The TranzAlpine

On a recent trip to New Zealand, we were fortunate to travel on the TranzAlpine. It is one of the world’s most famous train journeys and runs between Christchurch and Greymouth with a stopover in Arthur’s Pass. The journey is 223 kilometres one way and includes nineteen tunnels and four viaducts. There are breathtaking views of a pristine country as you traverse the mighty Southern Alps. The scenery is incredible; fertile farmlands, deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, the wide shingle beds and azure blue of the Waimakariri River and sculptured mountain peaks.

Greymouth is the largest town on the South Island’s west coast located near the mouth of the Grey River. The explorer Thomas Brunner in 1846 named the river after Sir George Grey, who was Governor of New Zealand at the time. Greymouth was a major coal and gold mining centre but with the decline in mining, forestry and fishing became the main industries. Greymouth experiences a high average rainfall of 2875 mm. At times the torrential rain can lead to serious flooding.

When we arrived in Greymouth the sky was overcast but dry. We wandered along the Mawhera Quay looking for somewhere comfortable to sit to eat our lunch. Our search led us to the Miners’ Memorial Monument, unveiled in 2013. The Memorial chronicles the 398 men who lost their lives in coal mining accidents on the West Coast over the past 145 years, including Pike River.

A poem by Margie McAlester addresses the courage and commitment of the miners.

Take a look at these hands, Lord, they’re worn and rough,

My face scarred with coal marks, my language is tough.

But you know in the heart, Lord, lies the soul of a man,

Who toils at a living few men can stand.

Memorials honour the dead. War memorials commemorate the sacrifice of those who have died in the war. The Miners’ Memorial Monument in Greymouth celebrates the men who died working in the mines. It pays tribute to their bravery.

But memorials also have a broader function than remembering the dead. They preserve history, help the grieving process, and educate visitors. It is said that memorials exist at the intersection of memory and history and bond us to our past. 

There is some conjecture about the appropriateness of public memorials to victims of suicide. One of the major concerns is the impact the memorial will have on vulnerable people and whether it will encourage them to see suicide as an option. Any messaging that glamorises suicide must be avoided.

Nonetheless, I would like to think that public memorials to victims of suicide can alert the community to the seriousness of the problem, provide a means to unite people in their grief, educate the public about suicide, and encourage help-seeking.

Although not a permanent public memorial, White Wreath Day on the 29th May each year, is a special day dedicated to increasing awareness of suicide in Australia. White Wreaths are displayed as a memorial, each representing a suicide in the last year.

In Remembrance of All Victims of Suicide 2015

Public memorials allow for connectedness. A connectedness with those we have lost; a connectedness with everyone who shares our grief; a connectedness with all who believe ‘Life is worth the living’.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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