Plaque for elephant unveiled

Southland District Council graphic designer Donna Hawkins designed the display for Sally the...
Southland District Council graphic designer Donna Hawkins designed the display for Sally the elephant, who died in Riversdale in 1960, after Cr Brian Dillon, of Riversdale, approached the council’s communications team about creating a memorial for the elephant. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON
The rumour is true - there is an elephant buried in a paddock near Riversdale.

Yesterday, a memorial plaque for Sally was unveiled near her final resting place.

Sally was one of nine elephants travelling with the Bullen Brothers Circus, which arrived in Riversdale in April 1960.

After being unloaded and tied up at the railway siding, Sally drank from nearby drums, which previously contained weedkiller, and died.

Southland district councillor Brian Dillon said it was his idea to create a memorial for Sally, as people still mentioned her.

An article appeared in the Mataura Ensign on April 17, 1960, noting Sally's death.

The article said an autopsy was performed by Gore veterinarian A.W. Campbell.

"The veterinarian found the beast's skin to be about an inch thick, but surprisingly easy to incise.

"Parting of the ribs was a much more difficult task and mechanical means - tractor equipped with grab - had to be employed, the article said.

Penny Simmonds was in Riversdale on the day Sally was buried but has no memory of the event as she was only 6 months old.

The Southern Institute of Technology chief executive grew up on the farm where Sally is buried.

Ms Simmonds said she knew of Sally because she had a slide photo of her mother holding her while the grave was being dug.

"Our farm was the closest farm for it to be buried in.

"I don't remember it but I know all the stories about it.

In the slide "you could see the front-end loader with the elephant on it and you could see my mother holding a baby, a bundle.

As a child she liked to tell people about the elephant.

"We were very proud of it, to have an elephant buried on our farm, because nobody else in New Zealand would have one and we always thought it would be very funny in years to come when someone dug it up and found it and thought there were elephants running around in New Zealand ..."

-By Sandy Eggleston

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