Lessons aplenty preserved in past

Last updated 12:45 04/02/2013

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OPINION: Anniversaries are links in a chain reaching back through time to an event of significance.

While 171 years might be less than a drop in the bucket of time, it's our drop, and Nelsonians have good reason to look back with pride on 17 decades of settlement, while also seeking out lessons from the past as we continue to evolve.

Nelson Anniversary Day does not mark the first encounter between Maori and Pakeha or the arrival of the first European ship to the new colony. It fixes, however, on the arrival of the first main immigrant ship, the Fifeshire, on February 1, 1842.

Three months earlier, the Whitby, Will Watch and Arrow had anchored in Nelson's safe haven, bringing the first group of pioneer settlers who were charged with paving the way for the influx to come.

Those wishing to flesh out their understanding of the making of Nelson will find rich sources of information in the region's libraries - though the totally unsatisfactory state of the provincial museum's vitally important research facility at Isel Park is a cause of anxiety.

If books such as Nelson: A History of Settlement by Ruth Allan or the much later Nelson, A Regional History, by Jim McAloon, are the tall ships of our history, then the extensive newspaper, photographic and other collections housed in unsafe premises at Isel Park are the supplies and provisions so vital to all on board.

Our councils need to show greater commitment to their obligation to protect them.

Just as important as the pioneer histories are to telling the story of Nelson is the information revealed through the regional iwi Treaty claim process.

The reports published following Waitangi Tribunal hearings add significantly to the official settler-oriented record from our past. Lessons based on them should be required reading for anyone with an interest in Nelson, and covered as part of the school curriculum.

While we rarely feel that we are part of tomorrow's history as we go about our business day by day, we all have our part to play in making Nelson what it is and what it will become.

It is interesting to note that, as our population, knowledge and collective wealth has grown, it seems increasingly difficult for our council leaders to get things done.

The early pages of history are full of achievement and virtually entire communities banding together to ensure necessary facilities were built. This approach seems in marked contrast to today's climate of negativity and division, even in a time of wealth and comfort when compared with the settlement's earliest decades.

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As well as looking back on what has been, today's public holiday offers a chance for us to sit back and reflect on what we have in the here and now. Today's special anniversary day issue of the Nelson Mail has been about celebrating some of the many things, large and small, that we love about the region.

It is easy to drift along and take things for granted. In truth, Nelson's cup is very much more than half full when compared with most parts of the world. We have much to be thankful for.

- Nelson

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