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Top billing for maritime disaster site

5 December 2008

MEDIA RELEASE

Top billing for maritime disaster site

The site of New Zealand’s worst civilian maritime disaster in Southland has received national recognition with its registration by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT).

The NZHPT Board today approved the Category I registration status, reflecting the special or outstanding historical and cultural heritage significance and value of the site.

In April 1881 the SS Tararua hit Otara Reef off Waipapa Point in Southland, with 131 men, women and children losing their lives. This registration includes the wreck of the SS Tararua, Tararua Acre – the cemetery where 64 bodies, many unidentifiable, were laid to rest – and the Waipapa Point Lighthouse that was built in response to the disaster.

Next month will mark 125 years since the first light was erected on Waipapa Point – 1 January 1884 the first day seafarers were afforded such protection on this part of the southern coast.

Owen Graham, NZHPT Otago/Southland area manager, said the shipwreck, burial site and lighthouse have significant historical value for their association with the tragedy and the resulting response which led to the improvement of maritime safety. The now automated Waipapa Lighthouse still sends out its beam to warn of hazards nearby.

“Having New Zealand’s leading heritage agency recognising this site is fitting,” Mr Graham said.

“For the people of Southland, particularly, this area has special historical and heritage significance given the loss of so many lives. The Tararua Acre remains a significant landmark recalling the wreck and has a plaque commemorating the disaster, put up by members of the local community and supported by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.”

Mr Graham said to ensure the long-term conservation of this site NZHPT would be supportive of the Southland District Council adding it to its schedule of Registered Historic Buildings, Places and Sites and recognising their link to each other of the three heritage features.

“This site met NZHPT criteria for registration in a number of areas – aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, historical and technological values. The community holds this place in high esteem – evidenced by their extensive lobbying for the preservation of the lighthouse – and it is an educational reminder of our early maritime history.”

Maritime New Zealand, who manages the Lighthouse reserve that includes the access road and lighthouse, recently undertook upgrading work on the lighthouse. The Department of Conservation manages the surrounding recreation reserve and is undertaking further development there.

ENDS

BACKGROUND NOTES

About NZHPT

NZHPT is New Zealand’s lead heritage agency and, on behalf of New Zealanders, identifies, protects and preserves historic places. One aspect of this is working closely with local authorities and property owners to explore options for reusing historic places in place of demolishing them.

Registering historic places

Registration is the inclusion on the Register of a place or area that considered part of New Zealand’s historical and cultural heritage. Places may be included on the register if they possess aesthetic, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historic, scientific, social, spiritual, technological or traditional qualities. Under the Historic Places Act, places with “special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value” may be accorded the highest ranking of Category I status.

Unfortunately, the registration process provides no protection to Category I and II historic places. Protection comes about when local authorities take the lead in protecting their local historic places by listing them in their district plans.

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