Efforts to preserve heritage bridge

Tahakopa historian Don Sinclair wants to build a track to a local heritage bridge possibly...
Tahakopa historian Don Sinclair wants to build a track to a local heritage bridge possibly designed by medical pioneer Sir Truby King. PHOTOS: RICHARD DAVISON/SUPPLIED
A "last vestige'' of New Zealand pioneer Sir Truby King's little-known time spent in the Catlins is being considered for conservation.

Alongside the Plunket founder's well documented activities in the areas of medicine and public health, Sir Truby also spent 28 years operating dairy and sawmill businesses in Tahakopa, from 1893 to its railway heyday.

Tahakopa visitor H. Roxburgh poses on the bridge in this 1926 photograph.
Tahakopa visitor H. Roxburgh poses on the bridge in this 1926 photograph.
Heritage New Zealand assessment adviser Susan Irvine said although most traces of his presence in Tahakopa had long since disappeared, a railway bridge carrying timber from his sawmill to the Tahakopa railway station was still standing.

The lichen and moss-covered bridge fragment has recently been nominated for the heritage list administered by Heritage NZ.

Research by local historian Don Sinclair suggested the Australian hardwood bridge, originally 31m long, may have been designed in homage to the original Balclutha Bridge by Sir Truby himself, about 1916.

For these reasons, and for its ``natural and potential tourism values'', Mr Sinclair hoped to build a 460m track to the bridge along riparian Crown land.

``[Sir Truby's] homestead and milkshed have been bowled, his sawmill and hydro-electric innovations have long since gone, so this bridge remnant is the last vestige. As a memorial to Sir Truby, for its own heritage conservation values, and as a potential drawcard for visitors to the area, we'd like to build a track to the site.''

Mr Sinclair had talked to Clutha District Council, Heritage NZ and the Department of Conservation about his plans for the track, and been met with general encouragement, he said.

However, obstacles remained in negotiating with the two affected landowners whose properties adjoined the potential new attraction.

One of those landowners, sheep and beef farmer Craig Napier, accused Mr Sinclair of being ``underhand'' in driving the project forward without full consensus.

``We believe there may be other options for accessing the bridge which don't involve creating health and safety issues with freedom campers, and disrupting farm operations,'' Mr Napier said.

``Mr Sinclair has simply pressed on with his plans without paying attention to those potentially most affected and, understandably, some of us are pretty unhappy about that.''

Clutha District Council group manager service delivery Jules Witt said the council had asked Mr Sinclair to ``test the waters'' with nearby property owners, to ``make for an easier process''.

Given consensus could be reached, council staff believed it would be a ``worthwhile'' project, he said.

``From a council perspective, the project is still at concept stage and, to date, we have only advised Mr Sinclair of the numerous unformed road areas for potential use. Any specific route would need to be confirmed with the immediate affected property owners, with reasonable conditions raised by them to be included in any Road Occupation Licence, should the project proceed.''

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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