If you’re caught waiting for a plane for an hour or so at Christchurch Airport as we were in the weekend, head straight for the upstairs toilets. At the far end of the upstairs lounge down a dimly lit corridor and behind the cleaning gear and rubbish bins, is the very cool mural pictured above. It was made to commemorate the last big air race in 1953 between the RAF (the British), flying Canberras against the RAAF (the Australians). A sign of changing times; the planes stopped to refuel in Iraq, Sri Lanka, Cocos Islands and Perth before arriving in Christchurch. The RAF got there first.
The relief mural was created by Russell Clark in 1957, we assume to celebrate fifth anniversary of the air race which was held in 1953. The symbolism of the mural is much as you would expect. “The figure represents man’s ability to conquer space.” The orange sun on the left represents the time of departure, the moon “the night through which they flew” and the yellow sun on the right "the dawn into which the leading planes landed”.
Strangely enough, Colin McCahon had been commissioned in 1952 by TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited) to create a painting to commemorate the great event. His painting was exhibited and toured but later was used to make a crate and destroyed. Some studies survive and you can see them on the McCahon site here. But even more strangely, McCahon did a reprise of his aviation theme in 1957. Could this have been in response to the Clark mural you can still see behind the bins in Christchurch today?