will see a small headland part way up. Behind this is a little beach called Sandy Hook. The river boats used to call in and tie up in the pre war years for passengers and freight. They were long gone by the time we would bike over on summer afternoons for picnics and swimming. There was a rope hanging from a huge tree where we would swing out and drop into the river. That is my history, and my river.

Good times.