Love for heritage

Heritage conservation expert Chris Richards shares his story with this newspaper. Picture: SITERI SAUVAKACOLO

THE most important thing Chris Richards wants to do on Earth is to save many global heritage sites as he can because heritage defines who people are.

The Sydney, Australian native’s love for heritage has taken him to so many countries around the world and has allowed him to save so many heritage sites from being destroyed by men.

He developed this love from a very young age when he used to admire railways, beautiful houses and many other sites and places around him.

“I was very young about nine years old, there was a beautiful old house where we lived, one day I was driving past the house with my father and there was a bulldozer pushing it over,” Mr Richards explained.

“So, I thought to myself, how could someone destroy something so beautiful which is just the same as the rainforest, how could someone cut something down or shoot an animal that is rare? Once it’s gone it will never come back.

“Fiji has so many beautiful heritage sites and I discovered this when I first came here three years ago.”

The beauty of Fiji’s heritage sites was discovered by Mr Richards while working on his Masters in Heritage Conservation thesis three years ago which was on industrial heritage focusing on the then Colonial Sugar Refinery and the Fiji Sugar Corporation.

“My thesis was on CSR and FSC and what I discovered on my thesis, about 1200 pages which had all the properties they owned — the machinery and buildings, railways, beaches and they have extremely rare and high heritage significance worldwide.

“I did a lot of comparative analysis with the sugar industries around the world and found that FSC and CSR have the largest intact concentration of the late 90s century sugar industries in the world and what I’m preparing to do is have it nominated with ICOMOS and UNESCO as a Fijian world heritage site.”

Mr Richards said these properties, if listed on the world heritage site, would bring more jobs and income for the country in terms of tourism as most of these properties are rare.

He visited the four sugar mills a few years ago and admired the priceless properties they have which would make Fiji a major tourist attraction.

“It’s a goldmine waiting to happen in the future, waiting to have it integrated because it is so significant to Fiji and the world.

“I have looked at all the mills including the old Nausori mills and altogether is great world heritage, the buildings, machinery, railway operations they all still here and this is how rare of what we have here in Fiji.

“I compared Fiji with all other sugar producing countries, I have visited every mill, I was here one year ago and I was here before and after Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston and I photographed every nut and bolt that has heritage significance.”

There is more than 2000 items that Mr Richards photographed and listed and he considered them as hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.

For the past 50 years, travelling and conserving world heritage sites was part of the heritage experts daily life.

He considered heritage as his own children and the removal of a heritage site is deemed a very sad day for him.

He has also visited many countries who sought his assistance to examine, preserve it and turn it into something worthwhile.

Apart from this, he runs his own business in Australia which is on buying old houses and buildings, renovate them and recycle them or turn them into products which cab used for offices, houses and all sorts of things.

Mr Richards has made hundreds of discoveries around the world and he pioneered a railway network in New South Wales which allowed old railways to be preserved and used by the public as recreational centres and major tourism attraction.

He hopes more awareness will be done to Fijians about the need to conserve their heritage.

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