New Waikouaiti Coast Heritage Centre officially opened

Supporters sit among some of the exhibits as the Waikouaiti Coast Heritage Centre is officially...
Supporters sit among some of the exhibits as the Waikouaiti Coast Heritage Centre is officially opened on Saturday. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Historical items from the first settled site in Otago will remain on public view, following the official opening of the new Waikouaiti Coast Heritage Centre.

The original museum was situated in the former BNZ bank building in Waikouaiti, but about a decade ago it was decided it was unsuitable for the long-term storage and display of heritage artefacts.

Planning began for a new $800,000 facility and project leader Bill Lang set up a firewood business, which raised $252,600.

A fundraising subgroup led by Judy Irving raised a further $37,500 and about $40,000 was raised by pledges from local families.

Waikouaiti District Museum Society chairwoman Shirley McKewen said the remainder of the funding was secured through a range of local and national grants.

"At the beginning of the project, a decision was made by the society to not borrow any funds, but to meet all costs along the way.

"An enormous amount of work by a small group of determined volunteers ensured that the project continued, even in the face of extreme weather events, earthquakes further north and more recently, a pandemic which all slowed progress at times."

Ten years later, about 15,000 pieces of Waikouaiti’s history have been been recorded on a software programme by curator Kay Lang, and moved for display or storage in the new centre.

"The collection of donated items illustrates the stories from this area and remain accessible to the local community," Mrs McKewen said.

"As the first settled area in Otago, we hold many records from earliest times, which will become even more important for future genealogists and researchers."

During the opening ceremony on Saturday, the society awarded life memberships to Mr and Mrs Lang for their voluntary work on the project, and the display area of the heritage centre would be named after them.

Mrs McKewen said the new facility was just the first stage of a larger project.

The next step was to restore the historic BNZ bank building and develop it into a "destination of interest" for locals and visitors.

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