Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

21 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 29. Miners’ Hut Replica, Ross, Westland.

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


MINER’S HUT REPLICA, ROSS

I came across this replica of a gold miner’s hut in the dank forest hills above Ross on the west coast of New Zealand’s south island. I’ve included it in my collection because I doubt if it’s possible to find a genuine one - one that dates to the gold fossicking and mining days of the nineteenth century - and because it is very well done, simple, sound, an honest endeavour and a nice evocation of times past.

It stands beside the Ross Water Race Walkway, a short, circular track that passes by Jones’s Creek where gold was first found in Ross in 1865. It’s a pleasant and peaceful walk on a fine day and you can stop and pan for gold in the stream if you have a mind to. It’s quite likely that you’ll get the ‘colours’ too, for Ross was a very rich source of yellow metal, and mining still goes on at the back of the town.

The hut was built to ‘fill a hole’ 1980. It seems that some wayward children had attacked a grove of pongas with axes, leaving an unsightly clearing in the bush, so a group of Department of Conservation men from Ross and Hokitika took the opportunity to show off their skills and dedication. They made it of local timbers: heart rimu walls and floors on silver pine piles, and topped it with the inevitable corrugated iron roof. It’s a working replica, the fireplace and chimney are functional and have occasionally given comfort to the transient backpacker.

It was modeled upon a photograph taken around the turn of the century which appears in ‘Goldtown’, a book written in 1969 by Philip Ross May in honour of the town where he was born and is now buried, and from which came his middle name. The picture shows ‘Old Geordie’, a ‘hatter’ sitting outside his vertically-slabbed timber hut. He’s on his best behaviour, wearing a suit jacket and stained-looking felt hat and his full, streaky beard has been combed. Smoke pours from the semi-detached, slab-and-iron chimney on a sunny day when the front door stands open and, despite obvious and serious patches of rust, there’s something of a reflection off the undulant tin roof.

‘Old Geordie’ personified a breed once common around the goldfields. They were called ‘hatters’ but nobody knows why: perhaps, being solitary, they kept things under their hats, or maybe, as one observer has proposed, they washed in them! Archdeacon Harper suggested that they worked hard and were happy in their solitude - living simply with a few books and a dog for company - and that it was those in the world outside, unable to comprehend lonely contentment, who thought them ‘mad as hatters’.


My fanciful ‘Old Geordie’, in sweaty pink flannel, pans the gravels of Jones’s Creek…

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz
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Blurb

RANDOM SAMPLINGS F...
By Don Donovan