Tuesday, 25 June 2019


Swedish ambassador talking Tuia 250 in Whitianga

By Stephan Bosman

Pär Ahlberger, Swedish ambassador to New Zealand, and Frank Olsson, Swedish honorary consul based in Auckland, visited Whitianga on Thursday last week.

Mr Ahlberger (who said his name is pronounced, “‘Pair,’ like in a ‘pair of shoes’”) is also the Swedish ambassador to Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Nauru and Tuvalu. He is based in Canberra. His visit to Whitianga was part of a two week trip around New Zealand to discuss with a variety of communities how Sweden can be involved in next year’s Tuia 250 commemorations (commemorating the explorer James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand 250 years ago).

In Mercury Bay the commemorations will be known as “Tuia Te Pōwhiri.”

Mr Ahlberger and Mr Olsson were welcomed with a moving pōwhiri at Mercury Bay Area School, during which Mr Ahlberger spoke about the similarities between New Zealand and Sweden and also the connection between Sweden and Cook’s voyage to New Zealand.

“History is all about stories and some of those stories haven’t been told properly,” Mr Ahlberger said. “Now we have a common interest to make some of those stories better known. Part of the crew on Captain Cook’s ship that voyaged to the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia from 1768 to 1771, HM Bark Endeavour, were Joseph Banks, a famous expert in natural history, and two botanists, Daniel Solander from Sweden and Herman Spöring from Finland. Solander was one of the most important scholars on the Endeavour and in Swedish history.”

Daniel Solander studied at Uppsala University, the oldest university in Sweden. He initially studied languages, but so impressed celebrated professor of botany, Carl Linnaeus - the developer of binomial nomenclature (the modern system of naming species of living things) - with his ability and dedication, that Linneaus persuaded Solander’s father to allow his son to study natural history.

Upon completion of his studies in Sweden, Solander travelled to England in 1760 to promote the Linnean system of naming living things. Three years later, he began cataloguing the natural history collections of the British Museum. In June 1764, he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Joseph Banks invited Solander and Herman Spöring, who was Solander’s assistant at the time, to accompany him and Cook on the Endeavour’s voyage to the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia. Solander was the first university educated scientist to set foot on New Zealand soil.

During the Endeavour’s voyage, Banks and Solander collected more than 30,000 specimens of plants and animals, a duplicate set of more than 500 which is held by Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand) in Wellington.

Upon the Endeavour’s return to England, Solander became the first Swede to have circled the globe.

“Solander was born in a town called Öjebyn, which is situated in the north of Sweden,” Mr Ahlberger said during the pōwhiri. “The people of Öjebyn are so proud of Solander. The town is not much different to your home here. I have been in Öjebyn only 10 days ago and I bring greetings from the people of the town and the town’s mayor.

“Solander comes from an area where there are Sami, people indigenous to Norway, Sweden and Russia. I have only recently I found out I have Sami blood in me. As a result - and as Captain Cook and his crew, including Solander and Banks, had some significant contact with the Māori people of New Zealand during their voyage - this journey around New Zealand I’m on at the moment is very personal and emotional to me.”

With regard to the similarities between New Zealand and Sweden, Mr Ahlberger specifically referred to shared social values and both countries’ desire to look after the environment. “As nations, New Zealand and Sweden are drawing closer,” he said. “Later this year, New Zealand will open an embassy in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, and we’re at the moment working with the Solander Gallery in Wellington and the Te Papa museum on an exhibition of artworks by 10 New Zealand artists. The artworks will all be inspired by Daniel Solander and the shared history between New Zealand and Sweden. The exhibition is planned to open in February next year.

“We see Tuia 250 as a further opportunity to build the relationship between our two countries. We hope that next year will see the greatest amount of interaction between New Zealand and Sweden in all of space and time.”

Frank Olsson, a dual New Zealand/Swedish citizen and proud Tairua bach owner, said only a few words during his opportunity to speak at the pōwhiri. “I rather want to sing a song that beautifully portrays the way I feel,” he said, before launching into Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” His performance brought a smile to the faces of all who were present.

After the pōwhiri, Jan Wright, the coordinator of Tuia Te Pōwhiri, said Sweden’s desire to be part of Tuia 250 will fall on fertile soil in Mercury Bay. “We won’t let the very special connection that was established here today slip away on us,” she said. 



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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.