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New Zealand's Cultural Heritage

What constitutes 'cultural heritage' can be a matter of intense debate: what one person or group values, others may not; one person's trash may be another's treasure. The New Zealand branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) defines 'cultural heritage' as something "possessing historical, archaeological, architectural, technological, aesthetic, scientific, spiritual, social, traditional or other special cultural significance, associated with human activity" (ICOMOS New Zealand, 1993).

New Zealand's ethnic groups each have distinctive histories and cultures that contribute in different ways to our cultural heritage. While the core elements of these cultures were imported from parent cultures overseas, much adaptation and evolution has occurred within the New Zealand environment, particularly with the Māori culture which is distinctive among Polynesian cultures. The result is an evolving mix of Polynesian, European, and also Asian, ways of seeing and doing, making each new generation of New Zealanders slightly different from the previous one and yet intimately linked to it.

No matter what the timespan, our cultural heritage connects us to all who came before us, whether they paddled here from Hawaiki or hoisted sail in the ports of England and Scotland. Most of those who made the traumatic break with their homelands came to settle and build a new life, though some, like sealers, whalers, and itinerant gold miners, soon moved on. Yet all of them-hunters, farmers, merchants and miners-left their stamp on the landscape, whether as beach middens, terraced hillsides, old buildings or graveyards. They also left their mark in the languages we have inherited, the traditional crafts we still value, the fashions we reinvent, the religious ideas that many still adhere to, and the scattered written records, photographs and artefacts of yesteryear. All of these are aspects of our cultural heritage.

A comprehensive review of all these aspects of our cultural heritage is beyond the scope of this report whose focus is primarily on the natural and physical environment. As a result, the following discussion is confined to those aspects of heritage that relate to areas, places and fixed tangible objects. Other aspects of cultural heritage, such as museum collections, creative arts, customs and languages, are not included, though Chapter 9 of this report contains a discussion of culturally important plants and their uses (see Box 9.13).

Places of cultural heritage

New Zealand's cultural heritage places and objects can be roughly divided into four overlapping categories: places of significance to Māori; archaeological sites; historic buildings and structures; and cultural landscapes (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a).

Places of significance to Māori may include 'everyday' sites, such as marae (regular gathering places), pa sites and mahinga kai (food gathering areas), as well as waahi tapu (see Box 2.4 ). Literally translated, waahi tapu means sacred place, but this translation fails to capture the deep emotional and spiritual significance of waahi tapu to the people associated with a site. Urupa (burial grounds) are the most obvious example of waahi tapu, but others can include ana tupapaku (burial caves), ossuaries, pa where battles have occurred, other sites where blood has been spilt, tauranga waka (sites where ancestral canoes have been beached) and some mountains (Manatu Māori, 1991).

Strong bonds link the most important waahi tapu sites to their appropriate tribes. Each iwi, hapu or whanau (tribe, sub-tribe or extended family) has its own definition of waahi tapu which is valid only to them; none would be so presumptuous as to define waahi tapu for another group. Often, the existence or location of a waahi tapu is known only to the local tribe, or to some members of the tribe, who would not consider making that information public (Manatu Māori, 1991). Conversely, sites that are waahi tapu for one tribe may be treated with indifference, or even contempt, by members of another tribe.

Many places of significance to Māori can also be classified from a scientific perspective as archaeological sites. These are valued not for personal or spiritual reasons, but for the information they can provide to those scientists who are trying to better understand our past. However, these different perspectives mean that the relationship between Māori values and archaeological values is not always a comfortable one (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a).

New Zealand has a wide range of archaeological sites. Māori sites include pa, pits, terraces and ditches, platforms, house remains, ovens, stone structures, mounds and middens, source sites (e.g. for rocks), working areas and made soils, caves and rock shelters, rock and tree carvings and drawings, tracks and trails, and botanical evidence (Daniels, 1979). Archaeological sites reflecting colonial history include evidence of early European buildings, industrial sites, gold fields, whaling sites and shipwrecks. Other archaeological sites record the history of contact between Māori and European, such as early meeting places and battle sites.

Historic buildings and structures are, to many New Zealanders, the most obvious face of historic heritage. As well as buildings, these places include fortifications, ruins, lighthouses, bridges, industrial sites and, of course, the many cemeteries whose monuments and plaques provide the last, and often only, tangible testimony to a person's existence. Historic buildings range from single outstanding buildings (e.g. Pompallier House in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand's oldest surviving industrial building) to whole urban settings, such as a street of terraced houses, or a block of commercial buildings (see Box 2.4).

The final category of heritage places is cultural landscapes. With the exception of true wilderness areas, nearly all of New Zealand's landscapes are cultural, in that they reflect the generations of interaction between people and the natural environment. In general however, the term landscape heritage refers to landscapes whose combination of natural and cultural features is considered to be important enough to be retained for future generations (Parliamentary Commisssioner for the Environment, 1996a) (see Box 2.4).

Box 2.4: Three examples of heritage sites and areas
Multi-storey inner-city flats (1940s)

With the easing of the Depression in the 1930s, a severe housing shortage became apparent throughout New Zealand. The newly elected Labour Government built thousands of state rental houses from 1937 to provide the working classes with affordable accommodation of a reasonable standard. In addition to the rental houses, a small number of blocks of flats of reinforced concrete were built in Wellington and Auckland. The earliest block of flats, built in 1939-40, is known today as the Berhampore (or Centennial) Flats. Other examples are the Dixon Street Flats (1941-44) in Wellington, and the Symonds Street and Greys Avenue Flats in Auckland (both built in 1945-47) (Shaw, 1991; Gatley, 1995).

The construction of flats, rather than detached houses, was prompted by shortages of building materials, skilled labour, and land in the cities (Gatley, 1995). While the state houses were conservative and standardised in their design, the flats were far more progressive and reflect the modernist 'international style' commonly associated with 1920s Europe and characterised by flat roofs and a lack of ornamentation. The flats illustrate the modernist views of the Department of Housing Construction's chief architect, Gordon Wilson (190059). Wilson designed the Berhampore flats and oversaw the design of several other blocks (Shaw, 1991). The modernist influence also came from a number of refugee European architects employed by the Department of Housing Construction from 1939 onwards-notably Ernst Plischke, who designed the Dixon Street Flats, and Fred Newman, who designed the Symonds Street and Greys Avenue Flats. The European architects hoped that the democratic socialist views underlying their modernist designs would be well received by a Labour government that had already initiated a progressive housing policy (Shaw, 1991).

Because of their unprecedented scale, the Dixon Street Flats were used by the Government for propaganda purposes to show the efficiency of the Government's housing activities both in New Zealand and overseas. The construction job developed a high public profile, and the building was opened six months before completion so that the opening would coincide with the election campaign of September 1943 (Gatley, 1995). The good views, services and amenities made the Dixon Street Flats popular with their tenants (Wellington City Council, 1995). But in spite of their perceived benefits, multi-storey flats never really caught on as state housing, mainly because they failed to cater to families with young children-the group given top priority for state housing at the time (Gatley 1995). Today, the Greys Avenue Flats are registered as a category 2 historic place by the Historic Places Trust, and the Berhampore and Dixon Street Flats are listed as heritage buildings in the Wellington City Council's District Plan (Wellington City Council, 1995).

The Collingwood goldfields dams (1850s)

Just before Collingwood on State Highway 60 is a small monument commemorating the 1856 discovery of the South Island's first payable gold a few kilometres inland at Lightband Gully. Today, three dams are the most obvious relics of the Collingwood goldfields. The largest, known as Druggan's dam after its original builder, is now a significant water-bird habitat and popular day walk destination. The small earth and rock dam built by George Druggan in the late 1870s was later enlarged by the Slate River Sluicing Company to improve the water supply to its claim. Druggan's dam is notable for its puddled clay core - a technique which involved using horses to puddle clay laid between two outer walls of rocks and earth. A saga of water supply problems afflicted the Slate River Sluicing Company and it was finally wound up in 1909 after extracting only marginal amounts of gold from its claim. The dam was used on and off until the 1930s.

A second dam, the Parapara Gorge dam near Richmond Flat, was built of concrete around 1895. The most impressive effort, however, was made by the Collingwood Goldfields Company in building a dam across the outlet of Boulder Lake, high in the barren Quartz Range. Fifty pound bags of cement had to be carried in on workmen's backs for the last part of the climb to the 1000m dam site. A sawmill was set up to mill matai and rimu for the 8 kilometres of fluming needed to transport the water down from the dam. Over 100 tons of pipes and equipment were slung across the Aorere River by aerial ropeway. Sluicing began in August 1889, but the returns were much less than hoped for and, by November the following year, the company was in liquidation. The dam was eventually dynamited by graziers to regain the flats at the head of the lake. Today, the sluicing gear from the Collingwood goldfields has been removed to other sites, the flumings have long since rotted and even the tailings have largely re-merged into the natural landscape, but the remnants of the three dams are a lasting reminder of the huge human effort for so little reward (all information on the Collingwood dams from Hindmarsh, 1995).

The Auckland stonefields (ca. 15th to 19th centuries)

The basaltic lava stonefields of the Auckland region, covering more than 8,000 hectares, were occupied and used from early times. The Auckland region had one of the densest concentrations of early Māori settlement and many villages and fortifications were established on the volcanic cones and stonefields. The early tangata whenua (local tribes) modified the stonefields to form an elaborate gardening system, which included earth and rock mounds, boundary walls, terraces, storage pits and midden. Later, in the mid-1880s, Māori used these stonefield gardens to provide food for the growing settlement of Auckland (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996b).

Today the stonefields are one of the last remaining areas in Auckland where a visible record of past human settlement is written on the surface of the land. They provide outstanding examples of pre-European and nineteenth century Māori gardening techniques (Department of Conservation, 1994), and are also important for their cultural, traditional, archaeological, historical, social, scientific and landscape values (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996b). Nearly all of the archaeological sites on the Historic Places Act Register in Auckland are located in the stonefields. However, the stonefields have been extensively used for industrial subdivision and development, and parts have also been quarried for aggregate for the construction industry. It is now estimated that, of the original 8,000 ha of stonefields, only 200 ha remain, represented mainly by the Otuataua and Matukuturua Stonefields in South Auckland. According to Ngaati Te Ata tradition, the main tangata whenua of these stonefields are Wai O Hua, of whom Ngaati Te Ata are direct descendants (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996b). The stonefields therefore provide a strong cultural link between Ngaati Te Ata and their ancestors.

The Otuataua and Matukuturua Stonefields are of regional, national and international significance and are currently being considered by the New Zealand Committee of the International Council for Monuments and Sites for recommendation as a world heritage site (Bulmer, 1995; Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996b). Both stonefields are privately owned, Matukuturua by a quarry operator and Otuataua by four farmers. Of the remaining stonefields, only two small sites with limited features are in public ownership. Although there is now a growing recognition of the cultural and historical importance of the stonefields, their protection (and, indeed, their use for aggregate extraction) has been hampered by conflicts between the desire to protect their heritage values, and the desire to extract their commercial value by mining for aggregates (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996b).

Awareness of cultural heritage

More and more people are showing their interest in our cultural heritage and its preservation. Membership of the forty-year-old Historic Places Trust, one of New Zealand's main heritage protection agencies, has increased by 10 percent annually in the past three years. Another indicator of growing interest is the sheer number of visitors at our heritage sites. Recent estimates of annual visitor numbers include 119,000 at the Waitangi National Reserve, 240,000-270,000 at the North Head Historic Reserve in Auckland, and 50,000 at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement in Otago (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a). In just two days, nearly 13,000 people visited the newly refurbished Parliament Buildings in Wellington.

It is not only New Zealanders who are interested. Visits by overseas tourists to a museum and/or art gallery, or to a historic site, ranked equal second and equal fourth respectively in terms of popularity in the International Visitors' Survey conducted by the New Zealand Tourism Board (1996). However, the recent report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Historic and Cultural Heritage Management in New Zealand, noted that, unlike natural heritage, there has been little public debate about the sustainability of our cultural heritage or about the notion that, like species extinctions, loss of cultural heritage is permanent (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a).

Managing our cultural heritage

Aspects of our cultural heritage are managed under at least 20 different Acts of Parliament, and by a large number of agencies (see Table 2.1). The Parliamentary Commissioner's report concluded that lack of co-ordination and overall direction for all types of heritage protection is a problem in New Zealand.

The two leading national heritage protection agencies are the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga and the Department of Conservation. The Historic Places Trust is responsible for promoting the identification and protection of New Zealand's cultural heritage. One of the main ways in which the Trust does this is by maintaining a register of historic places. The register is set up under the Historic Places Act 1993 (the HPA). The Trust monitors development proposals for properties or sites listed on the register and offers advice to landowners and developers.
It also liaises with local councils to help them identify and protect sites in their district or city.

Table 2.1: Organisations involved in historic and cultural heritage management.
Government Organisations
Department of Conservation
Department of Internal Affair
Ministry for the Environment
Ministry of Cultural Affairs
Local Authorities
Regional councils
District and city councils
Unitary authorities
Non-government Organisations
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)
Institute of New Zealand Archaeologists
ICOMOS New Zealand
(The New Zealand Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sights)
New Zealand Institute of Architects
New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects
Professional Conservators Group of New Zealand (PCGNZ)
Professional Historians Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa
New Zealand Planning Institute
Civic and heritage trusts
Historical societies

Source: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a.

Many people are under the false impression that the Trust has the statutory muscle to stop the destruction or modification of a building or site. However, registration of a place or site does not equal automatic protection. Registration is merely an acknowledgement that the site is worth protecting. Even if a property is registered, the Trust cannot prevent it being modified, damaged, neglected, sold, or even destroyed. However, the Trust also has the status of a heritage protection authority under the Resource Management Act 1991, and can issue a requirement for a Heritage Order (see below) if necessary.

The role of the Department of Conservation is restricted by government policy to managing cultural heritage on the Department's land (Department of Conservation, 1995). In other words, the Department manages heritage resources which, because they are on conservation land, are already protected in some way. This limitation of the Department's role has caused a lot of debate, as the Conservation Act 1987 also gives the Department the task of advocating for and providing formal protection of significant heritage resources on land outside the conservation estate (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a).

Local government also has an important role in managing our cultural heritage under the Resource Management Act but, as the Parliamentary Commissioner notes, the performance of councils at protecting our cultural heritage is highly variable. All places on the HPA Register must be included in the district plans of local authorities which are prepared under the Resource Management Act. Listing a place in a plan gives people the opportunity to voice their support for its preservation, but does not ensure its protection.

Another option under the Resource Management Act is the use of Heritage Orders to protect buildings or sites. A heritage order is a provision in a district plan which prevents anyone from doing anything that affects the heritage characteristics of the place without written consent from the appropriate heritage protection authority (i.e. a Minister of the Crown, a local authority, the Historic Places Trust, or any other body approved as a heritage protection authority under the Act). Where a heritage order is used, the protecting authority may be liable for some costs of maintenance and may also be required to buy the property.

Most registered historic places are privately owned and are often not available for public viewing. However, the greatest protection afforded to historic sites or places is where they are owned by a heritage agency, such as the Historic Places Trust. Local councils may also purchase buildings or sites to ensure their protection. The costs involved in acquisition, restoration, and on-going management, all limit the amount of places and property that can be given outright protection in this way. Beyond this, the thorny issues of private ownership and compensation costs make outright protection difficult to secure.

Information on our cultural heritage

It is difficult to get an overview of the state of New Zealand's cultural heritage because of the number of agencies involved in heritage issues, and the lack of a single, integrated database. Māori heritage sites are of greatest significance to tribal members, who often prefer to keep details of their location and significance confidential.

The major source of basic information on archaeological sites is the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) File of Site Records which is now maintained by the Science and Research Division of the Department of Conservation. The file contains 49,000 archaeological sites, but it has been criticised as being far from complete, with very uneven regional coverage. For example, in Northland, where there have been a number of large surveys, there are 9,000 sites on the File (nearly 20 percent of the national total) but there are estimated to be twice as many unrecorded sites (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a). It is commonly held among archaeologists that this proportion would be the same nationally (New Zealand Historic Places Trust Pouhere Taonga, 1996).

The other main source of information is the Historic Places Act Register. At the end of 1995, the HPA Register listed nearly 5,800 historic places, historic areas, waahi tapu, and waahi tapu areas (see Table 2.2). The historic places on the Register are classified as Category 1 or 2. Category 1 places are "of special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value". These include Parliament House, Antrim House (which is also used as the the Historic Places Trust's headquarters), the old National Museum and Art Gallery, and Rita Angus Cottage in Wellington's historic Sydney St West.

Table 2.2: Listings on the Historic Places Act Register at 1995
Buildings 4,676
Archaeological sites 1,012
Historic areas 90
Waahi tapu 12
Waahi tapu areas 4
Total 5,794

Source: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a.

Category 2 places are "of historical or cultural heritage significance or value". Among the hundreds of Category 2 buildings on the Register are an 1860s horse stable near Leeston in Canterbury and turn-of-the-century cottages in Wellington's Aro Street. Historic areas, waahi tapu and waahi tapu areas are listed on the Register but are not classified as Category 1 or 2.

Although the HPA Register lists 1,012 archaeological sites, these are but a fraction of the 49,000 known archaeological sites on the NZAA File. Almost all registered sites are in only five districts - Otago, Tasman, Gisborne, Whakatane and Western Bay of Plenty - reflecting, in part, areas in which major Trust-sponsored surveys have taken place.

Condition of our cultural heritage

Despite the increasing interest in protecting the physical remnants of our cultural heritage, much of it is being demolished, renovated, or ploughed under. The report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment concluded that New Zealand's heritage is in danger of being lost. Heritage protection for many places is not being achieved, and the permanent loss of many historic and cultural sites and places is causing widespread anxiety, particularly among Māori communities. Although some positive things are happening at the local level, significant permanent losses of all types of historic and cultural heritage are continuing (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a).

Between 1984 and 1994, 42 buildings on the HPA Register were destroyed in Auckland (Auckland Regional Council, 1994). In Wellington, 41 buildings on the HPA Register (12 percent of all registered buildings) were destroyed between 1980 and 1995 (Flinkenberg, 1996). The Parliamentary Commissioner's report notes that the rate of loss has probably slowed in the past 6-8 years compared with the period before this, but the slower trend is more likely to be due to economic factors than to more effective protection measures. Losses may have been even greater for Māori heritage and archaeological sites. In the Auckland metropolitan area, over 50 percent of pa have been extensively modified or destroyed since city development began (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a). Six percent of the known archaeological sites in the Auckland region were destroyed or modified between 1979 and 1994 (Auckland Regional Council, 1994).

The main problems in preserving our cultural heritage centre on the issues of what should be saved and what should be sacrificed, the rights of the property owner versus the rights of the public and the nation, and the lack of clear direction or leadership in existing laws and institutional arrangements. However, there is also reason to be hopeful about the protection of our cultural heritage. The Parliamentary Commissioner's report notes that the new district plans of some local councils, particularly in major cities, have a stronger commitment to protecting heritage buildings and, in a few cases, waahi tapu and archaeological sites. There is a growing appreciation of the economic dimensions of heritage protection, and a greater readiness for councils to discuss with property owners the issue of "how can a new economic use be found for this building?" rather than focusing on "how can this owner be prevented from destroying this building?" (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 1996a).