Paul Jeffery, of South Dunedin, laments the opportunity to
save the steam dredge Te Whaka was lost.
I agree totally with Aaron Nicholson (31.10.12) on his words
on the steam festival in Dunedin. It is a credit to all those
enthusiasts who participated in one way or another to make
this event happen.
However, listening to the similar words expressed at the
opening night of the festival, I nearly choked when I heard
the mayor say words to the effect that we cherish our steam
heritage and its contribution to this city. This was because
it seemed like one huge contradiction, having just come from
Birch St wharf, where I'd looked at the sorry sight of
102-year-old steamship Te Whaka being cut up,
superstructure and stern section already cut off.
It seems a shock enough that this old steamer is meeting her
demise here in the year 2012, but the fact, of all times, it
was announced, started and was in full swing all during the
time we celebrate the life of a steamship, the
Earnslaw, and steam heritage itself! Out of all the
steam things we have normally in this city, the steamship is
surely one of steam power's now rare and especially
charismatic forms (along with the steam locomotive).
And yet far from being in the festival, she was seemingly
forgotten, in the scrapyard, meeting her untimely demise.
The question must be asked, out of the 18 years she has been
here in Dunedin, why on earth was the Te Whaka not
given just another month's stay of execution and included for
the festival programme, so people could have one last look
over her, and not so hastily sold for scrap with no asking
the public giving any final, "11th-hour" chance to save her?
Surely the eye-opening knowledge of the impending fate would
have at least got people putting in money and something could
have been started to save her, and a council backing?
We have heard many excuses that she was "too far gone" etc,
yet in other parts of the country, ships in worse state (one
had even been sunk) were resurrected.
It would have taken a lot of money to fix her, granted (tiny
compared to the stadium, for example, or the swanky new Toitu
Settlers entrance) but it would have been an investment, as
she would have been a major new attraction.
Look what happened when the council of 1990 and Dunedin
people backed saving the Taieri Gorge Railway when it was
under threat, and now look at what a magnet this is for
visitors, local and abroad. Why was this never done with the
Te Whaka in our "heritage capital"?
The trust for her received only $50,000 from the 1994-era
council, which is not much to get a steamship running. When
you can see the popularity of the Earnslaw, which was
backed and saved from threat of scrap in the 1960s, one has
to wonder why this could not have been done in Dunedin too.
The visitor attraction of steam was more than apparent at the
festival, just as it is in Queenstown every day.
The sight and sound of a ship's huge steam engine at work is
an inspiring sight, the throaty steam whistle, would have
been a major new drawcard, worth all the capital required to
get her seaworthy again, and kept a few local engineering
firms gainfully employed.