The first week of spring is a great time to shrug of the winter blues and get back into the outdoors again. The Society is undertaking a guiding tour of Craigieburn on Sunday 11th September starting at 10.30. There will be an opportunity to look at some of the artifacts from the archaeological work undertaken on the site and learn more about the use of the area as a Scottish subsistence farm. The walk through the mature rimu forest to see some of the 700 year old giants is one of the highlights. The walk is relatively easy and suitable for people of all ages. So come on along and embrace your pioneer spirit at Craigieburn.
In the last 30 years our concepts of recreation, education and even the way we have fun outdoors has altered significantly. Some of those changes have been driven by our eager embracing of digital technology and the ready availability of information and entertainment in the palm of our hands. Other changes have been societal and economic factors, such as the hours we work, our concepts of risk and safety and even having the knowledge to find opportunities for outdoor recreation and play.
British film-maker and founder of The Wild Network David Bond recently presented a seminar to a range of Dunedin people involved in recreation, education and conservation. David has increasingly seen children who no longer have a direct connection to nature and who are fast losing the knowledge that previous generations had of the outdoors. Part of the reason for this has been the upsurge in the availability of television, the internet and the power of advertising creating sedentary children. With an increasing obesity epidemic in western countries including New Zealand our ability to be active and use natural spaces to play and roam in is now vital. It’s also esential that our children are able to explore nature so that we create a new generation of active conservation stewards, advocates and lovers of nature.
With David Bond the group looked at the barriers to kids connecting with nature and there were four main themes;
- Fear – for children’s safety, stranger danger, being risk adverse
- Time – parents being too busy to be able to supervise children’s outdoor play
- Space – the availability of natural areas
- Technology – the competing demands from screen-time which takes away from outdoors play.
As the seminar continued and the group looked at the Dunedin example it became clear that the same barriers to connecting children with nature were present here;
- People not knowing the value of spending time in nature
- Lack of parental time to facilitate children’s time in nature
- Lack of access to green spaces
- Parental fear
- Time-poor kids (too many competing demands such as homework, sport etc)
- A perception of ‘geeky nature’; nature-play not being cool
- Parental peer-pressure to not have ‘wild kids’
- Overzealous H&S requirements and a blame culture leading to time in nature being seen as too risky
- Lack of equipment, competency and knowledge
Dunedin is a great city, full of fantastic places to visit and play, but just how well do we promote their values and their use to the community? The Dunedin landscape has much to offer our community, but how well do we know our neighbourhood parks and reserves? By and large those places cost us nothing to use, and as David Bond suggests nature is actually free. So while there is a bounty on our doorstep, some in our community know very little about those areas and the experiences they offer. This was brought home to the Society recently when people on the 2015 Town Belt Traverse said they “didn’t know this was here!“
As an organisation the Dunedin Amenities Society have a role to play in encouraging people in the community to explore our open spaces and encourage our children to put the wild back into the wilderness.
Valentine’s Day is a day for lovers and romance, and on a warm Dunedin afternoon a group of fifty history and heritage lovers made their way around Dunedin’s shoreline trail. After an overview presentation at Toitu from Heritage New Zealand archaeologist and Society member Paul Pope, the group took the central city shoreline tour. The route follows the 1865 Dunedin shoreline and includes the original prison, lagoon, Octagon, site of Otepoti and Queens Gardens. It was a very enjoyable to be able to share this great insight into our city’s history. The popularity of the shoreline trail adds to the enthusiasm for making this a permanent attraction. (Click on the pictures to see larger view)
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.
It wasn’t the greatest of day for a walk around the city with a heavy cover of drizzle, but that’s never put Dunedin people off before. More than 200 people turned up for the Shoreline Walk as part of the Dunedin Heritage Festival 2015 on Sunday 30th August. Such a turn out was overwhelming, but pleasing at the same time.
With the line of the 1848 and 1865 shoreline mapped by Matt Schmidt from Heritage New Zealand and some temporary markers painted onto the route the Shoreline Trail was something entirely new for Dunedin. The trail takes in some of the earliest occupations of Dunedin, from the use of the foreshore by Maori in the settlement of Otepoti, to the arrival of the first settlers in 1848, and onwards into the boom of the city after the discovery of gold in 1861. The shoreline is a time capsule of Dunedin’s development in the 19th century to what we see today. It’s also a reminder of how much of an impact human settlement has had on Dunedin, in light of the amount of land that was reclaimed from the Otago Harbour.
Today’s event took in many of the important sites that we may take for granted or have forgotten that existed in the passage of time. Matt Schmidt gave great in-depth detail of the archaeological record of the area and how that record tells the story of Dunedin, while Paul Pope added some of the above ground detail about some of the areas including their relevance to the Society. Overall, this was a very successful event that gave people a real insight into the history of Dunedin. It also promotes the idea of making this trail a permanent feature of the city to engage both visitors and the community.
With the number of walkers attending it wasn’t possible to show people some of the pictures that we had of different sites that we visited. Below is a selection of those photographs to give readers a feel for the historic land and street-scape. (Click on the image and you will view it in full size)
Over 20 year ten girls from Otago Girls High School undertook the first Project Gold planting in the Town Belt on Tuesday 11th August. The Amenities Society, Department of Conservation and the Town Belt reserve manager the Dunedin City Council have entered into a partnership to plant more Kowhai in the reserve. The Society will fund 5 years of planting valued at $7,500 in areas around the Town Belt. The Kowhai is an iconic tree that provides valuable feeding opportunities for many native bird species, including the Tui and Bellbird. This years planting in Drivers Road should create a welcome additional area of trees that will enhance the visual and biodiversity quality of the area. It was a frosty start for the pupils, but once they got into their work they quickly warmed up. The planting was also an opportunity for the Society to celebrate as close as possible to to the traditional day of Arbor Day in New Zealand on August the 8th. Well done girls and many thanks to Kevin and the team from Delta, Shirley & Gordon from DCC Parks, John Barkla from DoC and Ribbonwood Nurseries for supplying the trees. This is a great start for Project Gold in our city, well done everyone. (Click on pictures to enlarge)
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.