Oa­maru: the next New York?

Waitaki Herald - - FRONT PAGE - DANI MCDON­ALD

Oa­maru. A town fa­mous for its white stone, Vic­to­rian precinct and two pen­guin colonies. But not even 150 years ago, the town was on the brink of be­com­ing the cos­mopoli­tan city of the south.

The story about how the small north Otago town with a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 14,000 peo­ple could have been the next New York is one that has fas­ci­nated the host of TVNZ se­ries Coast New Zealand, Neil Oliver, who will dive into the his­tory of the lit­tle town’s hey-dey in the show’s third lo­cal sea­son.

The arche­ol­o­gist and fond his­to­rian says even though the town will fea­ture in the pro­gramme’s lat­est sea­son, it is the one that has most in­trigued him de­spite it be­ing his fourth trip to New Zealand.

‘‘It was re­ally just a dot on the map, there was noth­ing much there ex­cept it was a small town with a beach,’’ the arche­ol­o­gist and his­to­rian said of Oa­maru in the 1880s.

‘‘The peo­ple were aware of the fact it was dan­ger­ous for ships to come in to the coast; ships were be­ing wrecked. So they spent an enor­mous amount of time and money build­ing a break­wa­ter which cre­ated a safe an­chor­age at Oa­maru and that en­abled the town to grow.

‘‘Busi­nesses were set up, it be­came a place where some of the first ship­ments of frozen lamb went out from; wool from the sur­round­ing area was go­ing out on ships to the wider world right up into Eu­rope and else­where.’’

It was a brief pe­riod, but an ex­cit­ing one for the lit­tle town. Oa­maru, Oliver ex­plained. was grow­ing faster, and was big­ger, than San Fran­cisco. It was con­sid­ered a town ‘‘on the up’’, es­pe­cially as it re­port­edly had more gas light­ing than Lon­don.

‘‘There was an enor­mous amount of lime stone at Oa­maru and they built the most amaz­ing, beau­ti­ful build­ings - all tak­ing ad­van­tage of Vic­to­rian fash­ion and Vic­to­rian ar­chi­tec­ture. They built these fan­tas­tic grand build­ings and broad streets.

‘‘At one stage Oa­maru was home to the tallest build­ing in the southern hemi­sphere, a five storey build­ing. Every­one liv­ing there thought for a while they were re­ally at the cen­tre, this was go­ing to be a New York, or a Lon­don, or a Hong Kong. It was go­ing to be a place that would be­come one of the most im­por­tant places in the world. ❚ Con­tin­ued on P3

Bri­tish TV pre­sen­ter Neil Oliver takes a look at Oa­maru in the new TVNZ se­ries of Coast New Zealand.

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