This article was originally published in Inside Resources in September 2020: MINERALS SECTOR AWARDS FINALIST: OceanaGold Waihi

Waihi Miners’ reflective area

The history of Waihi miners who tunnelled under enemy lines in France during WWI is recorded in a Miners’ Reflective Area in Waihi township.

Following the dedication in 2016 of a Tunnelling Company Memorial project, one of the largest events to occur in Waihi, the Miners’ Reflective Area was finally completed in 2019.

“This project is an example of how a community and a mining company can work constructively together to achieve something of lasting value,” OceanaGold’s senior communications advisor Kit Wilson says.

Miners’ Reflective Area takes shape

The community initiative started with a local heritage group approaching the Ministry of Culture and Heritage in 2013, and subsequently receiving $100,000 in funding to design and construct the Tunnelling Company Memorial, as part of the WWI centennial commemorations.

The Miners’ Reflective Area was designed as a multi-use public space of quiet reflection which would recognise miners past and present, and the contribution of these men, their families, and the industry to Waihi and New Zealand.

“Through the provision of practical in-kind assistance and support, and financial help, OceanaGold and the mine’s previous owners have put all of these values into action,” Wilson says.

“The object of this project was to bring their story back to life, to remind modern-day Waihi and New Zealand of these historical links, and to strengthen international Tunnelling Company links.”

The area chosen is part of Gilmour Reserve, a natural gathering place, which Wilson describes as “almost a village green”.

The land joins up Gilmour Lake to the Union Hill Walkway and beyond to the Pit Rim Walkway, all of which were Waihi Gold projects.

“This initiative would link these features as a valuable walking track and significant historical trail.”

Community support for Waihi operations

Encouraging the strong community support for OceanaGold’s Waihi operations is the company’s own strong support for the local community, with it taking the time to listen to the community’s aspirations and assist with community initiatives.

The collective energy put into creating the Miners’ Reflective Area has led to several additional co-operative projects, Wilson says.

They include the Waihi Lions Club/Waihi Heritage Vision Poppy Fence, the Waihi Heritage Vision Peace Wings Project, and the Waihi Heritage Vision Cross of Crosses.

“None of these initiatives would have been possible without close co-operation between mine staff and community members,” Wilson says.

Oral histories of miners’ descendants live on

Also inspiring the project is its contribution to the mining history of Waihi and the link between the local community and other countries sharing the New Zealand Tunnelling Company’s history – France, the UK, Australia, the Cook Islands and Norfolk Island.

OceanaGold Waihi provided financial assistance for a Heritage Group researcher and a videographer to record Tunnelling Company oral histories.

Wilson says “the oral histories were of particular importance as there was only a small number of Tunnellers’ children still alive.

“These descendants’ interviews were incorporated into the wider Waihi Gold Oral History Project, which ultimately saw over 60 local people interviewed on all aspects of early mining life in and around Waihi.”

Following the death of underground miner Tipiwai Stainton at Waihi, four new plaques were added to the Miners’ Reflective Area in honour and recognition of the four men who have died at the mine since 1952.

“The result is unique and is something that will continue to be a very special amenity for Waihi locals, visitors and mining families for many years to come,” Wilson says.

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