The Tauranga City Council Centennial Heritage Award has been presented this year to Tauranga local Heather McLean for her more than 40 years contribution to local history and genealogy.
Particular mention was also made of her work in helping clean neglected headstones in local cemeteries.
The award was presented to Heather by Mayor Greg Brownless in the NZ Room at Tauranga City Library, with Tauranga Historical Society President Julie Green and Stephanie Smith speaking about Heather’s work and the award.
Julie gave a brief history of the award.
“Back in 1982 a local woman named Anne Hyde, who was also a Tauranga Historical Society member, suggested that an award be created to recognise the contribution of an individual, group or organisation to the preservation or protection of the history of Tauranga,” says Julie.
“They had five people nominated in 1982, and the first recipient in 1983 happened to be my grandfather Duff Maxwell. He spent the latter part of his life preserving the Elms.”
A garden party was held for the inaugural award presentation at the Brain Watkins House with then Tauranga Mayor Ray Dillon making the presentation to Duff. It was followed by an address given by Professor Laurie Barber, a senior lecturer in history at Waikato University.
Over the intervening years there have been eight men, six women, and four organisations that have received this award, however it hasn’t been awarded for over a decade.
Other recipients of the award have been V. Simons, Riini Paraire, Joan Mirrielees, Mary Revfeim, Rev W.Poole, Eric Faulkner, William Cross, Alan Bellamy, Lynette Harpham, J. Steedman, Alister Matheson, Ken Smith, Dame Evelyn Stokes, Tauranga Branch of NZ Genealogical Society, Katikati Open Air Arts Society, Grasshopper Properties and Tauranga City Council in 2004 – the last year that the award was presented.
“I believe there has been a local resurgence of interest in history in this area,” says Julie. “It’s high time to reinstate the presentation of this award.”
Stephanie Smith, who has been a past president of the Tauranga Historical Society agrees.
“It’s appropriate to give Heather the Heritage Award,” says Stephanie. “Genealogy used to be the poor cousin twice removed of history.
“I have heard the disparaging term used of granny hunters. But this has changed and is changing and there is more respect for genealogists and I should jolly well think so. The bread and butter of genealogy are the points at which the life of the individual intercepts with the state and/or the church. Birth, marriage, death, also wills, wars and censuses if you’re lucky.
“In the 1970’s a whole school of social history was developed based on the close inspection of parish records in France and England, and these, if you analyse them closely, show the patterns left in communities by such things as epidemics, wars, industrial change and immigration. It’s the history of the ordinary, in other words the history of all of us, of you and me, and that’s one of the reasons why genealogy so important.”
Stephanie outlined how genealogy is important on a level of personal identity.
“Families and individuals have a right to know where they’ve come from and where they belong. In doing this for many individuals it gives us a tapestry of history.
“And then there’s DNA which links us in the world wide web of interconnecting genes. But there’s still a place for the patient delving of the records-based researcher. And this is where our Heather comes in, and has, for more than 40 years.”
“Heather has done so much I don’t really know where to start,” says Stephanie. “She was one of the first members of the Tauranga branch of the NZ Society of Genealogists.”
Stephanie, who is also a librarian at Tauranga Library, went on to address Heather directly in her talk.
“Heather, we refer people every day to the headstones projects that you’ve done in Bay of Plenty cemeteries,” says Stephanie. “You’ve kept track of deaths.
“Not content with just recording information that’s on the headstones, you’ve also cleaned them. You probably have a special relationship with ‘Wet and Forget’. The library staff have much reason to thank you.
“Ever since I’ve been here, you have been knowledgeable and approachable. When our research skills run out we ask Heather.
“We don’t bother Heather with things we can find ourselves, but if there’s a brick wall, something deep and difficult, then Heather is your woman. She has fantastic skills. She once said to me if she wasn’t a genealogist she’d be a private investigator.
“Over the last few years, Heather’s been working at Pyes Pa and keeping track of the cremations. The staff have been so impressed with her work that they have placed a seat with her name on it in the gardens. She’s also been a very generous donor of the Historical Society.
“Heather has a great generosity of spirit. Family things are emotional and Heather, you’ve put yourself out to assist researchers in an extraordinary way.”
“Sometimes if something’s worthwhile, it’s worth waiting for,” says Mayor Greg Brownless, acknowledging the decade since the award was last presented. “I think that gap between the last award and your award Heather, has been something worth waiting for.
“We thank you for your work Heather in the genealogy field. Congratulations.”
Heather responded with a brief talk covering her memories of growing up in Tauranga, including playing on the canons and trenches at the Monmouth Redoubt, and riding donkeys at that Mount.
“One of the things that made an impression on my life was in 1972, when I joined the Tauranga branch of the NZ Society of Genealogists,” says Heather. “I’m still a member. I’ll be a member as long as I can. I would do more if I could.”
During her talk the ten minute close of library warning sounded, prompting laughter from the audience. The presentation was followed by refreshments.