Whalers' base now a heritage site

BRIDGET RAILTON
Last updated 05:00 19/03/2014

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A historic Norwegian whalers' base on Stewart Island has become New Zealand's first marine heritage site, giving prized archeological artefacts legal protection against thieves.

The Price's Inlet base has been declared an archeological site by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, meaning the 2 hectare site, which extends across private and Southland District Council road reserve land and into the marine area, is now legally protected.

Tangible items such as the Othello shipwreck, a concrete and wooden slipway and dam and the ammunition store and Swedish boiler at Millers Beach are part of the base.

The Southland Coastal Heritage Project, a partnership between Environment Southland, the Department of Conservation, the New Zealand Archaeological Association, the Historic Places Trust, the district council, the Invercargill City Council and Te Aō Marama, in conjunction with regional archaeologist Dr Matthew Schmidt, had mapped and documented the site in "Project Njord" to demonstrate its archeological significance.

Dr Schmidt said the unique nature of the base not only provided insight into Stewart Island's heritage but was nationally significant.

"It's a very special site in terms of European and our history from last century - in particular, the connection between Antarctica, New Zealand and Norway."

In October, 2012 the project was given a leg up by Environment Southland, which committed $10,000 from the marine fee reserve fund to help expedite the project's process because of concerns about the site's lack of protection against items being removed.

Councillor Neville Cook said Environment Southland was pleased to have been able to contribute to the preservation of the whalers' base, which was a special part of Southland's history.

There was a chance descendants of the Norwegian whalers were still in the area or around New Zealand and it was great to preserve some of their history for them, he said.

There was always a risk that people could have scavenged the site for memorabilia, he said. "If we don't preserve it, we would lose it."

A Norwegian celebration, a Norsk Feiring, will be held on Stewart Island from April 4-6. It will be attended by the Royal Norwegian Consulate-General, Graeme Mitchell from Wellington, and feature sailings to the whalers' base.

Further information about the event if available by contacting the Rakiura Museum.

 

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