Sunday, 24 February 2008

Shooting at Pourakino

It's been 10 months since I last visited the historic Pourakino Picnic area, and some changes have occurred.

As I drove on the newly regraveled road, the majestic railway engine, Black Maria, came into full view. (I took this photo April 2007). But my usual reverence for this imposing piece of history soon turned to horror.

The engine has been the victim of senseless shooting. My photo of 2007 shows bullet holes but since then the damage has become far more dire.

I would really urge people to stop shooting this priceless piece of history. The engine is there for all of us to understand and appreciate how logging was done so long ago, and to remember those who worked so hard to make Western Southland prosper.

Restoring old engines is an incredibly expensive prospect with many months of meticulous work. There were initial plans for Black Maria to be restored but that was before this recent crime spree. Now I wonder if the project would continue given there is no way to protect the engine from harm.

I hope that if these offenders are ever caught, they will be paying the full price for restoration and all gun privileges taken away. People that are this senseless should not have guns.

Invitation to publish!

Well, dear readers, I must apologise for the long period since my last post. It appears my life is getting busier, and the time for posting is getting smaller. Therefore, I would like to invite people to become writers on this blog. If you are interested and want to know more, please email me at:

Monday, 11 February 2008

Online Collections... or The Search for Meaning in New Zealand

There is a worldwide push for public cultural collections to become more accessible via the internet. New Zealand has been putting its heritage collections online for a few years now but I expect there will be a big digital boom over the next five years as more museums, libraries and galleries get their collections digitised. PapersPast is perhaps the best example of an online, searchable and accessible collection but others are on the way.

I find the Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand fascinating reading. This is a searchable and accessible database of articles written by the very first botanists and biologists to explore New Zealand. Again, this is a National Library project like PapersPast.

The National Register of Archives and Manuscripts (NRAM) is a voluntary register for libraries, museums and anyone with something archivable. Archives include minute books, letters, diaries, and other personal or organisational papers. Basically anything that was written down and not formally published is an archive and could be catalogued there. It is searchable but not accessible - meaning you can't click on a link and read the actual document.

Archway is a database that lists government-generated archives from various departments. There is some early settler information to be found such as land sales and wills - anything that involved interaction with a govt department. But you have to visit the archives building in Dunedin to actually see them. In some cases you may have to get written permission from a department before you can access them.

NZ Museums (a National Services Te Paerangi project) is undergoing a massive makeover to allow museums to put photos and information on their website. Each museum will be able to feature photos of special objects and images in their collection. They aim to have the new website launched by August 2008. This will be a boon for smaller museums (such as the Otautau Museum) to make their collections searchable and viewable.

Te Papa has a very good searchable database of some of its taonga and collections. The Hocken Library has searchable databases but not accessible. Unfortunately the Southland Museum and Art Gallery has no search facility at all on its website. Hopefully they are in the process of putting their collection online.

Although it's not a collection per se, I also really like the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. And there's a privately owned company with online databases called The Knowledge Basket. They feature taonga such as Elsdon Best's books on Maori culture which are completely searchable and accessible, word for word.

There are lots of opportunities to explore New Zealand's artefacts, culture, and history online. With the digital revolution powering ahead, access to these wonderful resources can only get better. If you know of other websites, please leave a comment!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Otautau 1862

And just for history buffs, the earliest reference to Otautau I could find in the PapersPast website is this letter to the editor in the Invercargill Times.

The gold diggings at Wakatipu were the big story of the day in 1862. Roads were very rough and accommodation scarce. This writer is saying there's a better way for Southlanders to get to the diggings because there are accommodation houses at Otautau and Wrey's Bush. (click on the picture to enlarge)

Source: Invercargill Times, 28 Nov 1862, p.2.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

The Darling Starlings and Searching Newspapers

I've been trolling around the online newspapers on the PapersPast website looking for early references to Otautau and found some interesting trivia regarding starlings.

Stated in the Otago Witness, there was a meeting of the Otago Acclimatisation Society on 21 May 1880 in which it was reported that 122 starlings were given to a Mr Ellis of Merrivale, Otautau, to release. Approximately 490 starlings were released in Otago/Southland that year and we got a fair amount of them. Our darling starlings have been around for 128 years!

This made me wonder what other species have been released here. The only other species I found is trout. In 1892, 7000 trout were released into the Otautau Stream and in 1893, another 10,000. This spawned (sorry) a very active interest in angling amongst local fisherpeople and even resulted in a poaching problem for a time.

I recommend the PapersPast website for family history research as well as just general knowledge. I've learned a lot already about early Southland by just reading a few issues. Many of the papers are searchable by using keywords. You can put in the name of a family member or placename and up comes a list of articles and illustrations from newspapers all over New Zealand. You can view the actual newspaper image or read a transcription.

Unfortunately the Invercargill Times/Southland Times is not searchable. You have to read each issue, image by image. But if you're looking for something important, it's probably worth it. The Southland Daily News and the Western Star are unfortunately not on the site but may be found at the Invercargill Library on microfilm. I believe the Riverton SDC may have the Western Star on microfilm as well.

Saturday, 2 February 2008


We had a rugby friendly game today at Holt Park - Otautau v Town. Lots of laughs but also good, earnest play. See the slideshow below.

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