Guest post by Zana Bell, author of Close to the Wind
While I was visiting a castle in Scotland some years ago, the woman selling the tickets said, “Mae hoose is older than your country.”
Of course, New Zealand itself is considerably older and the Maori have been here for centuries but still I know what she meant. New Zealand is not littered with monuments hundreds of years old. In fact it has relatively few buildings even a hundred and fifty years old. But we do have Arrowtown.
Arrowtown, a charming town and tourist mecca, is nestled amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps and has been preserved as an example of the gold-mining towns that abounded throughout the South Island during the 1860s gold rush.
Gold rush. Aptly named for somehow, in those days long before cellphones and even the telegraph, the discovery of gold in a remote river at the bottom of the world could draw thousands of men from around the world in a matter of weeks and months. Tent cities erupted all over the South Island, fuelled by visions of fortunes – and oceans of whiskey. These evolved quickly into rowdy one-street towns which boomed as long as the gold held out and then were abandoned just as suddenly. Almost all now have long since vanished.
So if you visit Arrowtown (and I hope you will one day), stand at the end of the street and imagine how it used to be. First you must erase the tourists, the skiers and the adventure sports people. Now populate these buildings with men from all around the world – English lords, Chinese peasants, German doctors, American civil war veterans, Irish rebels, Australian ex-convicts. The only thing they shared was their dream of gold.
They were a handsome bunch – tanned and strong from their outdoor lives, so Lady Barker noted approvingly in her letters home. They lived hard, played hard. So now peel away the excellent coffee shops, the gourmet restaurants and fine clothing shops and fill these old wooden walls with saloons and bars, billiard-rooms and gaming dens. Throw in a small theatre for there were numerous travelling troupes of performers intent on separating these miners from their hard-won gold nuggets.
We mustn’t forget the women - vastly outnumbered and greatly in demand. Prostitutes, barmaids, dancers and cooks improved life considerably for these men who spent long days panning in freezing rivers. Husbands could be found in a couple of weeks. Many women came out to New Zealand in search of new opportunities and greater independence and through their determination and struggle, they became the first women in the world granted the right to vote.
When in Arrowtown, don’t forget to visit the Chinese section, down by the clear waters of the river. Their tiny stone hovels are truly heart-breaking and awe-inspiring. These men were only permitted to mine the tracings discarded by the first wave of diggers but thanks to their exacting diligence, they not only eked out a living of sorts but also sent money back to their families. The Chinese community still thrives today throughout New Zealand.
Arrowtown has been the inspiration for my novel Close to the Wind in which I tried to capture some of that reckless daring those early adventurers who lived on the edge and risked all for their dreams.
Thank you Zana!
And now to the giveaway
1. 1 copy of Close to the Wind
2. Open to ALL
3. ENDS Oct 13th