The Dunedin Amenities Society hosted visitors to Craigieburn who were taking part in the 2014 Dunedin Scottish Festival today. The festival celebrating the unique Scottish heritage of Dunedin has been an opportunity for many to celebrate and explore the city’s Scottish roots. Craigieburn Project Manager Paul Pope gave the group a guided tour of the Craigieburn and showed the group the early life of the Rankin, Sherriff and Tanner families who settled this small piece of the Dunedin Bush as a colonial subsistence farm. It was an also an opportunity to discuss the lasting conservation legacy creating by the settler family who retained the extensive rimu forest on the site. Once again it was great pleasure to share the stories about the Rankin, Sherriff and Tanner families and give people a real glimpse of early Scottish life in Dunedin. (Click on pictures to see a larger view).
Students from the Otago Polytechnic Arboriculture course completed the planting work at the Robin Hood lookout today. Fifteen students and their two tutors planted over 200 native plants as part of the Dunedin Amenities Society’s upgrade of the lookout area. With the removal of sycamore and other weeds from the site the view across the city and Otago Harbour has been restored. In 1954 a direction finder and plinth was installed at the area to commemorate the Queens visit to the city. Over the years this once popular spot had become overgrown and the viewing site lost and the direction finder damaged. With work from Dunedin City Council and Taskforce Green the vegetation and seating area was cleared and cleaned. A generous donation by local stonemason, Marcus Wainwright saw the plinth and direction finder repaired. Delta replaced the vandalised seats that had originally been placed on the site to commemorate former Society members George Simpson and Kathleen Gilkison.
In 2013 the Dunedin Amenities Society received an anonymous bequest of $5000, and the Society put that generous gift into restoring this area. The Society will also have the popular walking track from the lookout to the Observatory at the top of Robin Hood Park refurbished to make access easier and safer.It was a pleasure to have the students on site today and their hard work and enthusiasm is much appreciated by the Society. It’s great to have young people using their skills and energy to make the Town Belt and our city a better place. (Click on the pictures to view)
It was a welcome sight to see the sun shining brightly this morning after the rain, hail and snow that Dunedin has experienced recently. Otago Polytechnic Horticulture students with tutor Lisa Burton and Project Manager Paul Pope were at Craigieburn today undertaking their 20th year of native tree planting together. Since 1994 the horticulture students have planted around 12,000 – 13,000 trees to create a unique and flourishing new piece of native forest that compliments the existing rimu forest remnant.
Today, the students planted 200 trees, filling in a few gaps in the already well established planting that has taken place in the western paddock of Craigieburn. The Dunedin Amenities Society have been well supported by the Otago Polytechnic Horticulture course at Craigieburn and their enthusiasm for the area and the work of the Society is greatly heartening. Importantly too, its great to be able to show the students the benefits of habitat restoration and to be able to show them the work of their peers. It was also good to have new Craigieburn Committee member Councillor Aaron Hawkins come along and see first hand the importance of the partnership the Society has with the Polytechnic. Once again many thanks to students today and to all of the students who have contributed to Craigieburn over the past 20 years, your enthusiasm and hard work is valued and much appreciated. (Click on the pictures to see the images in a viewer)
In the 2014 Annual Plan deliberations a proposal to create part of the Octagon and lower Stuart Street into a pedestrian precinct was submitted by two Otago University students . That plan has gained momentum within the City Council, with the announcement of an investigation into developing the idea as a trial. Now in July Councillors have requested Council staff report back on October 28, with public consultation to follow and a final decision to be made in January 2015. The development of the Octagon as a pedestrian precinct is not a new proposal and has been debated in Dunedin on a number of occasions.
The Octagon lies at the heart of Dunedin and its physical shape and central location make it an important civic open space within the central city. As an open space it has been the subject to considerable change since its initial layout during Charles Kettle’s survey of the city in 1846. The importance of the central location of the site was recognised very early in Dunedin’s development and in 1854 the Dunedin Public Lands Ordinance proclaimed that it “shall not be lawful to erect any building whatever within or upon the centre area of the Square called Moray Place, …except a parapet wall and railing, or fence, for enclosing the said area, which shall for ever remain otherwise an open area.” While the name Octagon was never formalised it became part of popular use in Dunedin probably because of the shape of the adjacent formation of Moray Place and its thoroughfares in Kettle’s original layout.
In 1864 the first monument was erected in the Octagon with the construction of Cargill’s monument to commemorate William Cargill the first Superintendent of Otago. Built by Australian John Young in Melbourne some of the stone for the monument was from a quarry opened up in the Town Belt for the Exhibition building. The monument was later moved to its current position in the Exchange in 1872 to allow for better road access to connect George and Princes streets. In 1887 the current statue of the poet Robert Burns was unveiled in the upper Octagon.
During the nineteenth century economic pressures on provincial and local government meant there was little funding for public spaces and the Octagon remained somewhat derelict for many years. Its condition was a source of regular comment by residents through the media from the 1860’s – 1890’s, particularly over the need for pedestrian and vehicle access and the condition that these routes were in during wet weather. In 1864 a writer to the Otago Daily Times wrote that the Octagon was “so abominably slippery as to be unsafe for male pedestrians and dangerous to females, who alas are not allowed to by etiquette carry walking sticks.” The debate continued with another 1873 letter to the Otago Daily Times exclaiming “What is this bleak and deserted place in the heart of our city meant for?“
With the foundation of the Dunedin Amenities Society in 1888 a plan for improving the Octagon was developed and implemented by the Society from 1890-1892. Through public subscription and fundraising the Society completed the planting of the London Plane trees seen in the Octagon today. Ornamental fencing, seating and further planting was also undertaken as part of the Society’s development of the space. The completed improvements by the Society coincided with the construction of the Thomas Burns memorial as a gift to the city by Robert Chapman in 1892. However, the memorial was generally unpopular and was later removed from the Octagon in the 1940’s.
1966 saw the completion of the Star fountain in the Octagon after the Evening Star newspaper donated £5,000 to the City Council. The fountain was a popular attraction in the city, but by the 1980’s it had become unsightly and during the refurbishment of the Octagon in the early 1990’s it was removed. There was significant public outcry about its removal and the new design initiated by the City Council.
The Octagon has evolved into a much-loved public space in Dunedin that has combined civic pride, local identity and a strong sense of public ownership. The public’s collective ownership of the Octagon as an open space is deeply entwined in personal and civic history that defines both the identity of individuals but also the city. The legal protection of the Octagon and its links to Kettle’s survey also makes it central to the historic and heritage narrative of Dunedin. That makes any future development of the Octagon an issue that will have high public expectations on a physical, aesthetic and historical level. With its impressive architectural backdrop and linkages to the wider heritage values of the city its importance cannot be understated. The Octagon has largely become an identifiable symbol of the city and a defining structural element in the built landscape of Dunedin. The City Council needs to make careful and considered decisions about the nature of the public space in the area that recognises the affection that residents have for the Octagon. As a major contributor to the historical and aesthetic values of the Octagon the Society will watch with a keen interest as this proposal develops.
The Dunedin Amenities Society are to work in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Dunedin City Council on the “Project Gold” initiative in the Dunedin Town Belt. The Society have agreed to contribute $1500 per annum for the next 5 years for suitable kowhai planting projects in the Town Belt. The planting projects will assist in adding new areas of the endemic kowhai important for wider bird feeding and connectivity in the reserve. Project Gold is a Department of Conservation initiative to promote the growth of locally important kowhai around Otago. The Society sees the project as having good connections with its interest in the management and restoration of the Town Belt habitat. It also provides opportunities for schools and community groups to participate in a joint conservation project that is in their own backyard. An official announcement and project start will be in October this year. The first planting will be held in August 2015 to coincide with the original August 8th date of Arbor Day created by Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate in 1892.
The Dunedin Amenities Society have been working closely with the Dunedin City Council to restore the traditional viewing point of the city at Robin Hood Park. The viewing point is part of the Town Belt Management Plan for the reserve and had over the years become overgrown and reduced by weeds, sycamores and other trees. Participants in the Society’s Town Belt Traverse last year raised the loss of the viewing area with the Society which began working with the Council to restore the area. The Society had developed the Robin Hood lookout as part the Queens visit to the city in 1954 and included two commemorative seats to Kathleen Gilkison and former Society President and renowned alpine botanist George Simpson. The seats had been damaged and removed but new replacements have been returned to their original position by Delta contractors. The plinth holding the direction finder was also damaged and local stone mason Marcus Wainwright generously donated his time in restoring the plinth.
Shirley Stuart of the City Council Parks team has made a significant improvement to the viewing site and the Society are grateful for her efforts. The Society will fund the replanting of the cleared area with low-growing native vegetation and have the paving area with its commemorative plaques cleaned and repaired. There is still some minor clearing and pruning to be done, but overall the improvement to the outlook is significant. The area has been used by local landscape artists for a number of years and is a pleasant area of the Town Belt to view the city and its surrounds.
The Dunedin City Council is presently consulting on the next stage of its cycle network for South Dunedin in Victoria Road. The project has raised the ire of residents in the area because of a loss of parking, dangers to pedestrians due to the shared design of the proposal, a loss of business and the timeframe of the consultation process. The City Council has already changed the proposed route away from the sand dune area of St Clair/St Kilda because of the stability and safety of the foreshore due to on-going erosion concerns. Despite that, the notion of a cycle track in the dune area seems etched in the public’s mind to allay other effects of the proposal. For the Society, the protection of the dune areas of St Clair and St Kilda remains paramount to the long-term protection of the city, its coastal environment and its associated landscape. As a city Dunedin and its residents have been fortunate to be able to enjoy the recreational opportunities that the sand dunes have afforded them over the years. This, despite the continued pressure being placed upon dune and beach health due to pressures from land use, mixed management practices and continued erosional forces over the last 150 years.
Infrastructural development, such as the proposed cycleway must be mindful of the need to protect and promote the sustainable management of dune health for the welfare of the city and its residents. This is particularly pertinent in the face of recent erosion events along the Dunedin coastline and in the predicted sea level rise scenario’s promoted by various bodies including the City Council. From both perspectives and within the historical context the sand dunes are under extreme pressure that has continued with widespread human modification and destruction of dune habitat. The Society has repeatedly requested the City Council undertake major initiatives such as change in land use and restorative management to ensure the dunes are protected and nurtured into a productive ecological and landscape entity. The cycleway issue means that the City Council must find appropriate measures that allay the community fears over the management and design of the project. However, to achieve this it must utilise good design, consultation and common sense so as not to impose expensive infrastructure on a precarious and fragile dune habitat that protects and provides for the benefit of our city.
The Dunedin Amenities Society like any organisation takes a close look at the Annual Plan of the City Council each year and usually submits on the areas that the Society has the greatest interest or concern. The Annual Plan process seems an onerous one but ultimately, it’s an important one to participate in. This year the Society has concentrated on the success of the Town Belt Traverse in 2013 with a call to the City Council to look at both the physical infrastructure and the maintenance of existing tracks to ensure that this worthy project could come to fruition. The interesting thing about the Traverse is the Town Belt Management Plan has policy already in place to actually achieve it. At this stage the Society are not looking to the City Council to immediately fund such a project, but rather to begin the process of investigation and research in to making it happen. There are definite synergies with existing footpath and cycling programmes that the Council have proposed in this area in the past.
The other area that this years submission concentrated on was the funding and management of ecological and recreational areas around the city. The Society is increasingly concerned that the standards of pest plant and animal control are being strangled in the present economic climate. This is crucial work to reduce the adverse environmental damage in areas of high ecological and conservation significance. The Society is concerned that there is a drop in the level of service and standards on many of the City’s parks and reserves. Signage, seating, rubbish bins, pathways and other physical assets appear to be deteriorating with no available capital replacement or maintenance funding for basic cleaning and repairs. This detracts and reduces the visitor and community enjoyment of our open spaces assets and needs urgent redress through appropriate funding.
Finally, the last issue raised in the Society’s submission on the Annual Plan is the provision by the City Council of $50,000 for the investigation into the development of car-parking for Moana Pool. There have been various calls for parking options at the pool complex including the development of Roberts Park for parking. This would mean the loss of open space and adjoining bush from the site. It would be preferable to see sensible and innovative design that maximizes space more appropriately. Any loss of reserve areas or recreational space is abhorrent to the Society and a high degree of caution and appropriate research needs to be undertaken before any final decision is made by the City Council over this matter.
The Dunedin Amenities Society is holding its 126th Annual General Meeting at the Maori Hill Community Centre in Highgate at 5.30pm. The guest speaker will be walking author Anthony Hamel discussing the Town Belt Traverse. All are welcome for a glass of wine and nibbles.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about the Society and become an active member of NZ’s oldest conservation society.
Find the venue on the map below (see you at the little blue flag)