On Sunday 17th December, 2017, NZUHG hosted a group of 60 people at the Lighthouse Function Centre at Dargaville Museum where Mrs Rosemary Tarlton presented Mrs Julie Hilliam and members of the Hilliam family with the Kelly Tarlton Award for services to Underwater Heritage. There were many reminiscences and tributes.
Last year the New Zealand Underwater Heritage Group decided there was an opportunity to create an award recognising individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions through research, practice or advocacy, to underwater heritage, maritime archaeology or maritime history.
The award is to recognise long term accomplishments or those who have made a notable impact through a significant innovation, body of work or publication.
A candidate’s contributions can include innovative ideas or maritime conservation projects, including services that have promoted underwater heritage in New Zealand communities.
The Tarlton family were approached as to naming rights and willingly gave their approval for the award to be named the Kelly Tarlton Award. Kelly Tarlton (1937-1985) was a marine explorer, diver, conservationist and treasure hunter. He was posthumously inducted into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame in 2012. His mana rivals Jacques Cousteau. A meticulous recorder, incessant innovator and charismatic team leader, Kelly’s work epitomises the qualities which the award recognises.
It was the unanimous decision of the Award committee to posthumously make the inaugural award to Noel Hilliam of Dargaville. The announcement was made at the NZUHG’s Annual General Meeting held at Mahia, Hawkes Bay, on 11th November, 2017.
Noel Hilliam was NZUHG founding President and served on the committee of the Group until illness forced his resignation. He had a huge passion for history and was widely recognised as the authority on shipwrecks on the Kaipara’s wild and rugged coast, the site of over 100 shipwrecks. His energy and research led to his discovery of a number of lost shipwrecks and recovery of artefacts for display in the local Dargaville Museum which Noel was pivotal in establishing.
Among relics he recovered were those from the French Corvette L’Alcemene lost in 1851. His investigations and survey of the wreck was recognised by the French authorities. Noel’s knowledge and skills of shipwreck artefact conservation is evident in the many historical exhibits he has conserved and are now on public display. He was a man of energy, adventure and a ‘can do’ attitude. He even built his own aircraft which he flew from his farm to search for shipwrecks along the nearby coastline.
With Noel’s passing we have lost a tireless character who made a large contribution to our understanding of the rich underwater heritage of the Kaipara Harbour and coast.