Andrew Dickens: To the 'so what' crowds, The Kestrel was a beautiful boat

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So The Kestrel has sunk.

There are two types of people in Auckland today. Those who say, "So what. It's just a boat". And humans.

The outpouring of reminisces over the past day since the news broke is extraordinary. Jazz cruises, America's Cup excursions or just the gentle daily commute. The gentle thrum of its engines as it languidly glided back and forth and back and forth across the Harbour from Devonport to Auckland and back again.

Remembered moments of family excursions. Of stolen kisses. Of varnished wood. Of feeling connected to the millions of shared voyages stretching back through the years.

The Kestrel was a beautiful boat. This from the Kestrel Preservation Society's website.

"The Kestrel is Auckland's most significant maritime icon with rich cultural and historical value. For over a century she plied the Waitemata serving generations of New Zealanders. She was the ultimate Edwardian verandah gliding across the jewel of our harbour."

"The Kestrel was built by Charles Bailey jnr. at the site of the Tepid Baths, Auckland, and was launched on 14th December 1905.

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"She was built of 3 inch thick heart kauri, single skin on wooden frames with 1 inch totara sheathing."

My but she was a beauty and what a pretty name! 111 years old. Converted from a steamship to diesel in the fifties she finally was retired in the mid 2000s.

But her retirement has been ignominious. Hauled down to Tauranga to become a restaurant for a city that did not love her. Finally rescued. Towed home and then left at Wynyard Wharf while a band of enthusiasts kept looking for the white knight to restore her to her former glory.

It is made doubly tragic by the story of her sister ship the Toroa. A similar vessel though never converted to diesel. That makes her even more special. The original steamship. Just like the Kestrel she sank at Birkenhead wharf. Her fate at the hand of a storm. Then the years of rot and then the rescue attempt. But as anyone who drives on the NorthWestern knows her rehabilitation has been painfully slow. Decades she's languished there.

The two ship's stories are so similar. Faithful workhorses. Retired. Ignored. Sunk at a wharf. Saved only by volunteers who struggle to raise funds.

I rode a bike down to the wharves to see The Kestrel yesterday. Past K Road and the John Court's building. A skyscraper apartment building is planned beside that building on the site of the old Pascoe's building. It seems wrong. Particularly when you see the sensitive restoration of St Kevin's Arcade just over the road.

Through Myer's Park I saw my old kindergarten and marvelled at how it was unchanged. Down Queen Street the only history I saw were retained facades. Facadism. Kind of like fascism with an ad in the middle. Says it all

Auckland is a young and restless city full of change. But the best of our history deserves saving today so that residents in a century's time realise that our early roots do indeed run deep. So far we have seemed hell bent on smashing our face in until only a few teeth remain.

If there hasn't been a give a little campaign started for the Kestrel already I hope one starts now. But further, I feel both the Kestrel and the Toroa have such a place in our hearts that a civic or even national campaign to save them is warranted because a place with no history has no future.

- Newstalk ZB

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