Time to preserve Southland's heritage

Southland's rich past holds the key to its future.

Historic buildings, the landscape, places of cultural significance and even the rolling r's and gastronomic delights are drawcards for visitors to the area.

The region's history and heritage is already a major drawcard luring visitors to the southern reaches of New Zealand but more can be done to preserve Southland's story and sell it to tourists.

That was one of the key messages delivered at the Southland Heritage Forum on the weekend.

A range of heritage tourism and heritage conservation experts spoke at the event, which aimed to help build a stronger heritage community in the south.

Heritage Forum co-ordinator Rebecca Amundsen said Southland's heritage was an important part of the region's identity and something to be proudly shared with those visiting the area.

A Venture Southland survey showed Southland's heritage was "of growing interest to those who visit the region", she said.

"The Heritage Forum would help heritage organisations meet the future needs of their sector."

Amundsen said this year's forum was timely, with the announcement of the Richardson's Truck Museum development.

The project would have a significant impact on both the city and region in terms of heritage tourism, she said.

Developing the region's heritage sector would provide more opportunity for heritage organisations, groups and events to become more sustainable and grow.

Presentations and workshops covered strategic planning at individual, organisational and regional tourism levels, while technology, such as internet and apps to share heritage and engineering support for heritage buildings, was also canvassed.

Presenters worked with a diverse selection of Southland experts from various fields on preserving and sharing heritage.

Auckland Museum research head Dr Jane Legget, who was one of the speakers, said in a world becoming ever more homogenous, with culture becoming "McDonalds-ised", there was a risk of places losing their distinctiveness.

"It's the built heritage like churches, courthouses, war memorials and the streetscapes that make a place special," she said. "Food, accents and landscape also all hold heritage value."

There was also a heritage much older than that of European settlement in New Zealand that needed to be embraced.

People living in New Zealand often cast their eyes to Europe for "a taste of true history", Legget said.

The things they saw every day in their communities often got overlooked.

There was rich Maori heritage dating back about 1000 years, and the early Pakeha settlers had left their mark, she said.

"An old church in a small New Zealand town has just as much heritage value as an ancient cathedral in Europe if people are willing to look for it."

People working together to preserve and share their heritage would safeguard what made a place unique and special but could also bring economic benefits to the community, Legget said.

Heritage walks, tours and events if packaged together could entice visitors to stay longer and spend more, she said.

For chartered professional engineer Win Clark, protecting heritage buildings is key, because sometimes those buildings were "architectural masterpieces".

After the Canterbury earthquakes he was asked by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust to provide structural engineering support for the heritage staff in Christchurch.

"There are some beautiful buildings in New Zealand built at the turn of the 20th century," Clark said.

"The combination of stone and brick create an architectural masterpiece and when you go inside, you really feel the warmth of the place.

"It's living and you feel comfortable in it. I think if we can identify those buildings, we should put a lot of effort into preserving them for later generations."

However, as an engineer, he said there was also a time when pragmatism was called for.

As the earthquakes throughout New Zealand had shown, there came a time when trying to save a heritage structure had to be weighed up against the economic implications, Clark said.

"Iconic buildings with local and national importance should be retained. But the biggest question always comes down to who pays," he said.

For non-iconic heritage buildings that needed work, if there was a willing owner and the building was economically viable, then an attempt to save it should be considered.

Any building without an "economic reality", however, should be "kissed goodbye", he said.

The Southland Times