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.
The Octagon 1862
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.
The Octagon 1890’s – with the Society’s improvements and the Burns Monument
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 in the 1960’s with the Star Fountain
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.
Preparing for war – the editors family in the Octagon 1940
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)
Members of the Southern Heritage Trust enjoyed a guided tour of the Dunedin Town Belt with Society member Paul Pope on Sunday 2nd of March. The 5.2 kilometre walk from Unity Park to the Clear at Prospect Park was an opportunity to view and discuss historic areas of the Town Belt and its environs and their importance to the history of Dunedin. The group viewed:
The old High Street school important to Society co-founder Alexander Bathgate’s foundation of Arbor Day in NZ.
Jubilee Park – an important area for the foundation of the Society, temporary mining camp and site of the stream Toitu.
The construction of Maori Road
The tramway through Robin Hood Park
Dunedin’s first cemetery at York Place/Arthur Street, the use of the area for barracks and an asylum
The site of Sir John Roberts house at Roberts Park above Moana Pool
The influence of Thomson on the area of the Town Belt around Olveston
The Clear at Prospect Park and the memorial to the poet Charles Brasch
The Society and the Southern Heritage Trust have a great deal in common and on a fine autumn morning the walk was a great opportunity to connect and discuss area’s of historical and heritage interest. It’s positive to see other groups in Dunedin share the Society’s belief that the Town Belt is not only a unique landscape and biodiversity area but an important historic and heritage area.
Members of the Dunedin Amenities society will be saddened to learn of the passing of Society life member Les Cleveland. Les was a man of outstanding achievements, businessman, philanthropist, regional councillor, environmentalist, family man, opera singer but above all, he was at heart, a gardener. Les trained in horticulture at the Dunedin Botanic Garden before embarking on a successful business career that led him into the wider fields of interest that he pursued with the vigour and enthusiasm that was his hallmark.
Dunedin City and the region has benefited from his efforts in many of these fields of interest especially those associated with arts and culture where he was a generous benefactor. The Society will always remember his outstanding contribution to the city’s amenity and townscape values. In particular the planting of many city reserves, beautification of areas with daffodils and rhododendrons and his fundraising for the Society’s development of the Anzac Square Gardens at the Railway Station. These projects are a lasting legacy that have created valuable and beautiful open spaces for our city. His humour, good will, and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed.
Members of the Dunedin Amenities Society met with Council staff and its engineering consultants this morning to review the recent bush clearance below the dam face. The clearance of any native bush area is always something that should be mourned, but the nature of the dam and its purpose has meant that it is unavoidable. Today’s inspection showed that the City Council have reduced the bush clearance from the original 5000 square metres by nearly a half and that is a very satisfactory outcome. The plan now is for the City Council to survey the site and complete their design plans for the dam strengthening so that work can begin in October. The Society raised a number of issues regarding the habitat and recreational restoration once the work was completed. Particular concerns are the opening up of the existing canopy and effects on the remaining bush edges from increased light levels now that clearance is completed. This has relevance in regards to the invasion of the area by undesirable weed species. Other issues that will come out of the next design phase will be the repositioning of the former recreational tracks. While the City Council has much to do in planning the restoration of the site, the Society can at least see a clear coherent process at work, and that provides some reassurance. Click on the photograph’s to view gallery.
The Society were pleased to host members of the Southern Heritage Trust at Craigieburn on a stunning autumn day on Saturday 13th April. The trust members took a 2 hour guided tour of the Craigieburn area with project manager Paul Pope. Trust members were very interested to hear the detailed history of the Rankin, Sherriff and Tanner families who farmed the area from 1860, and enjoyed seeing the archaeological and restoration efforts of the Society for the reserve. The Trust members were also kept fit exploring the tracks around the site and viewing the impressive rimu forest on the southern boundary of the property. The Southern Heritage Trust are an important organisation in the protection and appreciation of Otago’s social, cultural, architectural and industrial heritage and the Trust and the Society have many shared interests and synergies. A very enjoyable day and great to meet people with a passion for a unique site like Craigieburn.