Page 19

Downer_Magazine_Issue_One

which to extract 50,000 cubic metres of soil and build a 300-metrelong trench and tunnel up to 14 metres deep. You can imagine the tunnel as a concrete box that we cover over and then complete the park on top.” Working on the tunnel are earthworks teams, structural teams and reinforcing teams, along with mechanical, electrical and lighting teams. Topping it off will be the hard and soft landscaping teams. A variety of trees is being grown in nurseries around New Zealand for the park, including pohutukawa, olive and kowhai, all of which will have to be on site and four metres high by April 2015. For Kenderdine, working here has personal significance: “My grandfather, who enlisted under-age, was in Ypres and was wounded, shot through the hand. It was a minor injury compared to many, but I’m proud of what he did. I’ve had the privilege of hearing the Last Post sounded at Ypres and it was a very moving experience. Nowadays, the battlefields are lush, rolling countryside, but seeing the number of graveyards there in such close proximity - it’s really quite staggering to behold.” History echoes across the War Memorial Park project. Everywhere they dig, they’re digging up the past. This is where the conspiracy, intrigue and buried treasure come in. In, around and under the site are the remains of three military rifle ranges, drill halls and parade grounds dating back to the 1840s. Kenderdine says “We’ve made a number of archeological finds so far – for instance, we discovered a hat buckle from about 1845”. While the site’s earlier history has been obliterated by earthworks over the past 150 years, there is the real possibility of unearthing a 13-tonne cannon that dates back to the so-called ‘Russian Scare’ of the 1890s. It was put in place to warn off any Russian ships that might enter Wellington Harbour. “That gun could fire a shell as far as Somes Island, I’m told. When it was decommissioned in the early 1900s it was too heavy to cart away, so they just dug a hole and dropped it in. No-one knows exactly where that hole is but the odds are, we will find it” Kenderdine says. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the tantalising possibility that a secret, underground network of military bunkers and tunnels might be discovered. It has one local historian very excited: Allan Jenkins says that he has old Ministry of Works documents to prove it was built, even if, officially, that’s not acknowledged. Jenkins reckons there is a shroud of secrecy around the underground installation. Others are more circumspect, reckoning that, while plans are one thing, whether they became a completed project is quite another. Added to that, they say, previous excavation around the Carillon did not reveal any secret installation. Nevertheless, they’re hoping that the earthworks might solve the mystery of how far WW2 air raid shelters extended under the Wellington High School playing field. Discoveries so far include the timber foundations of the 19th century St Joseph’s Catholic Church, on the corner of Buckle and Tory Streets, and the Home of Compassion on Tory Street, which is also scheduled for relocation. “That, too, is an ambitious project,” says Kenderdine. “Basically, we strengthen what is a fragile, old building and put it on a large concrete runway with a steel slipway. Then we move it back 15 metres. The added challenge we face is lifting it three metres vertically at one point, and then across another 14 metres on another set of concrete runways to its final resting place. It will be a similar project to moving the Birdcage hotel in Auckland or the Waihi Pump Station.” Working under the shadow of the towering Carillon, the Hall of Memories and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the Alliance team is reminded daily of just how significant and special this project is in terms of infrastructure, history and culture. “I think that when we start coming back up out of the ground and start forming the park, people will see what we’re going to achieve. For us there’s a real sense of honour in being associated with this project” reflects Kenderdine. DOWNER / IN BLACK & WHITE / 17


Downer_Magazine_Issue_One
To see the actual publication please follow the link above