Milestones pass with 'barely a whisper'

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 11:27 17/06/2014
Lloyd Esler
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
HISTORY ON TRACK: Historian Lloyd Esler takes a closer look at the replica of the Lady Barkly, the first steam-powered locomotive in New Zealand.

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Southland's historic milestones could be forgotten forever if communities don't get behind their heritage.

That's the warning from southern historians as some of the region's important milestones pass with ''barely a whisper''.

One such milestone, the 150th anniversary of the Lady Barkly arriving in Southland, passed last August without celebration, despite the event holding an important place in transportation history.

The Lady Barkly was the first steam-powered locomotive in New Zealand, operating on wooden tracks between Invercargill and Makarewa after it arrived from Australia in 1863.

A replica of the locomotive, built by Owen Bennett to mark the engine's 140th anniversary, sits at the Stead St wharf, near where it was first unloaded.

With the train's 151st anniversary now approaching, Bennett said it was disappointing last year's milestone was not recognised and celebrated.

He was unsure who should have flagged the 150th, suggesting local historians or the Invercargill City Council could have put the word out. ''It just seems to have slipped under the radar with everybody.''

Historian Lloyd Esler said the council would need input from the community to initiate any celebration.

''I think we'd have probably relied on the railway enthusiasts to tug at our elbows and say, 'this is quite an important year'.''

Other big dates have also been and gone without celebration in the region. Invercargill's 150th anniversary was marked in 2006, but Southland province's equivalent passed without fanfare in 2011, which was a shame, Esler said.

Fellow historian Dr Aaron Fox said there was some talk of marking the Southland anniversary in the years before, but nothing eventuated.

''It all just passed with barely a whisper – it was very sad, actually.''

There were several other important anniversaries approaching, including the foundation of many Southland towns and businesses, but unless Southlanders believed they were worth celebrating, nothing would be done to mark them, Fox said.

Communities needed to brainstorm ideas on how to best celebrate important historic events, before approaching government groups for funding or support, he said.

The hardest part was communities keeping track of when these anniversaries were coming up, Fox said.

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- The Southland Times

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