The Tale Of A Waterway Abused

Dunedin has a dirty secret.

For more than 100 years the city used and then abused a tiny waterway.
Industrial and household waste and even sewage were dumped into Kaikorai Stream, transforming it from a waterway rich in diversity to little more than a sewer. We may now know better, but still the stream's role in the city and its history are largely unknown.
"A lot of people live near [the stream] and never give it a though, but it is central to the whole history of the valley and its industry. Now we need to look after it," the curator of the Kaikorai exhibition at the Otago Settlers Museum, Sean Brosnahan, says.

Kaikorai Stream links diverse suburbs in its catchment, which takes in the homes of about 15,000 people. The people of Halfway Bush, Wakari, Balmacewen, Kaikorai, Kaikorai Valley, Bradford, Brockville, Kenmure, Balaclava, Burnside, Concord, Green Island, Abbotsford, Sunnyvale, Fairfield and Waldronville are all touched by the little stream or its tributaries. It also travels through the industrial seam of Kaikorai Valley.

This little battler has many feeders which come down from the hills, including flows from above Frasers Gully, Halfway Bush, Brockville, Scroggs Hill and Fairfield, among others.
One of these feeders rises on the Otago Gold Club's Balmacewen Golf Course. Folded between manicured lawns, the stream is little more than a ditch, but the water is clear and it provides a feature for the golfers to stroll besides. The area takes it name from the house of the same name, which was owned by John McGlashan and named in honour of his wife Isabella McEwan.

The stream, barely more than a trickle, then makes one of several forays underground, beneath the Bishopcourt sports ground, home of the Kaikorai Rugby Football Club, before bubbling up into swampy land between the Araiteuru Marae and Balmacewen Intermediate School, which opened in 1963.

Here it begins to assert itself as a proper stream as it winds between banks planted with natives as part of a project started several years ago to beautify the area. On adjacent plots are the Shetland St Community Organic Gardens, which take sustenance from the wetlands and provide Dunedin people with a place to garden or just contemplate.
Schoolchildren cross bridges, while a mother and daughter feed dozens of ducks which nest nearby.

Though the stream is gathering in strength, it must head back underground beneath Kaikorai Reserve and towards the busy intersection of Kaikorai Valley Road and Taieri Road. It travels, still underground, along Kaikorai Valley, meeting with other feeders from Halfway Bush (once the halfway point for wagons travelling between Dunedin and the Taieri), Brockville (one of the largest housing projects in Dunedin) and Frasers Gully.
As the now-augmented stream heads southwest, it intertwines with Kaikorai Valley Rd, passing through the industrial heartland of the city. It is here that some of the real damage was inflicted.

Two of the city's early businesses - Arthur Ellis Company (1877) and the Roslyn Woollen Mill (1879) - were established in the valley. Many of the industries along this section of the steam discharged waste into the water, and urban lore says residents could tell the colour of the blankets at the mill from the colour of the Kaikorai Stream.
A sewerage system was not installed in the valley until 1908, and early residents discharged their waste into the gutters, which flowed into the stream.
The area was also home to market gardens, Chinese and European, which relied on the waterway.

These days, the stream still winds through the impressive Victorian brick buildings of the woollen mill, which now house storage facilities. The walls of the former mill rise directly from the stream as it is channelled through a concrete canal. Pipes hang above the water; they once would have discharged waste directly into the canal.
The stream, however, perseveres, and free of the mill, winds between sandstone banks and overhanging ponga ferns. It twists and turns as if reluctant to head back to the road, but eventually crosses underneath and into the grounds of Kaikorai Valley College on towards the Burnside freezing works - New Zealand's first freezing works, opened in 1882.

Over time, this part of the valley was home to an iron-rolling mill, stockyards, tanneries, cement works and a flour mill, and it is here things begin to get really messy as the stream courses through a decaying industrial landscape.
The former cement works are a depressingly decrepit combination of smashed glass and rotting cement and on a grey winter day, the site has an almost postapocalyptic feel.
Many of the industries which badly polluted the stream in the past have gone, but ghosts of the area's industrial past remain. The air often smells pungent, a by-product of the remaining industries, and by the time the stream reaches Green Island, it is polluted.
"No Swimming, Water Polluted," a sign on the banks of the stream, near the Green Island town centre, confirms.

Fish, however, cannot read, and a large trout flings itself hopelessly at a concrete ramp that separates it from its spawning ground further upstream. It thrashes in the brown water, oblivious to the lip of brown foam. It is a depressing view of the waterway which, in part, began its journey in the kind environs of the Balmacewen Golf Course.

The stream passes the Green Island landfill and Waldronville, famous for its speedway and residents enthusiasm for Christmas-light displays. It spills into the Kaikorai Lagoon and, at last, this weary water reaches the sea.


Saturday 3 July 2004

This information obtained from and with the permission of the Otago Daily Times.