7 Jan 2021

Restoring a rare goldmining settlement near Arrowtown

From Summer Times, 9:20 am on 7 January 2021

Work is underway to uncover the site of a rare goldmining settlement about 1km from Arrowtown on the banks of the Arrow River known as Coopers Terrace.

Archaeological artist Jan Morrison first discovered the site 11 years ago, and is now working to clear the site with hopes of restoring it.

Returning to the town as an adult, Morrison said she went looking for a hut that she used to play in as a child and initially could not find it as the area was completely overgrown with blackberry thicket.

She said went back with her lopers to cut through and find the hut.

"Now I knew where that hut was and I also knew that across the little dirt road there there were another couple of huts, but most of the stones had been pinched by the locals - that's what they did back then, they didn't understand the history - so the walls are really low, but that doesn't matter, the hut is there." 

The hut was used by goldminers during the 1860s and Morrison also found some other huts in the area.

She said she has started clearing the vegetation and has archaeological authority to operate in the area for another four years.

The huts are on private land and any restoration that took place would need to be done with the consent of the landowner, Morrison said.

She said at this stage her main job is to clear the land so people can actually see what is there, but also to get the land put on the district plan.

Up to 2000 people at Arrow River at the height of the goldrush in the 1860s, with perhaps half a dozen huts at Coopers Terrace at any one time, Morrison said.

She said she would love to see the area restored.

"I would love to reconstruct it [the hut] but of course it's on private ownership land so a lot depends on what the owner wants, but he's great and he's been showing interest and maybe we can do that, but we don't know yet."

Morrison said there is a lack of funding and currently it is being done like a community project, with volunteers and her working part-time.

"The dream is to have a little group of huts with its garden wall and this entrance way or folly reconstructed as like a, maybe a tourist destination similar to and in reference to the Chinese village."

The Chinese village is a heritage listed site which has been reconstructed with a small group of huts, some of which are cut like caves into rock, at the back of Arrowtown.

The Chinese miners had a small community with its own store during the goldrush, but they were quite separate from the European miners, Morrison said. 

She said Arrowtown has commemorated the Chinese miners with the Chinese village, but there is nothing similar to remember the European miners.

"We have no real indication of how those [European] miners lived up there, this is the first time that we've found a collection of huts that's quite close to Arrowtown, and we're just learning, we're just finding out how they lived really." 

Morrison said it's an important thing to do because it is part of New Zealand's history and once it has been lost, it is gone.

"Arrowtown prides itself on its identity as an early goldmining town, it's great, they've done a fantastic job, the main street of Arrowtown is really cool, they've reconstructed and kept restoring some of the old buildings there so you can get the feel of what it was like back in the day, back in that time when the miners were there."

But she said there is no evidence of the European miners and how they lived there.