The Far North District Council has a nasty habit of playing fast and loose with Kaitaia's history. It is seemingly oblivious to the townsfolks' affection for some of its landmarks, and while getting rid of them might be justifiable in terms of saving money, it would be appreciated by many if it tried harder to spare them from oblivion.
It started with the town clock, which, to be fair, hadn't told the time accurately for some years, and was reportedly in danger of falling over when it was stuck into storage. A clear undertaking was given to the Northland Age at the time that it would be back, if not on its original site, but that promise came from a little below the council's upper echelons, and has not been kept.
Moves are being made now to raise the money needed to restore the clock, but neither the council nor Te Hiku Community Board has shown any interest whatsoever.
To be fair, the clock has always been controversial. People tend to love or loathe it, but it is part of the town's history, and the council had no moral right to stick it in storage, where it seems destined to remain until doomsday. Thankfully, perhaps, nothing ever came of talk at the time of its removal of replacing it with something of greater relevance for Kaitaia, although now one could agree what form Kaitaia's version of Ohakune's carrot or Paeroa's softdrink bottle might take.
There was support for a giant snapper, in reference to 90 Mile Beach, which filled some with dread. The clock's original site has gone, anyway. What used to be the adjacent carpark is now home to Ministry of Education offices, leaving very little room for a fish of any size. Which might not be a bad thing.
The Welcome to Kaitaia sign in North Rd is also in storage somewhere, apparently. It was removed to make way for the 'Pak'nsave roundabout,' again with the solemn undertaking that it would be back. Made by the Kaitaia Rotary Club, and gifted to the town, it too has disappeared into the local version of the Bermuda Triangle. Talk of it being re-erected a little north of the roundabout has never come to anything.
Unlike the clock, perhaps, the welcome sign has some intrinsic merit. It is certainly unique to the town, not least for its celebration of three cultures, the question being whether the council simply hasn't got around to doing what it said it would do, or whether it never had any intention of doing it. Government at all levels in this country seems to believe that if you keep quiet people will eventually forget what you said you would do, and this could well be a classic case of that technique in action.
The Rotary waterwheel, also made and gifted to the town by the service club, has gone from outside Te Ahu, although that decision was made by the Te Ahu Trust, not the council, so there is every expectation that it will reappear, as promised, in the fullness of time. The town's swimming baths, however, are about to go the way of all concrete, aluminium and wood in the capital of Te Hiku.
The baths were built in the 1950s as a World War II memorial, but apparently no longer hold water. Or so we are told. And fixing them would be exorbitantly expensive. And anyway, people don't like swimming in cold water.
The pool will soon be supplanted by a flash new (heated) one at the Te Hiku Sports Hub, and will presumably be dismantled.
There probably isn't much point in noting that baths built by the Romans in Britain are still used today, but the ones built in Kaitaia as a memorial to those from the local community who gave (or offered) their lives in defence of King and Country from 1939 to 1945 have lasted less than three generations.
It will be a sad day for many when the water's pumped out and the diggers move in.
And now the town is about to lose 'the Lighthouse,' the little building erected in Jaycee Park as a booking office for Star Mini Tours, which discovered the ability of Cape Rēinga to attract tourists long before anyone else did. It then became Kaitaia's i-Site, which has since moved to Te Ahu, and finally home to the town's Ecocentre.
According to one version the Lighthouse was built by Lions club members. The story goes that Kaitaia Borough councillor Ivan Morton came across a small pride of Lions standing on the spot where they planned to erect the building, with a drawing on a serviette or some such, and asked if the council would contribute some toilets if they did the rest. Morton reportedly told them to go for it, and that he would inform the council.
Such was the planning process in the 1960s.
One time tour operator Robin Lilley says it was never a booking office for Star Mini Tours though. Rather it was the home of the Far North Promotion Society Inc, with, according to his memory, a promotions officer assisted by the Kaitaia Borough Council.
Whatever, it seems the building has deteriorated to the point where it has to go. Or does it? The first thing the Ecocentre did when it became the tenant was to install a wood stove, so avoiding the annual $9000 heating bill that the council had been paying. It put in new security lights, which the council had costed at $2000 or more, for $80. When the roof began leaking and mould began growing, a registered builder put the cost of repairs at less than $10,000, and the time required at a couple of weeks. Nothing was done, and the Ecocentre was eventually told it would have to vacate the building for six months, with no guarantee it would be let back in.
That's how you create an empty building in Kaitaia.
If it was going to cost a fortune to restore it to a usable state, the council might well be justified in bowling it. It would be illuminating though to compare the registered builder's estimated cost of less than $10k with any figure the council came up with. There might well have been a cost-effective option for saving this quirky little building. Not one with any great architectural merit, perhaps, and by all accounts a cold little hole, but it was Kaitaia's. Not quite ready for Heritage status, perhaps, but a link with the past that would have acquired greater significance over the passage of time.
Instead we're going to get new toilets. Yay. Hopefully they will be cleaned to a higher standard than the existing toilet, which the writer has never used but by all accounts aren't especially alluring, unless one is desperate.
Meanwhile, like the clock, the Lighthouse is not short of fans, but with fewer detractors. Posts to the Northland Age Facebook page last week included: 'Kaikohe slowly removing Kaitaia and the real Far North since being bullied into FNDC;' and 'One of the nicest and unusual-shaped buildings in Kaitaia... why demolish it? Go put a toilet/s in one of the ugly unused shops in town. How many public toilets do we actually need?'
Another post identified the Lighthouse as the scene of a young man's first kiss. What better reason could there be for saving it? Well, several perhaps, but the council needs to be mindful that while it might have every legal right to get rid of the building - it can't be leased to a commercial entity, apparently, because it's standing in a park, a silly rule if ever there was one - it shouldn't obliterate any community's past unless there really is no other viable option. And not without talking to the community.
There's a novel idea.