Panorama joining past and present

04:31, Apr 05 2012
Christopher Vine
HUMAN LANDMARK: Nelson heritage fan Christopher Vine at his home in Synagogue Lane.

Retired conservation architect Christopher Vine has spent much of the last 50 years campaigning to save Nelson's heritage from the wrecker's ball.

Born and educated in Britain, Christopher was part of the campaigns to save Broadgreen House, Melrose House and Fairfield House. He was also part of an unsuccessful bid to save the Provincial Buildings that stood on the land now occupied by Nelson's courthouse.

A father of four, Christopher and his family came to New Zealand as "nuclear refugees" after the Cuban Missile Crisis. He has lived in Nelson since 1964 and is a potter, a former newspaper columnist, and writer and illustrator of the book Nelson Observed.

In 1978 he unsuccessfully ran for Parliament as a member of the short-lived Potty Party (he got 45 votes), and he was president of the Nelson Institute for 25 years until his retirement last year.

Christopher was also a member of the Suter Trust Board for 15 years and last Sunday celebrated his 80th birthday. He will be giving a presentation as part of Nelson's Heritage Week programme and recently campaigned to get the name of the street where he lives changed from Church Lane to Synagogue Lane. This week he talked to the Motueka-Golden Bay News.

In a nutshell why is the past important? If you connect with things in the past it gives you proper perspective on the present. In other words, you don't have tunnel vision  you have a panorama.


Why were you so keen to see Church Lane changed to Synagogue Lane?
History, partly. It had a synagogue that had been mostly forgotten and there were only seven, I believe, in the whole country. Secondly, there are three Church streets; another in Nelson, one in Richmond and one in Wakefield, and things were going in the wrong letterboxes.

Over the years you've described Nelson's clock tower as "the ugliest building in the Southern Hemisphere". Is there anything that could be done to it to lessen its hideousness?
Apart from wiping it off the map, I think the creepers that are now growing on it are a start. They might smother the whole thing and veil the horror.

What other buildings around the region get you going? One I really dislike almost as much as the clock tower is NMIT's library. It's an absolute non-building. It's just awful. It's a nasty grey box. It looks like an old mattress with holes in it. Things I like include the Nelson Pine Industries building illuminated at night with steam coming out of it like an old dreadnought. My favourite in Motueka is the memorial fountain by the old stone wharf.

Are there any modern buildings in the region you like? I like the Pitt and Moore building in Selwyn Place, the H&Js building in Bridge St, architect Marc Barron's house in Examiner St and the building Vodaphone is in on the corner of Bridge and Trafalgar Sts.

What's your position on the oak trees in Queens Gardens?
It looks to me like they could be rotting. In the course of things trees have a natural lifespan. It's possible that their span has been achieved.

How about the idea of a massive sculpture on Haulashore Island?
Daft. It would need to be so big to make an impact from the shore. You've already got two guardians in the lighthouse and Fifeshire Rock, and if you want to do anything different on the island, plant pohutukawa and kanuka.

As we're covering issues of the day, what are your thoughts on amalgamation?
We were a province once and I see Nelson and Tasman as one area and think that having it split is rather parochial. We'd also have more clout nationally if we spoke with one voice.

How about voluntary euthanasia?
It's not for everyone. People in the Exit Group that I'm active in are independent people and most of them, like me, fear dementia more than death. I think Maryan Street's private member's bill is a huge step in the right direction.

Your presentation during Heritage Week is called Christopher Vine's Landmarks. Can you give us a sneak preview? They're largely gone but they're things like the hop kilns. They're unique to Nelson. You don't see them anywhere else in New Zealand. That's all I'm telling you, you'll have to come to my talk.

For a man who just celebrated his 80th birthday you seem full of beans. What's the secret?
Luck. It's not even genes, really. My parents both were long-lived but they weren't particularly happy. I'm much happier than they were  I think I've got more friends. I enjoy my own company but friends are the key, and I'm the father to four remarkable children and two lovely grandchildren. For my birthday there must have been over 100 people at my place from noon til midnight and it was one of the best days of my life.

If you were a building what would you be and why?
Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. It's a wonderful building. It's the only building I can think of in the world that has a huge wooden octagon that lets light in over the crossing. It's the unexpectedness of the light coming where you don't expect it. It's a beautiful thing.