ONSLOW HISTORICAL SOCIETY AGM, 86 KHANDALLAH ROAD
DRAFT SPEAKING POINTS
- Murray Pillar
- Members of the Onslow Historical Society
Thank you for inviting me tonight. I appreciate the good work of the Onslow Heritage Society and I am pleased to speak to people who take history and the preservation of archival material seriously.
Eminent British historian Norman Davis said “A society unaware of its history is like a person suffering from amnesia. It simply cannot function efficiently”.
Who we are is clearly connected to where we are and where we have come from.
The books this society has published about Wellington’s northern suburbs – along with your magazines and exhibitions – connect Wellingtonians to their past and to other communities. I appreciate all this has been achieved by committed volunteers and through the Society’s willingness to fund research.
History and heritage protection cannot just be the preserve of academia and government agencies – we all know it needs to exist at a grass-roots, community level.
Local people have local knowledge and provide context for archival material and photographs. They are more likely to appreciate the significance of their heritage and to take up their cudgels to protect it.
The Onslow Historical Society was no exception when it came to saving this building from destruction. And you have shown how adaptive re-use can give new life to a heritage building like this.
Of course, heritage is under the spotlight as never before, following the Canterbury earthquakes.
In the immediate aftermath, I was hugely impressed with the dedication of people in the heritage sector in Canterbury. At some considerable personal risk, museum staff carefully removed collections from unstable buildings and took them to safer ground.
The Air Force Museum at Wigram opened its hangars to provide space for temporary storage for collections from beleaguered communities.
There seemed to be a collective understanding that these objects were part of the region’s identity and must not be lost.
I was very pleased government funding enabled the Air Force Museum’s extension to be completed and used as a temporary cultural recovery centre for displaced collections – until such time as they can be returned to their owners.
Like the Onslow Historical Society, some of these community museums were housed in heritage buildings – and of course, there is nothing unusual about that in New Zealand.
The issue of earthquake strengthening therefore becomes doubly pertinent for such organisations – to both preserve the integrity of the buildings – and also to minimise damage to the collections they house.
Fortunately there is heightened interest in developing engineering expertise with regard to assessment and retrofitting options. People need to know what their options are, including affordable methods of stabilising, repairing and strengthening heritage buildings.
Over time, I hope building owners will regard this work as part of their on-going maintenance activities.
The government is undertaking a review of policy for earthquake-prone buildings.
For those of you who don’t know what an earthquake-prone building is, it is a building which is under 34 per cent of the current National Building Standard.
As part of our review, the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment has produced a discussion paper for earthquake-prone buildings which includes a section devoted to heritage.
It acknowledges the cost of strengthening heritage buildings as well as the benefits accrued to the wider community; the variation in heritage rules between district plans; and the tendency for heritage buildings to be poorly resourced and owned by non-profit and community groups.
As I said, the policy is still being developed and nothing is set in concrete at this stage. And we are well aware that one size does not fit all and there may well be different expectations in different parts of the country.
What I can say is that councils will be expected to identify earthquake-prone buildings in their areas. We need to know how big the numbers are.
The engineering fraternity understand the need for consistent and reliable assessments of heritage buildings – but there are huge demands on a limited number of experts in the field. I am pleased to see Canterbury University and Auckland University have both brought in new courses to get people already working in the field up to speed.
Some of you may have attended an earthquake expo for the public, held recently in Wellington by earthquake engineers in tandem with Wellington City Council. I appreciate these efforts to provide readily understood information to the public so they can get a better sense of the issues and the options available.
My officials from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage have attended public meetings around the country to assess people’s responses to the government’s discussion paper on earthquake-prone buildings.
Generally, they found strong support for heritage. At the same time, there was recognition that not all heritage buildings can be saved from demolition.
What we are inevitably going to see is prioritising of heritage, at a local and national level. I know some Councils are already thinking along those lines and I commend Wellington City Council for prioritising the strengthening buildings on main arterial routes – and for making great progress in identifying buildings which need strengthening.
Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Bill
At a national level, the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga bill, currently before the House, contains provision for a National Historic Landmarks List. These are buildings and places of national importance which New Zealanders would expect to see conserved for the future.
When we came into government in 2008, I clearly signalled we needed to review the Historic Places Act as the structure set up by the 1993 Act is inappropriate for a Crown entity.
We are changing the Trust’s governance structure and its name – to Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The key aspect is the removal of the word “Trust” as this is inconsistent with the organisation’s statutory responsibilities.
Under the bill, Heritage New Zealand’s archaeological processes will be streamlined, allow more opportunities for Māori input and align with the Resource Management Act.
Costs will be reduced for property-owners.
A Parliamentary Select Committee is considering the bill and submissions on it, for report back to Parliament next month.
From your point of view, I assure you nothing in the legislation undermines or lessens local heritage advocacy. I expect it to be strengthened by the changes.
The Branch Committees are being disestablished and this has already created opportunities for new heritage groups to form, working outside the rules and priority-setting of a Crown entity – independent organisations such as Historic Places Wellington.
As the Onslow Historical Society has so clearly demonstrated, groups do not need to be large to achieve significant heritage wins.
We have come a long way since Katherine Mansfield’s assertion that “We are a little land with no history”.
Were she were alive today – and logged on to Te Ara, our online encyclopedia – she probably would have something very different to say.
She could not have anticipated our thirst for history – or the work of Jamie Belich and Michael King, the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, the commemorative events New Zealanders flock to – and the work of historical societies such as yours, all around New Zealand.
The story of this region is a microcosm of the bigger New Zealand story – the changing fortunes of various iwi; the stockades, militia and skirmishes of the 1840s; the impact of farming, transport and industry; the privations of depression and wartime; right through to the development of a distinctive New Zealand architecture by local practitioners, Chapman Taylor and Ian Athfield.
It is all here in the Onslow district – and this Society is playing its part in making sure it is not forgotten.
Congratulations for reaching this milestone of 45 years.
I wish you all the very best with your future work.
 Norman Davies, author of The Isles, quoted in BBC History Magazine, Vol 2 no 5 (May 2001), p 18.
 Sally Blundell, “What will become of Christchurch’s Fallen Glory”, New Zealand Geographic, March 2013, p 60
 Wellington’s Northern Suburbs 1840-1918, and Wellington’s Northern Suburbs 1919-1945, compiled by Julie Bremner for the Onslow Historical Society Inc