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History lost and history found

I’m sure you are all aware of my sentimentality for anything old. I love antiques. I love the elegant clothing from eras past, and I love old houses – I blogged about several I had discovered last month. Likewise, I can feel the sadness of abandoned and derelict homes and sheds scattered throughout our farmland. I also spend a lot of time wandering around old cemeteries – they have so many stories to tell.

But I’m also sure I wouldn’t want to wear (or care for) those old-style clothes (unless I was the Lady of the Manor perhaps) and old houses require an enormous amount of upkeep and maintenance – I understand that. It is so much easier to flick a switch and turn on the electrical heating, rather than light the many fires in such houses when one feels the chill wind blowing.

After having wandered around museums and historic homes, looking at the old cooking appliances, washing and bathing options and the heavy irons and pans that were common, I know I wasn’t cut out to have been a maid back then. But when I look at much of the finely crafted furniture, my hands itch to slide them over the polished wood and leather, or take a cloth and rub the patina until it shines. I love old furniture and have restored some pieces myself.

There is a grace and elegance to times gone by that does not, in my opinion, exist in today’s society. The fine china and sparkling crystal and cut-glass is missing from the ‘tea table’, the embroidered tablecloth that adorned the table but needs washing, starching and ironing is also gone (all of which I still have, even if they are rarely used). We have opted for an easy life-style, casual to the point where fine-dining restaurants are struggling, furniture is now made from ‘fake’ wood or other man-made products, and our clothes are wash and wear.

And so, it seems to me our history is disappearing before our eyes.

As I travel around, I have visited several villages and historic areas where the life blood has gone, and only this month I read an article where historian, Hamish Crimp has highlighted that under New Plymouth’s draft plan “building history is disappearing fast and little is being done by authorities to keep it”. I’m sure this is happening elsewhere too. And it’s not a new problem. More than 10 years ago, a 90-year-old mansion in Remuera was demolished without notification to the neighbours, after the council voted down buying it, and I regularly hear stories from people about an ‘old’ house they knew about that was demolished to make way for something modern.

After seeing some amazing historic homes in the Hawkes Bay, I looked up Historic Places Trust online, looking for Listed Buildings in the Wairarapa. The website morphed into a new name of Heritage NZ, and according to the website there are none! Not even in the Hawkes Bay! This seemed strange, to say the least, as I had visited places with Historic Places Trust plaques – so what is happening?

I don’t know, and I may be wrong in my assumptions (which, I know, can get one into trouble) but it seems to me that the regulations around our historic buildings are becoming increasingly lax and open to interpretation.

It worries me.

I’m not suggesting that everything old is good or that it should be saved. But I do think it has become the norm, because it is easier (and cheaper) to knock things down and start again than it is to restore what could be restored.

I’m grateful to the individuals who do value our past, people who have researched their family tree and are fascinated by visiting the ground their great-grandparents walked on and preserve their history, and people who are committed to retaining something of our past. They need our support. We need to keep our councils up to the mark in this area.

Our history is too new by world standards to be lost, and the more we discard the past, the more we lose.

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