The most preposterous aspect of the W(h)anganui wrangle was the contentiously composed Geographic Board’s ruling that Wanganui doesn’t exist. Not officially.
Or rather (more ominously) it does not exist officially under the board’s legislation.
In other words, as Alf observed at the time, Wanganui was illegitimate.
The board set about legitimising things by putting in the “h” as demanded by local Maori.
Geographic Board chairman Don Grant was quoted as saying:
”Wanganui, the name given to the town to reflect its position near the mouth of the Whanganui river, was spelt incorrectly and has never been formally gazetted by this Board or its predecessors.
”It is therefore not currently an official New Zealand place name.”
Alf commented at that time that this meant dozens of other towns, cities, mountains and what-have-you similarly might not have official names.
The bloody board could be doing a brisk business for the next several years, giving all sorts of places new names with an “h”.
Well – almost bingo.
Customary use of the names “North Island” and “South Island” over the past century or so have been sorted out for a makeover.
The board has pronounced them “unofficial” names (even they do have an “h” in them as cartoonist Rod Emmerson observes in the Herald today).
The North and South Islands are about to be officially christened after the New Zealand Geographic Board discovered they had no formal names.
The board said it would consult the public and iwi on what each island should officially be called.
For several years the board had been investigating Maori names for the islands and exploring a process for formally recognising alternative Maori names for each island.
And here comes the board chairman again:
“While researching this issue, we noted that ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ are actually not official names under our legislation, despite their common long-term usage.
“We therefore want to formalise alternative Maori names and, at the same time, make the naming of the North and South Islands official.”
Alternative naming means that either the established English names or the Maori names could be used individually or together.
It seems this differs from dual naming where both names were used together in official documents, such as maps.
The alternative names would allow the board to recognise the historical and cultural importance of traditional Maori names, while still retaining the long-term and commonly used English names, Dr Grant said.
One other thing.
The Geographic Board is chaired by the Surveyor-General (a statutory officer within Land Information New Zealand). So far, so good.
But nine other members are appointed under the New Zealand Geographic Board (Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa) Act 2008, nominated or recommended by a very select group: Federated Mountain Clubs, New Zealand Geographical Society, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Minister of Māori Affairs, Minister for Land Information, Local Goverment New Zealand.
Just why mountaineers or Ngai Tahu should be represented on a board to decide our place names – and from which most other groups are excluded – has Alf gob-smacked.