Asylum site tour highlights interest

New Zealand Motor Caravan Association members and tour helpers in the ‘‘enchanted forest’’ area...
New Zealand Motor Caravan Association members and tour helpers in the ‘‘enchanted forest’’ area at the Truby King Recreation Reserve in Seacliff. Photo: Christine O'Connor
A historical tour at the weekend again highlighted the growing community interest in the former Seacliff Lunatic Asylum site, and calls have been made for interpretive signs to be added there.

The free guided tour of the site, involving more than 40 members of the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, had helped raise awareness of the area’s history, Lisa Silva said. Mrs Silva is a trustee and walk co-ordinator at the Wellness Walkers Trust, which hosted the tour of the site — situated in the Truby King Recreation Reserve — in association with the reserve committee.

Association members had requested a guided tour, and this was the third walk to be hosted by the trust in the past six months.

"Our previous events were publicly advertised and were so popular that we had to cap attendance and turn people away to keep numbers manageable," she said.

"The phenomenal interest in the history surrounding the Seacliff Asylum really took us by surprise," she added.

Many New Zealanders were connected to the history of this place and "many more are intensely curious about it". She praised the reserve committee’s "wonderful work" and said she would like to see interpretive signs added to raise awareness of the site and its history.

During the tour, local historian and a trust walk leader Amanda Nunn and reserve committee chairman Dr Alex McAlpine explained points of interest.

Dr McAlpine said he was encouraged by the positive response to the area and its history from the visiting group.

He and the wider seacliff community wanted to increase awareness of the asylum site and the 15ha reserve, its many attractions, and its national and local significance.

The tour ran for two hours on Saturday morning,  the date coinciding with the grimmest anniversary  of the site’s colourful past.

On that day 76 years earlier, 37 patients were accidentally killed when a fire broke out in  a locked section of the asylum complex.

The original asylum complex was designed by prominent Dunedin architect R.A. Lawson; Plunket-founder Sir Frederic Truby King (1858-1938) was a long-serving and innovative superintendent; and leading New Zealand writer Janet Frame was a former patient.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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