Owen Graham, of Dunedin, counts the preservation of the Athenaeum Library in the Octagon as one of the highlights of his six years as the Otago-Southland area manager for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Longtime heritage advocate Owen Graham hopes his
grandchildren will benefit from his work to preserve Otago's
Mr Graham recently ended his six-year tenure as the
Otago-Southland area manager for the New Zealand Historic
Places Trust (NZHPT).
The Dunedin resident spent about 26 years before that in a
similar role for the Department of Conservation, and said
going into the corporate industry after more than three
decades working for the Government was a refreshing change.
His work to advocate the values of heritage throughout the
region was often met with opposition and was not without
''People see it as anti-development. The first [Dunedin city]
council I was dealing with was very anti-heritage, and it's a
difficult job at the end of the day because heritage is not
popular depending on economic times.''
Mr Graham (54) said although paid by a Government agency, his
work was for the community.
''I didn't do it for me, or because the NZHPT told me to, the
job is for future generations.
"It's not about what I kept today, it's about what my
grandkids will see when they walk around Dunedin, and if it's
well maintained and strengthened then a building that might
be 100 years old might have another 100 years in it.''
Mr Graham said his move to Contact Energy as a land and
property adviser was a combination of good timing and
opportunity, as his work with the NZHPT came to a ''natural
The Athenaeum Library in Dunedin's Octagon was one of the
buildings he was proud to have helped preserve.
He advocated its value in 2008 when the NZHPT went through
the process of registering it as a category 1 heritage
building, although developers were keen to knock it down at
''It's the oldest continually operating library in New
Zealand, it was purpose built as a library and has been used
as one for more than 140 years.''
Mr Graham said he also felt vindicated in respect of other
projects, including the old Logan Park art gallery - now
known as the Sargood Centre.
About five years ago, developers wanted it demolished and Mr
Graham door-knocked residents asking what the building could
be used for in its existing state.
''In the end, most of the building was retained and there's a
heritage covenant over it so it will be protected, which is
fantastic. That's what the job of advocate is, to see more
than what's in front of you.''
He said the historic manuka causeway unearthed during
construction of the Wall Street mall in Dunedin was a
national treasure and should be displayed in its original
Outside the city, Mr Graham's proudest achievements included
his push to have the lower Nevis Valley heritage values
formally recognised, and his project management with Doc to
develop the Otago Central Rail Trail.
Disappointments included Invercargill's old ''Kew hospital''
and buildings, most of which have been demolished despite
extensive negotiation with the Southern District Health