Trash and trea­sure in old dump sites

Taranaki Daily News - - Magazine - GRAEME DUCKETT

As I got deeper the rub­bish got older and stoneware and old leather hob nail boots and chil­drens lace up boots sur­faced, also old china and a huge va­ri­ety of bot­tles.

Pre-Euro­pean Maori were con­scious of pol­lu­tion and utilised dump­ing sites for fire stones, bones and shell­fish, called mid­dens. Ar­eas were set aside.

Many mid­dens are seen in the sand dunes of coastal Taranaki and on the many in­land pa sites. The con­tents are in­ter­est­ing in that there is noth­ing to pol­lute the earth.

Fish, rat and dog bones are found there, and the com­mon shell­fish like paua, pupu, mus­sel and pipi among others are seen. It’s in­ter­est­ing to see the size of the shells from 200 odd years ago.

Maori had spe­cial ar­eas to dump refuse, and also toi­let ar­eas were set aside and re­garded as tapu.

With the ad­vent of seal­ers and whalers on the coast­line, whal­ing sta­tions were set up and the boil­ing of blub­ber for oil used in lamps, was the start of pol­lu­tion as we know it here. Car­cases of whales on the beach and the pro­cess­ing of blub­ber caused great con­cern as time went by, as the pu­trid smell drifted across the in­fant town of New Ply­mouth.

Many of the early mil­i­tary re­doubt sites show how care­free the pi­o­neers were in dis­card­ing rub­bish. While con­trac­tors took away food scraps to sites far from the camps, bot­tles and other rub­bish on the whole were sim­ply thrown into swamps or over banks nearby.

Set­tlers tended to dig a trench out the back of their cot­tages and throw rub­bish in and cover them with dirt. At some sites I’ve seen, like one at Lep­per­ton years ago, the set­tlers sim­ply stood at the back door and flung ev­ery­thing into the bush. Shock­ing re­ally, imag­ine the rats.

Back in the 1980s I dug out a deep well near Waitara. In hind­sight it was a stupid thing to do as there could eas­ily have been an old bed­stead or a sheet of cor­ru­gated iron wedged half­way down and it could have col­lapsed and taken me to my death.

How­ever as luck would have it, I started to dig the well with refuse from the 1920s be­ing ex­posed. The deeper I got, the older it was. A bucket at a time was hauled up over me show­er­ing me with dirt and fly­ing mis­siles, but I loved ev­ery sec­ond of it - it was ex­cit­ing.

I found some nice Ogles Chemist bot­tles from early Waitara which I trea­sure still. As I got deeper the rub­bish got older and stoneware and old leather hob nail boots and chil­drens lace up boots sur­faced, also old china and a huge va­ri­ety of bot­tles.

The old aer­ated wa­ter mar­ble bot­tles all had the tops bro­ken as chil­dren wanted the mar­bles to play with. Rare ex­am­ples of these can be worth $600 or more to­day.

Of course the thing that stood out to me was there was no plas­tic.

I’m from the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion where there were no plas­tic bags. I went into a shop the other day and had the tools I bought put in a pa­per bag, and com­mented to the as­sis­tant how good that was to see again. Long may it con­tinue to creep back in.

We must all do our bit to re­duce pol­lu­tion, our wa­ter­ways and oceans are full of plas­tic prod­ucts, it’s a grave con­cern for the planet. We must all ed­u­cate our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to ban plas­tics.

In this ac­cel­er­at­ing con­sumer world we are de­stroy­ing the very planet we’re liv­ing on with pol­lu­tion. Sadly we are on the bor­der­line of it be­ing too late. Let’s all do our bit.


These bot­tles were found down a well just out of Waitara in the 1980s. Ogles Chemist bot­tles can be seen at the back.

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