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The Waterwheel project began in 1990 by people in the Eastern Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand keen to preserve a vanishing history – the industrial archaeology of New Zealand.
A community company was registered, the Whakatane Heritage and Recreation Co. Ltd.
For 18 years, volunteers have saved or restored donated machinery, vehicles and equipment in excess of $2 million assets worth, several to working order. Daily diaries reflect this endeavour and protect the knowledge of volunteers, some retired tradesmen who have since passed away.
The project had a second aim, to provide opportunities to young and old referred to The Waterwheel by courts, WINZ, Blue Light and other programmes. The older volunteers are able to pass on trade, workshop and life skills to unskilled younger people, in many instances providing confidence and direction. 90% have gone on to paid employment.
In 2006, the community company became a charitable trust. The "Waterwheel Historic Trust".
The project is now in its second phase. The Trust is to establish and operate a live historic village and heritage park, in Kawerau, 26kms west of Whakatane on the east coast of New Zealand. It will be a tourist attraction, a place to learn and a place that protects the skills and heritage of times past. Other groups will be able to use the project to display their history and culture.
The heritage park is to be named Waterwheel Heritage Park. The Trust and heritage park project are commonly referred to as The Waterwheel.
The Trust agreed on this wording because the Definition of Heritage describes what the Trust is about: The definition of Heritage from Gareth Moore-Jones:
“The collective stories of the people and events that have shaped our community. This is manifest in many different ways through key taonga including landmarks, significant places, buildings such as Museums, public art, monuments, planting or landscaping”