above: The memorial in the town of Arras, France, to men from the New Zealand Tunnelling Company.

below: The Tunnelling Company memorial in Givenchy, France.

above: A plaque honouring Australian Tunnellers at the Army Museum of North Queensland in Townsville, Australia.

below: A memorial to coalminers in Greymouth, New Zealand unveiled in 2013.

A Memorial to the New Zealand Tunnelling Company

Why a Tunnelling Company Memorial?

The New Zealand Tunnelling Company existed only during World War One. It is unique in our country's military history.

On the Western Front they were:

  • First On.
  • Last Off.
  • the first unit to record a death.
  • drawn from thoroughout New Zealand to serve overseas.
  • given a unique role in the story of tunnelling.
  • responsible for erecting the longest self-supporting single span bridge.

When the Tunnellers came home they were largely forgotten. They received no big parades or large civic receptions.They returned to their home towns and their everyday jobs.Their skills were urgently needed, and many returned to the jobs throughout the country that they had left at the beginning of the war. Unlike many Companies which have memorials or plaques, or are remembered in some way in the district they came from, in its own country, the New Zealand Tunnelling Company had nothing.

Waihi and the Hauraki Goldfields has a large number of Tunnelling Company enlistments. We like to call Waihi the 'Home of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company', and given the town's long and continued association with mining, we think it's the right place to erect a Tunnelling Company Memorial, not just for Waihi, but for New Zealand.

Memorials provide a tangible and immediate focal point for a sense of national identity, as sites for commemoration and remembrance of those who served in times of war, and for the recognition of the relationships New Zealand has forged with other countries through a shared military heritage. The New Zealand Tunnelling Company memorial highlights our rich mining heritage and the contribution of miners as well as all Tunnelling Company enlistments to the First World War effort.

We worked with Hauraki District Council, Waihi Gold, Waihi Heritage Vision and other interested parties to identify a suitable location and an appropriate memorial design. Significant funding was received from the Lotteries Commission WW1 Commemorations Fund. We also received funding from a range of charitable trusts. Businesses contributed money and in kind goods and services.We received funding from the Valder Trust, First Sovereign Trust, Veterans’ Affairs, IPENZ, Opus, and in kind assistance from BGH Group and Hauraki District Council.

The memorial was designed by Nicholas Brumder at Waihi Metal Studio.The primary design theme is a T shaped 7.5 metre structure designed to integrate with the natural surroundings and seating included in the Miners Reflective Area. The memorial uses quality materials and fixtures designed to suit the location both aesthetically and in terms of durability. Materials, surfaces and finishes were selected to discourage graffiti and to minimise ongoing cleaning and maintenance costs.

The memorial finish is a graphite spray over etch-primed galvanizing which has a very natural colour and is slippery to hinder climbing. The graphite is a very persistent finish over galvanizing. This is further coloured with earth pigments applied to highlight the forms and give warm earth tones like the natural stone to be used around the platform.

The memorial is situated on a slight rise next to a grove of trees at Gilmour Lake in Waihi. It is within the site lines of the George Street entrance and commands a view over the Miners' Reflective Area. The memorial height complements Union Hill and Black Hill which form a natural background. When approaching from the main Gilmour Lake entrance, the pathway borders the trees behind which the memorial is revealed. An avenue of 29 plaques and kowhai trees dedicated to the Pike River miners leads from the George Street entrance of the park to the memorial.

The 29 kowhais are a reminder of the recent Pike River mine disaster. The Miners' Reflective Area seating is recognition of the over 130 years of mining history the Waihi region and Hauraki Goldfields share, while the Tunnelling Company memorial reminds us of those miners, engineers, quarrymen and more who used their skills in times of war.

These three items - the avenue of kowhais, the Miners' Reflective Area seating and the Tunnelling Company memorial each inform, complement and support each other.