Cambridge New Zealand – an historical missed opportunity

In August of 1964, shortly after my 13th birthday, in my last year at Whitehall School and before 1965’s big move to Cambridge High School, Mr Sutcliffe, our headmaster bought us older kids into town, during school time, to see the unveiling of the Fort Street plaque in that special week leading up to the Cambridge Centennial celebrations. Despite the rain and the briefness of the ceremony it is an experience I recall with absolute clarity. An historic event commemorating an historic Cambridge time and place; it enveloped me personally – vividly – in our history.

In recent days, in June of 2010, I became aware of the work to be carried out in the area we shall call the senior citizen’s hall car park – a not insignificant portion of the ‘historic precinct’ bounded by Victoria and Fort Streets and Milicich Place; the area referred to on the Fort Street plaque.

I took little notice until Wednesday (23/6/2010) when I, at last, walked over to have a look – discovering with more than just a little surprise an archaeological ‘dig’ in progress. I spoke briefly with the site manager and took this photograph of her. The significance of this began to dawn on me in the rather haphazard way that things do when you find yourself out of the loop.

Cambridge NZ dig 23/6/2010

12:19PM Wednesday, 23/June/2010

I walked away somewhat confused and with the promise to return with the means to photograph the site from on high – something it was suggested – was not in the budget. On Wednesday evening I arranged with real estate photographer Jason Tregurtha to use his high tech elevated photography rig to record the site.  Unfortunately this was not to be. I have been kicking myself for the past two days for not having had the presence of mind to ask how much longer the dig would be in progress. Returning to the site 24 hours after my first visit I found the dig all but covered over.

Cambridge Senior Citizen's Hall car park 24/6/2010

12:22PM Thursday, 24/June/2010

So, who could have exercised the foresight, the leadership, the imagination, indeed, who if anyone, has the responsibility or the authority to have grabbed the opportunity to share this with the rest of us? Not in the future, not as a report, but as it was happening.  Who has the responsibility for advocating our cultural and historical heritage? In the week we were being encouraged to celebrate voluntarism who missed the opportunity to seek docents or interpreters – even security – from our community for this project?

Here is a list of the statutory, community, ad hoc and informal offices(ers) who may or may not have had a say in this –  indeed who may have been consulted (or not) – in no particular order: Waipa District Council staff, our elected Waipa representatives, the Cambridge Historical Society Inc. (of which I am a member), the curator of Cambridge Museum, the Waipa District iwi liaison officer, the Waipa Heritage Council (an informal committee of Waipa District Council), the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the New Zealand Archaeological Association.

I feel let down by those responsible for the care and stewardship of our heritage. What a lost opportunity. Lost a teaching moment – an investment in our future.  Lost a time to savour and share – the opportunity for contemplation and reflection on our heritage. With leadership, effective communications and planning the management of this project in terms of cost, time frame and security could / should have factored community enthusiasm, knowledge and expertise into the dig for the benefit of us all.

We did the elevated shot anyway – for the record – thanks Jason.

Elevated shot Senior Citizen's Hall car park Cambridge

1:38PM Saturday, 25/June/2010 Photo credit: Jason Tregurtha open2view.com

© Michael Jeans | +64 27 496 3802 | galleries | michael@michaeljeans.co.nz

6 thoughts on “Cambridge New Zealand – an historical missed opportunity

  1. Pingback: Karapiro New Zealand – the I’m on tv experience « Michael Jeans

  2. Steve, I’m in the NW England, but sorry to say I have no connection with your uncle’s poetry book. I will be in New Zealand in February.
    My daughter, were you to ask her, would relate the general situation with regard to rescue archaeology worldwide which she has been doing for years. Essentially professionals are brought in for the lowest tender to conduct as fast a dig as their professionalism dictates within a tight time frame. They are holding up the development whilst their work goes on. My daughter once held up 120 construction workers waiting to build a bridge on the Belfast – Dundalk motorway in Ireland for 4 weeks whilst she excavated an Iron Age site, and caused Dublin City Council to make a £1.5m detour with a 9′ sewer pipe in Dublin Bay to avoid an ancient sunken vessel she discovered (she is also a qualified deep sea diver). These examples demonstrate how professional archaeologists have the difficult job of interfacing between developers (perhaps holding up their endeavours and pushing up their costs significantly) and the meticulous recording and in some cases protection of finds for the historical record, all to a deadline. Future Dublin judges might not be too happy at the medieval arch blocking some of their underground car park when it gets built, thanks to my daughter’s uncovering of a previously unknown and now protected structure underground.
    Most societies seem incapable of funding extensive archaeological work on a local continuing basis, and in the UK virtually all the money English Heritage has goes to propping up medieval churches of which there are hundreds. Local County Archaeologists in the UK do little original work and largely wait for finds to be brought in and discovered by others. My guess is that New Zealand is not dissimilar, hence the dependence on rescue archaeology and the continuation of the profession as the cinderella of council budgetting. (not surprisingly, social services, roads, schools, police, education etc. get priority)
    My daughter tells me that your local dig was particularly successful, and she is very proud of her report on her findings. What I do know having witnessed her work at close hand over years is that it will be world class.
    Maybe you should be attempting to get a copy?
    John Keith

  3. Given the site manager you photographed is my daughter I can assure you that this excavation would have been conducted with a practical thoroughness that her long experience in excavating important historical sites (not only in Australia and New Zealand, but in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) would dictate. I would add that she has degrees in Archaeology from both Glasgow and Ulster (an MSc) which place her fairly high up in academic qualification, in Ireland (Eire) she also has the elevated status and qualification enabling her to solely direct sites of very high national historic value. I have no doubt this excavation would have been conducted to the highest international standards in terms of practical excavational experience and academic know how. The protection and recording of the world’s heritage is at the forefront of any serious archaeologist’s aims. That’s what would have happened on this site.

    • John, I don’t think there was any malice meant towards your daughter, more to the fact that it was kept quiet from the locals. I am sure she is very well qualified to conduct these things, and while we applaud this valuable work, it is the lack of direction by local bodies enabling historical societies and interested parties from finding out before it is too late that rankles.

      I wonder if you are the same John Keith from my neck of the woods up there in NW UK?
      If so, you used one of my uncle’s poems in your book about the great Dixie. If it is you, all the best from down here in NZ.

  4. Hi Michael
    Such acts of blatant destruction of historical sites without regard for public opinion or interest surely demonstrates a narrow minded view of those who managed this project and others. As a previous owner of an historical home in Cambridge I was to witness the councils greed when they approved subdivision of this site for development. I agree with Steve’s comment about the lost opportunity for schools to educate children about the true history of Cambridge and can only surmise that MONEY is the driving force behind such decision making. Were the local Marae contacted about this site it appears NOT. I will be taking a keen interest in local matters from now on
    Ka kite
    Lillian

  5. Michael, I find it utterly disgraceful that things like this can go unnoticed and ignored, or indeed, deemed to be un-important for locals. I applaud your efforts to bring it to our attention, what a shame more use couldn’t have been made for local schools.

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