To explore the mysteries of the deep
In February 2008, the Winstone family, some 200 of them, gathered for a picnic beside the marine reserve at Leigh. The location was not randomly chosen. Four months earlier, the Edith Winstone Blackwell Foundation Trust had given its largest ever donation - $4.5 million. The recipient was The University of Auckland's planned development of the marine science laboratories at Leigh. The family picnic was the idea of one of the trustee's, Keith Salmon.
"We thought, why not bring everyone together, including the great great grandchildren of Edith, and have the gathering at the University campus at Leigh," says fellow trustee, Philip Winstone. "John Montgomery [Professor of Marine Science] turned on a fantastic day for us. He put up a marquee and there was snorkelling and the glass bottomed boat for others to explore the reserve."
The Trust's decision on where to make such a significant donation was guided by the spirit and memory of Edith Winstone Blackwell.
"She was a woman who really was ahead of her time in many ways," says Trust chair, Keith Winstone. "She truly believed that those who had some money should support those with less. She had strong Christian principles. She was among the first girls to attend Auckland Grammar School and she thought it was very important to get an education, which was hard for girls in the late 19th Century. She really wanted to start a school but she didn't have enough money, so she set up the trust."
But it wasn't just the educative nature of the University at Leigh which attracted the trustees. There was the family's history with the area, and with the sea. In the early days in Auckland, the Winstone family owned the biggest fleet of scows working the coastal trade and the whole family continues to have an association with the sea and boats. Philip Winstone has been holidaying in the region since he was a boy surfing off Pakari. Keith began diving off Leigh in the mid 1950s with his brother, Brian, who became fascinated with underwater photography. There were very few underwater cameras then and the only ones that were available were extremely expensive. The young photographer was undeterred.
"In those days you had big round pressure cookers with curved handles on the sides. He took Mum's, cut the bottom out and replaced it with Perspex and covered the other end with a big rubber glove. He mounted his Box Brownie inside. The only trouble was we couldn't sight it so often you only got the head or tail of a fish. He took some pretty good pictures, but there was a lot of wastage." Brian Winstone was one of a small group of students instrumental in the formation of the University's underwater club.
The decision to give to the project at Leigh is a continuation of the family's relationship with the area. As Keith says, "The whole thing came together. When we decided to approach the University about making a gift, they gave us five projects to consider. Leigh just jumped out. Edith would have looked at it and seen that the seas hold the future for humankind, and that we need to be farming the ocean rather than pillaging it. Unless research is done into fish stocks, it is hard to see how this might be achieved."
Edith, a keen amateur astronomer, donated a Zeiss telescope to Auckland's Stardome Observatory in 1956 and her foundation trust board has continued to be a generous supporter. Philip Winstone draws a comparison between that and Leigh: "It is incredible that even today it is easier to see into space than to see what is in the depths of our world. The exploration of the mysteries of the sea - that is the last frontier.
"Leigh ticked all the boxes. It is a project that you can be enthusiastic about and proud to support. And if there is someone who needs support, a tap on the shoulder, it is John Montgomery for his enthusiasm and for his constructive and positive contribution to the science and to this project."
The vision for the South Pacific Centre for Marine Science at Leigh is to re-develop and expand the existing facilities to create a research and education centre of international standing, a recognised leader in marine science in this country and throughout the world. Its research will help develop sustainable fisheries, aquaculture and other related marine industries here and in the South Pacific. The new Interpretive Centre with outreach programmes for schools will give the public and future generations a better understanding of our fragile marine environment and how to conserve it. The funding target for the first stage of development is $14 million and includes development costs, the science centre, a fully endowed Chair in Marine Science and the interpretive centre. That public interface was one of the most important factors for the trust board.
"In my day," says Philip Winstone, one of generations of Winstone alumni of the UoA, "there was not a lot of interaction with the worlds beyond the academic. It is just amazing what Leigh will offer, from young kids to university students to the elderly. The project is beyond economics. The true value is intrinsic, investing in New Zealand's future. It is not just measured in the number of theses. The real benefit is the intersection of the people of New Zealand and the world of science. There are very few places where kids can come and see what science really does. It will be the best door the University has and I just hope a few more people get in behind and support it.
"You need to make a difference when you give and if this can make a difference to how New Zealanders feel about giving, especially to educational institutions, then we will be very very happy. Education is the future."
Read more about the South Pacific Centre for Marine Science at Leigh (SPCMS)