Tim Walker’s Whanganui

It’s currently inescapable – the name Whanganui is everywhere.

It’s all you hear at the beginning of the evening news on TV – Whanganui floods, Whanganui devastation, Whanganui this, Whanganui that, Whhhanganui…

Going back a few years it used it be just Wanganui. It was simple. Wanga, like the ‘Two rights don’t make a Wong’ Wanga. Now it’s Whanga, as if someone is against the advent of that infernal ‘h’ and is trying to blow it out of the line-up – Whhhanganui.

Interestingly though it seems to be only the news presenters who insist on this breezy pronunciation; all the locals I’ve heard interviewed appear quite content to maintain the archaic Wong-inspired Wanganui. It was ridiculous the other night hearing the reporter referring to ‘…these devastating floods in Whhhanganui, now a word from a Whhhanganui farmer … Oh yeah, she’s wet alright, reckon it’s the worst floods Wonganui’s seen since 2004…’

Since 2004..? Here’s me thinking it’s some kind of hundred year phenomenon and now you tell me this variety of biblical deluge takes place in Whhhanganui every ten or eleven years?

They made such a big deal about adding the ‘h’, I guess to make it more like Whangarei, but then Whangarei’s more an ‘f’ sound, like Fonga, and here you have people just trying to blow away the damn ‘h’ in Whhhanganui…

For some reason it reminds me of the last time I was in Wanaka, confabulating with all the Wanaka locals about how we’d been out to the Omarama pub the night before and about how joyous it was to be to the Omarama pub…

Being a respectful, if not ignorant Cantabrian, of course I made a concerted effort to properly pronounce Ow-murr-ah-muh. I think the Wanaka locals thought I was mad. They talked about Omarama as if they were a bunch of redneck Aussies – O-mare-a-ma. After cringing at this butchering of the name for the third time I put it to them: “Just hang on a minute guys, how do you say your town’s name again?”

“Wanaka,” they all responded, which, as expected was more like, Won-ih-ka.

“Right, yet you pronounce Omarama O-mare-a-ma..?”

“Yeah, what’s wrong with that?”

“Well surely the ‘mar’ in Omarama shares the same vowel sound as the ‘Wan’ in Wanaka, no?”

Tell you what, if those Wanaka locals thought I was mad before, they thought I was a raving lunatic now.

For the record, I make a point now of only ever referring to Wanaka as ‘Wanna-ka’; yet the original point remains: Wanganui versus Whanganui. Wonganui versus Whhhangnui. You know I never liked the ‘h’ in the first place and if properly speaking Kiwis want to blow it away, that’s fine by me.



Article by Tim Walker

Edited by Won E Car

Photography by Wan E Car


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