From the vault: It was 20 years ago that Gordonton exploded on to the world stage with Fridgehenge.
The replica of Stonehenge made from 42 old fridges in our Gordonton paddock attracted international attention 20 years ago. Annette Taylor reports.
Believe it or not!
News of the surreal sculpture built to the same design as the ancient English landmark spread from Hamilton throughout the world.
The story first appeared in the Waikato Times and NZ Herald, spread throughout New Zealand and Australia, then appeared in the Singapore Straits Times, the Japan Times, American papers, the Daily Mail, a live interview on the BBC World Service and even into Ripley’s Believe it or Not. It also featured in an American documentary on recreations of ancient monuments.
It was mentioned in the Guardian as recently as this September.
Graeme Cairns, the clan chief of the McGillicuddy Serious Party, ecosystems designer Sean Burke and engineer Andrew McGovern wanted to install the fridges in Garden Place but without an engineer’s permit they had not won council permission. “It was too avant garbage for the council,” said Graeme.
Dairy farmers David and John Riddell stepped forward with the offer of their front paddock, in front of the dairy shed alongside Gordonton Rd.
The fridges were quarried from the Hamilton dump and were hauled into place in time for the summer solstice celebrations.
There was a replica slaughter stone – a fridge-freezer – and an altar stone, constructed of two box fridges beside a twin-unit refrigerator.
A great excuse for a party
“It is a comment on how consumerism and appliance acquisition has replaced spirituality,” Mr Cairns told the Waikato Times. Three sacrificial virgins were ‘slain’ at the altar fridge on the solstice day itself and a good crowd turned up to re-enact a Stone Age solstice. The Philadelphia Trumpet possibly interviewed Graeme before the Solstice, and quoted him saying the builders hoped to attract a cross-section of people for the celebration that morning, the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Druids with clip-on beards, hippies, Japanese tourists, crackpots, you name it,” he said.
“It was a great excuse for a party,” said David Riddell.
Here, for the first time on the internet, are photos from Fridgehenge which caught the world’s attention in December 1994. The solstice that year was on Thursday 22 December, 3.24pm NZ time.
The fridges arrive in the Gordonton paddock a week or two earlier –
Constructing the henge with precision –
We had to put special signs up to advertise the event, of course:
And then the celebrations were unleashed –
Graeme Cairns said the idea first arose as ‘Anglia Henge’ as his friends were beginning to dump dead Ford Anglias at his property in Te Pahu.
“AS no-one seemed to be serious about keeping these cars on the road anymore, I figured they may as well be used for artistic purposes.
I imagined burying them nose-down in the paddock (as if they’d just crash-landed from outer space – a comment on their albeit tame, 1960s USA space-age styling).
Beaten by the cadillacs
But before I could execute this original plan, I heard on the radio that someone had just completed ‘Cadillac Henge’ in Nevada, USA. Same idea, but beat me to it.
A few days later I was chatting to two friends at an art exhibition opening. I explained how and why Anglia Henge was not going to proceed. One of them, Andrew McGovern, said “I’ve been thinking of building Whiteware Henge (stoves, fridges, washing machines etc.) to which the other, Sean Burke, succinctly quipped ‘Fridge Henge’.
In an instant we all recognised the enormous potential of what had just been said, and we vowed to realise it.
The value of research
I then researched Stone Henge, and produced a plan for replicating it, roughly half size, in old refrigerators. I approached the Hamilton City Council with a proposal to erect it as a sculpture in Worley Place, Hamilton, NZ, with details of how the doors would be firmly locked shut, the fridges bolted to the paving and the lintel fridges secured to the standing fridges – all essential for an around-the-clock, open-to-the-public art piece.
There had been a precedent. A few summers beforehand, Auckland University engineering students had erected a humorous corrugated iron replica of an ancient Greek Ionic Column, which had beautified the rear of nearby Garden Place for several weeks. They’d called it Ironic Temple.
So I figured the HCC would be keen on another bit of thought-provoking temporary metallic sculpture. But I was wrong. I was turned down on a technicality – being over one-metre high, it was going to require an Engineer’s Report. These officially take one month and as there was only approx. three weeks to go before Xmas, it couldn’t happen. I didn’t necessarily believe this hurdle to be insurmountable but I was clearly getting nowhere so I abandoned this proposal. Bugger.
Now entering into the story is David and John Riddell, and David’s wife Annette Taylor – dairy farmers in Gordonton, a few miles northeast of Hamilton. Hearing of my plight, they offered their front paddock as a possible site. Totally different location from what I had envisaged, and therefore quite a different experience for the general public (being on private land, only really viewable from a distance). But a lot more like the original Anglia Henge concept, and far, far more reminiscent of the setting, and inaccessibility of Stone Henge, Salisbury, England.
The Riddell’s farm is not on the main road – Highway 1, but it does front onto a major alternative north/south route, so there was every likelihood that it would be seen by thousands of people passing by. Probably not as many as would have experienced it in its proposed setting – the middle of the CBD of New Zealand’s fourth largest city, but still pretty darned good, and at the time, the best offer we had.
I then placed ads in the local newspapers calling for fridges to be donated to an artwork, put the word out on the fringe arts subculture grapevine, and began scouring scrap yards and local dumps, and over the course of 10 or so days I managed to accumulate 45 old fridges of varying sizes, which, bit by bit, I ferried out to Gordonton.
The fridges turn up…
Passes-by could tell that something unusual was going to happen, as the army of fridges slowly assembled in the paddock, but I daresay no body guessed what it was actually going to become.
Then a few days before Summer Solstice Sean, Andrew and I mowed a circle and an east-facing ‘avenue’ in the paddock, and, arranged them all, according to the plans I’d made; Aligned 180 degrees opposite to the Salisbury original, but with all the same features, and properties, ie tall stones = tall fridge/freezers, medium stones = 1960s fridges, fallen stones = fridge on its side, mostly buried, fallen stones = fridge door only. And any stones now completely missing from the original megalithic construction were represented by the complete absence of that fridge!
There were three public gatherings scheduled for December 22, dawn, Solstice (3.24pm) and sunset. The moment of Solstice, when the sun was at its zenith, was the main one. Interestingly enough it was the only time during the longest day of the year that the sun showed its face, shining on the fridges for about six seconds. Otherwise it was drizzly overcast weather all day.
The local papers kindly ran an article advertising the Solstice event beforehand, and covered the day’s activities with an eye-catching and humorous article, coining the expression ‘Stone Cold Henge”.
A deluge of coverage!
Then followed a veritable deluge of newspaper coverage from all around the world – Australia, Britain, Japan, and the US.
I photocopied the best of these and sent versions to the then Mayor of Hamilton and the HCC Head of Department who declined the original proposal, pointing out just how much international publicity Hamilton City had just missed out on, and politely suggesting that they might consider taking unusual artistic offers a bit more seriously in future!
And what of the actual Henge?
People still occasionally ask me, even 20 years later, if it’s still standing.
But no. Fridges aren’t designed to be outdoors on the wet ground. Before long it would have started to look very shabby. And the cows needed their paddock back. So after a week or so it was all dismantled, and the fridges taken to the metal recyclers, leaving only photographs, memories and a modest little crop circle (by international standards.)”
Gordonton’s John Riddell scribed the following account:
THIS BEING the account of one who witnessed the celebration of the Summer Solstice in the Forty first year of the reign of her majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the second of that name.
It was in the twelfth month that they came and brought with them refrigerators. And they placed them in a field in two rows with one off to one side. Now this was in a place called Gordonton, a small village and north of Hamilton. And those who lived in this place saw the refrigerators, saw them and wondered. And some came and asked if they were for sale. But those who lived in this place, one of them being my brother, said “No. They were not.”
And more fridges were brought. It is said that they were quarried from the Refuse Transfer Station, but none know for sure
On the nineteenth day of that month came the man called Graeme, and with him was both Andrew and Sean, whose name is often mispronounced by those who have only seen it written. Now they came early that day and before the sun had risen they began to arrange the fridges in the field. And while they were at work many did wonder at their labours for none knew what they did. The farmers who were working nearby ceased from tending their animals and did watch the progress.
Soon it could be seen that the form was as the great temple in the plains of Salisbury. An avenue led to the circles and as the sun rose, the shadow of the Heel Fridge was cast upon the slaughter Fridge and onwards to the Circle. Each of the stones of the temple was represented by one of the fridges. As is the way with all great temples, so was it here. The fridges were placed at the nexus of two lines of power, one running along the road and another supplying the cowshed. And there was a transformer on the pole.
And the news of their deeds spread quickly to foreign lands
Yea, even unto a radio station in Adelaide, and a TV station in Melbourne. And it was on TV One news at ten fifteen.
It had been determined by wise men that the hour of the celebration would be at twenty four minutes past the third hour in the afternoon on the twenty second day of that month. Now the day of the solstice arrived and the land was dry. For it had not rained for many days. Those who knew much of these things shook their heads and said how they could never remember it being so dry at this time of year. An a great wind was blowing even before the sun had risen.
Those who had waited for this day gathered at the fridges before the sixth hour of the day.
But the sun could not be seen even though it had risen and no shadow was cast
Now there came from the north some strangers. They were thirteen in number. And they stood near the fridges but apart from the others and to the west. They spake not but cast spells and performed rituals. A dog ran and sniffed them and an old woman with a video recorder crossed the road to speak with them, but they would not walk within the circle. But they did sing a hymn of their people and then walked towards the north. And those who saw them wondered.
The ceremony began at the appointed time or perhaps a little after for some arrived late. And the sun was seen at this time.
They performed many rituals
Some so ancient they dated back to the beginning of the ceremony. The people processed along the Avenue from the Heel Fridge towards the Circle. Some were old and some were young. There was a child of less than seven summers who had been conceived on the convergence of two ley lines at Glastonbury.
The man called Graeme was there, as was Sean whose name is often misspelled by those who have only heard it spoken. Andrew had a hose to fix, being a Hose Doctor, and thus was elsewhere. There were some seventy in all there that day.
It being the Southern Hemisphere, they did walk around the fridges anticlockwise, and three times did they walk around. And then passing between fridges one and thirty one they did enter the circle.
And there was a child who had only seen nine summers who asked why is that man wearing a dress. And they answered her saying because he wants to. And again she asked why is that man wearing a dress and again they answered her saying because he wants to. Again she asked why is that man wearing a dress and they spake not.
The brothers who did live in this place then led the assembled in a chant to the rain and the bringers thereof. It then began to rain several hours earlier. And those who saw this wondered until it was explained to be the same as when christmas suddenly happens several days before you post your christmas cards.
And Sean was interviewed by the BBC
There were amongst that number three who were known to be virgin on the ridiculous. They were clad in loin cloths whiter than the whitest camel and their bodies were also anointed with white paint. There were nine there who had no guilt and were blameless and it was they who seized the three and dragged them to the Slaughter Fridge. Now all who were present took hold of the severed sexual organs of the dandelion and the clover and even of the buttercup and with these did beat the three virgins on the ridiculous until they moved no more. These then the nine did carry on the trays from inside of the fridges back to the centre of the circle where they were cast and left.
And they cried aloud saying Frigidare and Prestcold, yea even Fisher and Paykel.
For there is power in names
And the three who had been cast into the circle stood and walked among the people.
There followed many other rituals that I witnessed not as it was then time to milk the cows.
The strangers from the north were not seen again.