Celebration postponed


It may have been postponed, but it will happen.

That’s the message from organisers of a mini-symposium that was going to be held in Oamaru on February 15 to celebrate the 140th anniversary of New Zealand’s first shipment of frozen export meat from Port Chalmers to London in 1882.

While the symposium would not go ahead next week, due to concerns around Covid-19, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga senior property manager Scott Elliffe said it would be rescheduled.

The stories — and the 140th anniversary itself — were very important, Mr Elliffe said.

‘‘We are committing to rescheduling the symposium in some form, whether in its original format at a later date, or digitally, to give it the prominence it deserves,’’ Mr Elliffe said.

‘‘We’ll be making a decision on this in the near future and ensure that it is widely publicised as there has been, understandably, a tremendous amount of interest in the symposium by a wide range of people.’’

Three local historians — George Berry, Noel Crawford and Marise Martin — were to present papers for the anniversary symposium, and their work would not go to waste, Mr Elliffe said.

‘‘The success of this initiative led to the growth of two multibillion dollar industries that have created almost unimaginable wealth for this country over the past 14 decades.

‘‘It signalled a new era of economic prosperity for New Zealand, and its importance to us as a country cannot be overstated.

‘‘The story of the key people behind this epoch-making event is not widely known, however, and the symposium — when it happens — will help address that.’’

Mr Berry’s research sheds light on Thomas Brydone, the on-the-ground facilitator whose command of logistics and quality control at Totara Estate, where the first shipment of frozen meat was prepared, ensured the product that arrived in London was of the highest quality.

Mr Brydone’s influence was widely felt beyond Otago, even today, Mr Berry said.

‘‘Brydone was a huge figure of his time and place here in the South,’’ he said.

‘‘After the success of the Dunedin’s voyage in 1882, the freezing industry — including local works — grew extremely rapidly, and he was also involved with forming and operating as a director one of the first to get going, at Burnside, in Dunedin, and doubtless others too.

‘‘He was an expert whose experience would have been widely sought. It should be remembered too that cheese from the factory that Brydone pioneered at Edendale was also on board the Dunedin and was our first dairy export.’’

Mr Berry’s fascination with the story behind Dunedin’s voyage, and Mr Brydone in particular, was stimulated in 1973 when he and his wife bought the Totara Estate homestead, with its other historic farm buildings.

Together with other community leaders, Mr Berry later advocated for the original buildings of the Totara Estate farm to be acquired by the then NZ Historic Places Trust, now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Ownership was transferred and the trust agreed to manage the restoration of the site into a farming and meat industry museum.

The official opening, marking the 100th anniversary in 1982, was a very large event, attended by the prime minister, Governor-General and UK High Commissioner.