A Skeleton in Te Papa’s Closet


“They could do a lot better with his neck and head, and front legs, too. He’s not exactly standing tall and proud.” Phar Lap fan Robin Marshall 

The New Zealand racing public has always bridled when Australians have claimed Phar Lap for themselves. The Aussies tanned his hide when he died, Clyde, in California in 1932 in fishy circumstances soon after his first international race-and comprehensive win-in Mexico.  Phar Lap’s hide is in Melbourne and his heart is in Canberra, which does seem rather back to front, but, make no bones about it, we have got the skeleton. The famous ex-horse is an equine taonga at Te Papa: our horse in Our Place.

But according to Robin Marshall, who has created an overlay image of the champion galloper and his skeleton, there has been some equine shortchange in the spinal department.  Definitely not Phar enough-slipped discs and that sort of thing.  She thinks that he is not set in a strikingly elegant and proud pose befitting a horse that stood at 17.1 hands and won 37 of his 51 races.

If the skeleton is bowed Te Papa is completely unbowed. The museum’s Chris Paulin says Phar Lap was mounted in the style of taxidermy in the 1930s. In other words, go and get stuffed.

Perhaps the horse’s poor skeletal posture  reflects the cultural cringe of  other New Zealanders in 1930s-heads bowed, forelocks tugged, shrinking themselves  in the full glare of the imperial sun that never set.

They have just hauled Sir Peter Blake’s Black Magic into Te Papa in order to string it up from the ceiling for a hundred years to commemorate New Zealand winning  the America’s Cup, sponsored by the International Law Association. (The keel is ersatz-otherwise this would not be possible).  I bet that they won’t display that with a broken mast: they would be keel hauled if they did.

Things will be restored to proper proportion and equine amends will be made in November when the Phar Lap Trust in Timaru unveils an anatomically correct bronze sculpture of their most famous son.


 Phar Lap stance irks horse expert | Stuff.co.nz 

 Phar Lap wins the Agua Caliente Handicap- 1932   YouTube video 

 Legend of Phar Lap rides again | Stuff.co.nz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX2IluAPQvs&feature=player_embedded    Phar Lap animated


2 Responses to “A Skeleton in Te Papa’s Closet”

  1. 1 fred

    The skeleton photograph is taken with a wide angle lens – as any photographer will tell you that will distort the image – of course it doesn’t match!!

    • But what about the posture, angle of the head and feet etc-and the area occupied by the stance?

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