Drive around Dunedin in the spring and Les Cleveland’s contribution to the city is evident in many of our most public places. His energy and drive to beautify Dunedin and provide people with pleasure is instantly recognisable in the thousands of daffodils that he donated and planted here. It was a great pleasure for the Society to contribute with Rotary in creating a fitting memorial to Les in a picturesque area of the Town Belt adjacent to Olveston. The new memorial and seat was unveiled by the Mayor and it was pleasing to see Les’ wife Margaret and family present at the unveiling. With it a being a glorious spring day the gathering enjoyed a cup of tea in the Olveston garden, and in a such a picturesque setting you couldn’t help but think that Les would have approved.
Recently the Dunedin City Council called for submissions on the potential sites for the proposed new pool in Mosgiel. Despite people’s views on whether a pool is actually needed in Mosgiel the selection of sites for the pool is a contentious issue. The selection of four sites was provided in the Council’s consultation information, one was the existing pool site and the other three were variations on occupying part of Mosgiel Memorial Gardens. The frustrating part of this consultation process is that there was no indication of the actual footprint of the new pool facility, only a dot on the proposed position of the pool. So there was no way of actually knowing what the scale or shape of the impact of the pool placement on the gardens was going to be.
In the residential Mosgiel area, passive use open space and formal play areas are actually at a premium despite its proximity to rural land and the townships rural outlook. Public sports grounds and the walking area alongside the Silverstream make up the bulk of active recreational areas, while school grounds also play a significant area in this evaluation. The proposed pool development would take up a significant portion of the Gardens site especially when seen together with the provision of parking, access and plant development for the pools operation. Other effects would include the removal of significant trees from the reserve which would have a negative effect on the parks ambiance, landscape heritage and biodiversity values.
For these reasons the Dunedin Amenities Society submitted that it does not support the placement of the proposed pool on the Mosgiel Memorial Gardens. The effects on open space, passive recreation, recreational play and landscape values associated with the site are extremely high in a community where such space is limited. The Society also submitted that it does not support the large-scale loss of amenity trees from the Gardens which have given pleasure to the community for many years. The Society has suggested that if a pool is to be built, then the existing site will have the least negative effect on the area, dependent on the design that the project developers create. One thing that has not been considered is whether the pool should or could encroach on the adjacent Mosgiel Caravan Park which is on Council land. There has been debate about this facility before, perhaps its time to consider that debate again in lieu of the pool proposal.
Two other issues came up in this consultation which are worth comment. The first was that if the existing pool site was used for a new pool that Mosgiel will be without a pool for 18 months while construction is undertaken. However, the inconvenience of short-term loss of the facility is equally matched by the long-term gain of a new facility should the capital be raised. Mosgiel and its environs have school pools and the availability of Moana Pool with 15-20 minutes’ drive of the area. Many other communities are without a pool facility and all manage adequately by using alternative facilities within their communities or the city on a permanent basis. The other issue is the notion that building the proposed pool in the current location would make it prone to flooding. There seems to be no evidence from the Otago Regional Council’s flood protection scheme that the existing pool site is prone or endangered by potential flooding. Currently the Silverstream has existing stop banks and if a flood breached them Mosgiel would have a lot more to worry about than the pool being flooded. It would seem more sensible to work with the Otago Regional Council during the design phase of the project to ensure any risk of flooding is mitigated. This would allow development of the pool on the existing site without the need to use the valuable open space and landscape values of Mosgiel Memorial Gardens.
Ocean Beach Domain has been in the news over recent years as the city struggles with the erosion of the dunes and beach. What we see there today is something quite different to what it was. That change was brought about by the pressures of a developing city for raw resources, the acclimatisation of marram grass and ultimately the need to tame the coast for the physical protection of the city. This article looks at the early historical change to the dunes and reflects on whether we can learn from our mistakes and actions of the past.
Kaituna – Ocean Beach is a highly modified environment. The normal activity and moveability of sand has been replaced and stabilised. The former back dune areas have been extensively mined and became recreation areas. The coastline still stretches from the St Clair cliffs in the west to Lawyer’s Head in the east, but the sand dunes have become much thinner and steeper. In 1848 in the west around St Clair the sand hills were much smaller and lower, the mouth of a lagoon ran through these dunes. The dunes accumulated and grew as you moved east towards Lawyers head. High ground was in the west at the St Clair hills and in the in the east at the beginning of the Otago Peninsula and beyond them Otago Harbour and its extended tidal areas. Between these features was a low-lying wetland named Kaituna. It was covered with silver tussock, rushes and flax and was an area of traditional food gathering for Maori who sought tuna (eel), pukeko and weka. There is also evidence that the Kaituna area was once thick with trees, probably Kahikatea. They lay buried under the surface of the wetland and were often dug up and used as firewood by early settlers. A significant feature was the track along the inner edge of the sand hills which provided easy access to Kaituna.
By 1876 the urban growth of Dunedin had pushed housing to the edge of the sand hills at Ocean Beach. Sand was being removed constantly by the householders to raise the level of their sections. Occasional floods are reported in the 1870s, but mostly from the harbour, into South Dunedin. On one occasion a Mrs Rae and her two daughters were rescued by a gasworks boat crew from Rankeilor Street. The dog was reportedly was left behind! The coach-builder for Cobb & Co in Reid Road built a flat-bottomed boat in which he used to paddle to the nearest dry land in times of flood. There was once reported nine inches of water in the Hillside Railway Workshops wagon shop that stopped work for several days.
Blunderbuss or Horse Pistol – With urban growth came the development of the railways and in 1880 Edward Pritchard won the government contract to shift sand from the Ocean Beach Dunes for fill to the government railway yards development at Crawford and Cumberland Streets. Pritchard laid an extension of the railway line in the St Kilda Borough from the Crescent to the sand hills in January 1880. However permission from the appropriate borough council had not been obtained. The Mayor of St Kilda, J P Jones was indignant and he vehemently: “Objected entirely to the whole proceeding: it would never do to allow 50 acres of filling to be taken from the sand hills, which were all the protection St Kilda had from the strong winds and the encroachment of the sea.” The result was that the St Kilda daymen with the help of mayor and councillors took up the rails the next morning.
The following day the Otago Daily Times reported that Pritchard had imported from America “one of Otto’s steam excavators with Chapman’s improvements!” It was a massive and powerful steam crane that weighed 37 tons, and was to be “fitted up and put to work at the sand hills without delay.” Pritchard was not going to be thwarted by the St Kilda Borough Council. As is customary in local politics, a crisis public meeting of the St Kilda ratepayers was held on March 9th 1880. The Council Chamber was full. The Mayor of St Kilda, J P Jones stated that he had remonstrated with the Hon James Macandrew, Minister of Public Works. The Minister had agreed that probably the engineer had been mistaken in his advice and promised to look into the matter. Nothing more was heard until the announcement that Pritchard & Co had been awarded the contract to remove the sand.
St Kilda Borough Council received a report from the civil engineer George Barr who opposed the removal of the sand. Barr gave an insightful and accurate account of the effects of stripping the Ocean Beach dunes. “The dangers of interfering with sands of so mobile a nature as these has long been recognised, because it is found that so soon as the surface vegetation is broken upon, the wind acts freely upon the sand, carrying it in quantities and to distances dependent, of course, upon the strength, duration and frequency of the winds. Once such an evil sets in, it is impossible to foretell its extent, and the only mode of checking it is replanting …..” He went on further to describe the nature of the area and its perilous position below sea level. “In 1874 I ascertained that…some portions of the Flat are actually three feet lower than the high water of Ocean Beach. These facts point out then that the sand hills … are really a natural and necessary protection to the low-lying lands against the encroachments of the ocean…”
The government was in a difficult position they had already let the contract to Pritchard and needed the fill to continue with the development of the city’s railways. The government engineer, WN Blair wrote to the St Kilda Borough and reiterated the government position and offered a threat; “The parties who interfered with the rails might be summarily dealt with. I trust, therefore, that the Corporation of St Kilda will assist the Government in carrying out the work by giving free use of the streets.”
The St Kilda Borough Council was condemned in the Otago Daily Times on March 11th for interfering with the rails. The same day, Edward Pritchard again laid more rails across the St Kilda streets. Two days later on the 13th March, the Mayor JP Jones, councillors and the daymen of St Kilda lifted them and put them in an adjoining paddock. Public condemnation in the press drove Mayor Jones to paper, and in a letter to the Otago Daily Times editor he wrote: “Anything which tends to do away with the small hills endangers the first protection, and thus not only endangers the property, but also the lives of the residents of the Flat. It is impossible to say how soon both lives and property may be swamped in one common ruin.”
Here the matter gets more frenetic. On March 16th the Crown gave St Kilda Borough notice pursuant to the Public Works Act of its intentions to construct the railway and take the sand. On March 23rd the council met and resolved to give its own notice that the work is not to be proceeded with. On April 28th Edward Pritchard was charged in the Police Court on the information of John Pugh Jones, Mayor of St Kilda, that on April 23rd, “without authorisation by the Council or any act or ordinance, unlawfully obstructed streets by leaving in Victoria Street timber and rails contrary to section 189 of the Municipal Corporation Act 1876.” The decision was reserved.
Finally, the mayor and 340 other inhabitants of St Kilda petitioned the Government, requesting that the House take steps against the removal of sand as proposed by the Public Works Department, as it was likely to threaten serious injury to property. The petition was considered by the Waste Lands Committee which reported back to the House “the matter is one for the Government to deal with and the responsibility is theirs.” Incredibly, the Government ordered that the sand must be taken only from the seaward side of the hills! Pritchard demanded compensation for the longer carriage of sand which was refused. Soon though he commenced work at the old site, and the supervising Government engineer Mr Low ordered the railway engine crews (Government servants) to cease work. In a fury, Pritchard fired them all and hired his own men. The Government railwaymen then tried to take possession of the engines, there was a scuffle on the footplate and the Government men were driven off!
Later, Mr Low in the dead of night brought another engine up to tow away the engines being used by Pritchard now stored in a shed. Pritchard heard of the scheme and lifted the rails leading up to the shed. The Government men, foiled in their purpose, broke into the shed anyway only to be met by Pritchard who was described in the Otago Daily Times as being “…armed for the fray with a blunderbuss or horse pistol.” The Government railwaymen beat a hasty retreat, now it was time to sue Edward Pritchard. On April 14, 1881, the Commissioner of Crown Lands sued Pritchard in the Supreme Court for recovery of £500 for trespass and damages arising from his removal of sand from parts of the sand hills other than as directed by the supervising engineers. Pritchard contended that his contract was not specific as to from whence the sand was to be taken. The judge agreed, reporting “they may have control over the works, but they have no power to alter the construction of the contract and as there was no limit in the contract, Mr Pritchard could go where he pleased.” The decision for the defendant, costs against the Crown. Pritchard continued with his contract, excavating where he chose. The damage had been done.
Water, Water Everywhere – Between 1884 and 1886 the St Clair sea wall and esplanade was undermined and destroyed by heavy seas. Further flooding occurred between 1884 and 1894. In May 1898 the dunes were breached and there was 3 feet of water in Larkworthy Street. By May 11th all of St Kilda between Ocean Beach Domain and Cargill’s Road were inundated and houses could only be accessed by wading through water. In July the sea breached the dunes again and St Kilda was saturated with the Pacific Ocean. The passing of the Ocean Beach Public Domain Act in 1892 provided for the protection and conservation of the area known as the “sand hills”. However, this was a period of public acrimony and recrimination that coupled with public alarm rendered the Ocean Beach Domain Board largely ineffectual. It was not until J H Hancock became Chairman in 1902, that prolonged periods of restoration and recreation development occurred.
Conclusions – It seems incredible now that the Government did not realise what the consequences of mining the sand dunes at Ocean Beach would be. The nineteenth century mining of the Domain changed the nature and function of the dunes irrevocably. It also threatened the security of the people who were shaping the new city. The fraught relationship between the Crown and local government as both come to terms with the development of Dunedin is a dichotomy between development and protection. The people of St Kilda (all 340 of them!) stood up to the Crown in an act of civil disobedience that must be one of our earliest environmental protests. It’s a familiar story and something that we still see in environmental management today, the fine line between sustainability and reward and local versus national interests. It’s also a cautionary tale that asks us to consider how we might act today and whether we can learn from its moral. Would we see local politicians like the Mayor of St Kilda Borough, John Pugh Jones take out a sledgehammer and remove railway lines to stop mining? That kind of representative passion for his borough and city is something that would be a rarity today.
The ink on the Dunedin City Council’s 2015 Long Term Plan is nearly dry for yet another year and undoubtedly there will be some winners and losers in the community. Annually the Dunedin Amenities Society fronts up to the City Council to promote the values and landscape of the city seeking reassurances that funding won’t be lost or reduced. The other aspect of the Society’s submissions over the years has been the worrying trend of declining standards around, litter, vandalism and general maintenance of the many parks and public spaces reserves enjoyed by the community. In some regards taking similar concerns to the Council each year is a little soul-destroying because of the realisation that it’s almost like a broken record. However, as an organisation the Society have an obligation to act as a voice of advocacy for these issues because of their importance in our community and in the wider recognition of the values of Dunedin.
The Society’s 2015 submission focused very strongly around the growing interest from the public in the two Town Belt Traverse events that it has undertaken in 2013 and 2015. The idea of creating the Traverse into a permanent interpretative trail has strong appeal. The recreational, heritage and conservation benefits has positive spin-offs for the community and the tourist economy, as well as an opportunity to link social institutions such as Toitu, Moana Pool and Olveston. However, without investment in basic management and maintenance of the tracks and footpaths in the Town Belt the project is likely to stall and founder. Simply put, recreational and commuter walking access is essential to the project and improvements to these assets are imperative to make the Traverse usable and an enjoyable visitor experience. The Society highlighted these issues which are in most cases are no more than minor works in a presentation to Councillors at the Long Term Plan hearings and this can be viewed here. Amenities Society LTP Presentation. A full copy of the society’s submission can also be read here. Amenities Society Submission Annual Plan 2015
One of the unheralded groups who have done so much for the community and the Dunedin Amenities Society is the Dunedin City Council sponsored Task force Green and Community Volunteers. No matter what the job this group of people are willing and able to put in the effort for the good of the community and its citizens. The Dunedin Amenities Society have had the pleasure of having many of their number undertake a range of work on its projects, always with excellent results. Well led, well organised and always willing, this group have proved invaluable in Dunedin for many years. Recently the Society had six volunteers undertake road marshaling on the Town Belt Traverse. They gave up their Sunday to help our organisation put on a great event and keep people safe. You can’t place a value on that kind of assistance, and the Society would like to publicly acknowledge the team and wish them well in all of the things they do for our great city. (Click on pictures to view in full size).
Its time to get your walking shoes on again and explore one of Dunedin’s great natural and historical landscapes. The Town Belt Traverse is an 8.2 kilometre from the Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens taking in the heart of the Dunedin Town Belt on Sunday 29th March. The great thing about it is its absolutely free!
The route is a pram friendly event for people of all ages stopping off at five points along the way. Participants will receive a map and ticket at the car-park inside the Southern Cemetery. The traverse starts at between 10-10.30 am and all participants must complete the traverse by 1.30. Collect a stamp at all five marshal points and you can be eligible for some great local prizes. The route is marked and there will be marshals at road crossing points along the way.
The Dunedin Town Belt is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserves and plays a special part in the physical and historic landscape of Dunedin. It has a rich history that dates back to the planning of Dunedin before settlers arrived here in 1848. The Town Belt covers 203 hectares and includes the two historic cemeteries and the Botanic Gardens. With its extensive parkland and forest remnants it creates a green corridor through the heart of the city.
Today the Town Belt is an important recreational and ecological asset for the city and provides invaluable habitat for kereru, bellbird, tomtit, tui, rifleman, morepork, and shining cuckoo. The vegetation is an eclectic mix of exotics that dominates the southern area of the ‘belt to the more kanuka and fuchsia dominated ridges and gullies of the northern areas. At Woodhaugh an old stand of kahikatea remains as a reminder of a significant wetland forest that once stood there.
For the Dunedin Amenities Society the protection and enhancement of the Town Belt was the beginning of its foundation in 1888. The Society was founded through the energy of Thomas Brown and Alexander Bathgate to protect, enhance and promote Dunedin’s landscape and biodiversity. The Town Belt Traverse is your opportunity to explore through a self guided walk one of New Zealand’s great reserve sites.
- The outstanding views from Admiral Byrd’s lookout at Unity Park
- Walking through Jubilee Park (Thomlinson’s Paddock) the site of the foundation of the Society and a temporary camp for miners on their way to the goldfields
- Serpentine Avenue where toitu stream once flowed
- Learn about the old tram line running through Robin Hood Park from the High Street cable car group.
- Learn more about the cosmos from the Beverly-Begg Observatory
- Take a free visit the gardens and grounds of the Olveston stately home
- Experience the lushness of the fuchsia dominated forest of Queens Drive to Cosy Dell
- Hear local poets perform at the Clear in honour of Charles Brasch at Prospect Park
- Enjoy lunch at the old wetland forest remnant at Woodhaugh (Free BBQ supplied)
- Get a kowhai seed kit and learn more about Project Gold in the Town Belt
What to Bring
- Comfortable walking shoes
- A warm jacket (you won’t need it because it’ll be warm and sunny!)
- A drink and a snack for energy (we have a chocolate bar to get you started)
- Your camera
- Your inquisitive nature
- Your friends and family (dogs on leads thanks)
- A costume (you might win a prize)
You can use the Normanby bus from opposite Woodhaugh to return to your vehicle at the Southern Cemetery. Check out the bus timetable here.
The Town Belt Traverse Route
The Town Belt Traverse follows the red line on the map from the historic Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens. You can find out more about the unique features of the ‘Belt by clicking on the icons of the map and enlarging it with your mouse. This map is interactive and can be used on a smart-phone.
The Dunedin City Council announced on the 19th of September its intention to consider selling 149 parcels of land across the city for a potential return of $10 million dollars.The sale of a variety of city properties has probably not come as news to Dunedin residents as the city struggles to find ways to meet debt repayments. However, analysing the list of properties that the City Council is considering for sale makes for sobering reading. What is clear from the proposal is the possibility of shedding undeveloped recreational open space, playgrounds and esplanade strips which are designed for accessibility and conservation of waterways. One site in particular that provides essential access to waterways and the wider track areas of Ross Creek falls into this category. So, the sale of such properties deserves closer examination of the public use of such land assets for suburban and rural community’s alike.
For an organisation like the Society it raises questions of the value placed on improvements undertaken by community groups and whether that investment will be returned for redistribution to other projects after any potential sale. In one example the Society have invested significant time and capital planting an area proposed for sale which the Council and community have benefited from. It could be argued that the land value has been increased and if it is sold does the value of those improvements get appraised and returned to the Society or the community? Many community organisations who make contributions in a variety of ways to public lands may have similar views and it may make organisations less enthusiastic to make such contributions in the future.
One of the other disturbing aspects of the sale proposals is the loss of open and play spaces, particularly local playgrounds who’s use often fluctuates due to generational change in community’s. Rationalisation of public property today, can mean diminished public areas that are needed in the future. Once again the question has to be asked in lieu of the Council’s playground upgrade programme whether sale proceeds of playgrounds will be reinvested into the community’s strapped for facilities and amenities. This is particularly relevant to these sites, as many are ones that have not been invested in or developed by local authorities over the years. Many of the parcels also appear to be older reserve contributions created as part of subdivision and this should stimulate further discussion on how this process is undertaken and under what criteria, so that the land is economically and socially viable at the time of development.
Highlighted on the list of potential sale properties was 76 Lovelock Avenue and a search of the City Council’s land map shows that this is a substantial portion of the Dunedin Town Belt. The land includes Opoho Park, Lovelock Bush and Bracken’s View. Now it would be easy to get hot and bothered and jump up and down at the notion that part of Dunedin’s oldest reserves was to be flogged off to the highest bidder, but it surely has to be either a clerical error or a practical joke in very poor taste. Needless to say the Society will be keeping a firm eye on this process, particularly the rational of the selection process and the methodology of consultation with the community. As for the sale of the Town Belt, well it’s probably best to take that with a grain of salt and quote a well-known beer commercial, as its doubtful the City Council are that brave.