Students make mark in Otematata

SHARE

In an unlikely alliance, Otematata has adopted 1000 University of Otago students.

Each summer for the past 17 years, the small Waitaki Valley village has been a temporary home for students embarking on a surveying degree.

They are second-year students, having completed an intermediate year and been selected for another three years of professional studies.

Although their arrival caused some consternation at first, they are now welcomed as an annual influx.

The consternation was circumstantial – residents had been protesting about a Waitaki District Council proposal to subdivide a central park into housing sections. No sooner had the council assured them the park would be retained as green space than a bunch of people descended with surveying equipment and began taking measurements.

The misunderstanding was cleared up when University of Otago staff explained their students were on a week-long camp to put surveying first principles into practice in the field.

The survey party stays at the local camping ground, in the dormitory that was the single men’s quarters when Otematata was created in 1958 as a base for the construction of the Aviemore and Benmore dams.

“It’s cheap and cheerful,” University of Otago School of Surveying professional practice fellow Richard Hemi said. “We love coming here.”

The students are divided into six groups of 10 to complete 10 assignments. While some are busy at Rata Park, others head through the nearby gates on to Otematata Station.

Mr Hemi said owner Hugh Cameron had been generous in making his land available each year.

The station has reclaimed some of the land commandeered by the government for the dam projects, but there are still traces of its urban days – stretches of tarsealed road complete with pedestrian crossings and parking areas.

The site is ideal for the students. It contains the sort of infrastructure they might encounter in a real-life surveying task, yet there is no traffic danger.

Mr Cameron’s plans to irrigate some of the land will not scupper the camp – he told its organisers he would tailor his activities to keep the farm available.

This year’s students are a diverse group, coming from all over New Zealand as well as Samoa, Tonga, Australia, Guatemala and China. The ratio of females is also higher than before in this largely male domain.

Mr Hemi said they worked hard in Otematata and were aware they represented the school and their profession in public. Their commitment was shown in their attendance at the camp a week before their fellow students arrived in Dunedin for Orientation Week.

Once qualified, they could find themselves in a wide range of situations – from grimy work alongside bulldozers to presenting reports to decision-making authorities. Surveying contained elements of law, the environment and communications.

“We’re often looking for an all-rounder,” Mr Hemi said.

Professional practice fellow Jim Bazsika said most people who became surveyors stayed in the industry. It offered a great mix of science, practicality, specialisation, and respect as a profession.

Surveyors were in huge demand worldwide and the university was keen to promote its school to prospective participants.

Sciences Pro-vice-chancellor Richard Barker visited the camp on its final day. He talked with the staff and students over lunch in the canteen and afterwards during their field work on Otematata Station.

Prof Barker was also eager to boost awareness of a venture that showcased the university, its programmes and students in such a positive light.