Save camp rotunda
Di Buchan gives her opinion about Stand Children’s Services decision to return its property at O¯ taki Beach to the Crown
I think it is a real shame that Stand has decided to walk away from the facility in
O¯ taki which they have run for the past 20 years. It is not only a shame for Stand who have put a huge amount of effort into maintaining the facilities and upgrading the service provided over their tenure, but it is also a real shame for the children in the catchment area who will no long have this place by the sea to get some respite and care. It is also a shame for the town of O¯ taki itself. This facility is an integral part of the town’s history. The Otaki Health Camp was the first permanent children’s health camp in the country and over the years the people of O¯ taki have kept it going through their labour, paid and unpaid, and donations of all descriptions and this has continued to the present day.
The facility is now being handed over to the Department of Conservation to care for until another organisation can be found to manage the place. Hopefully one will be found soon, if not it will be offered back to the descendants of the people who donated the land in the 1930s.
There is no doubt in my mind that a facility that provides short-term respite and support, care and nurturing to children in difficulty, for whatever reason, is needed now as much as it every was. There are parents, especially solo parents, who also need respite — a break from their children when they are at the end of their tether and have no one to turn to. The health camp was always used for this purpose for a few of the children attending and no doubt by providing that form of support, physical and emotional abuse from parents who were not coping was averted.
Since the publication of my book Sun, Sea & Sustenance: the Story of the Otaki Health Camp I have been asked by groups from Levin to Wellington to give talks on the health camp. So far I’ve spoken to 28 groups, each finishing with a discussion about the current situation with the O¯ taki camp and the need for the facility to continue. Almost always there is someone in the group who went to the Otaki camp or one of the others (there were seven altogether) and who remember their time there with gratitude. Always people say that the need is as great now as it was in the 1930s when the O¯ taki camp was established.
While DoC tries to find an organisation that can take over the facility for the purpose it has been designated, my immediate priority is to save the health camp rotunda building which has not been used for about 25 years. This is a very important historical building — not just for O¯ taki and the history of heath services in New Zealand but also for the country as a whole. It was the first building in the first health camp and anyone¯who has stayed or worked at the Otaki camp remembers that building with its unusual, outstanding architecture and the activities that have gone on there over the years. It is a New Zealand architectural icon.
Originally there were two of these buildings but at the end of the 1980s one was demolished and carted off to Wellington without a whimper from anyone as far as I know. We can’t let that happen to the remaining building. It could be a beautiful facility, a real asset for the whole community.
The historian Jock Phillips and I have joined forces to get the building saved and restored. So far I have met several times with Heritage New Zealand to gain their support and they have given this whole-heartedly. I have also met with Ian Bowman, the heritage architect who did an assessment of the building about 20 years ago. He has done another inspection and confirmed it is still restorable.
From the talks I have been giving as well as responses from people who have read my book, I have gathered the names of over 20 people who want to be included in any group that might be set up to get the building restored. So Jock and I are feeling encouraged and heartened by all this enthusiasm. Recently we met with our local councillor James Cootes and council staff to advise them of what we were doing and they are also keen to get involved and support this project.
We are currently waiting for Stand or DoC to agree to sell the building — an assurance we have already received verbally. We are also in the process of establishing an incorporated society which can be registered as a charitable trust. Once that is done we can call the people together who want to get involved to decide where to from here.
If any readers want to join the group they would be very welcome. We will need many hands on deck for a wide variety of activities including setting up a website and newsletter, fundraising, writing submissions, etc.
Contact [email protected] DoC contact is Ken Stewart, property manager head office, 0274083343.