Postcard from a sister city

Deputy Mayor Liz Stolwyk is in France as part of a Waipā delegation attending the opening of the New Zealand Liberation Museum. She filed this column from Le Quesnoy for readers of The News.

Liz Stolwyk and son Curtis Reymer.

It is difficult for me to articulate why the story of Le Quesnoy has grown more important to me every year since we established our Sister City relationship with the town in 2000.

Probably the words Lest we Forget provide the best explanation. And now here I am in Le Quesnoy for the opening of Te Arawhata – the New Zealand Liberation Museum – with my oldest son Curtis, 18.

I guess I am one of the lucky ones – I haven’t had to sacrifice much in my lifetime. I have enjoyed a stable country and good healthcare – but that shouldn’t mean we forget those who did sacrifice or forget the many young kiwi men buried so far away.

Being here, supporting this project is the least I can do.  If I was one of those mothers who had a son buried over here, we are paying the upmost respect to them by having a permanent memorial, telling the story where they lay to rest.

Cleaning up: Curtis Reymer of Ōhaupō cleans the steps of Te Arawhata – the New Zealand Liberation Museum – in Le Quesnoy. Photo: Liz Stolwyk.

Curtis and I have spent some days in Le Quesnoy, getting to know the town and walking the ramparts.  In preparation for the opening, we offered to lend a helping hand – he did water blasting of the museum steps, I did a wee bit of gardening.

Helping behind the scenes is always the most interesting place to be.

The locals are all very courteous, it’s a very quiet town from the outside.

But the moment you walk into a café you get a sense that this is a pretty special community – they all know each other.  So, I’ve learnt to speak up, make it known I am a foreigner, more importantly a New Zealander and the mood instantly changes.

Museum celebration, from left Waikato University’s Nathalie Philippe, Liz Stolwyk and Le Quesnoy cultural coordinator Hélène Lebon at a function on the eve of the New Zealand Liberation Museum opening. Photo: Supplied.

They love kiwis.

Curtis, who is in Year 13, will be in his St John’s College uniform for the opening – giving the upmost respect he/we can.

The museum has a very warm welcoming feel to it – the ladder through the stairwell is a nice touch.  Beautiful mature trees surround the outside.

The exhibits are over two levels, the pounamu greenstone at the entry and then a roll of honour on a video board.

The story telling is first class – excellent visual displays and videos.

Weta Workshop have done an incredible job.  The story of Cambridge and the sister city relationship is also told through a video.

A video plays inside the Le Quesnoy museum featuring Cambridge’s sister-city relationship. It shows Grahame Webber laying a wreath. Photo: Liz Stolwyk.

I walked into one room and heard my Waipā District Council colleague Cambridge Primary school principal Mike Pettit talking and saw former district councillor Grahame Webber on the screen laying a wreath.

Cambridge’s links to Le Quesnoy are well told.

All the New Zealanders are checking into hotels, so far I’ve spent most of my day getting people from the train station.  One poor New Zealander picked up the wrong luggage from the carousel at Paris Airport and only realised when he got all the way here.

The gates of Te Arawhata – the New Zealand Liberation Museum – in Le Quesnoy are closed on the eve of the official opening. Photo: Liz Stolwyk.

Anyway, my organising skills have come in handy!

Nathalie Philipe from Waikato University, who is writing a book on Le Quesnoy and is involved in the graphic translations in the museum, is here for the opening too.

It will be quite a day and I am humbled by the experience and grateful for the relationship between Le Quesnoy and Cambridge. Vive la France.

  • Liz Stolwyk was influential in establishing the sister city relationship when she managed the Cambridge Information Centre. She and her family funded their trip to Europe which took in the opening of the New Zealand Liberation Museum – Te Arawhata – yesterday (Wednesday) after The News went to press.


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