The remains of an old gold mining settlement are found at Bendigo Historic Reserve, 15 minutes drive north of Cromwell, Central Otago, a place we made time to visit on one of the very few sunny mornings of our 3 week trip around old stomping grounds in New Zealand's South Island. Take State Highway 8 along the east side of Lake Dunstan, turn right at the signpost and drive past vineyards lining the slopes. Central Otago Pinot Noir is becoming recognised as the best Pinot Noir
Here we found the sunshine for a few hours! The stone ruins were anchors to gloriously expansive views across the plains striped with yellow-flowering acacia, dotted with golden tussock and patched with green fields, all backgrounded with the deep grey-blue of Lake Dunstan, and mountain ranges on the horizon - a brilliant blue in the distance and capped with late snow. Layer upon layer of colours! Spring is an excellent time to see Central Otago!
Bendigo, once referred to as Welshtown, was settled by miners from Wales who escaped depressing lives working for a pittance in what were at the time very dangerous coal mines, and travelled 'Steerage' class to new lives seeking alluvial gold in Central Otago's scarcely roaded mountains and valleys. When the easy pickings panned out, the quartz hills were mined by pick and shovel, and later by machinery, creating deep mines still there today.
Hard times and tough work for the men, but often even harder for the womenfolk in those early pioneering days on our goldfields of the late 1860's onwards.
And when the gold was gone their livelihood finished, and they would have to walk away from the home they had built and start a new life wherever they could find work. That resourcefulness and adaptability to whatever harsh fortune they faced forged a tough part of the Kiwi character somewhat missing in today's world of 'Nanny State welfarism' expected today.
Muse a while on their lives when you sit inside the remnants of their tiny stone-walled, canvas-roofed cottages.
These hardy people helped build our country.
N. B. Click on the pictures below to bring them up in large slideshow format.
Bendigo, of Bygone Year.
So choose your rock and sit by where
So choose your rock and sit by where
the window frames yon view so clear
and muse a while, on lives by here
in Bendigo of bygone year.
Clear your mind, let this place surround
and envelop you with ancient sound
of doughty miners that dig this ground.
We welcome you to look around.
Where crystal waters long 'ere flowed
over yellow treasure Nature sowed,
came we men with eyes that glowed,
we covet Earth's bounty, long bestowed.
Allow your mind through ages span,
when pick and shovel, sluice and pan
chased dreams of gold where waters ran.
Do you not admire this resourceful man?
Slaves to mine-owning aristocracy,
we escaped harsh life of poverty
and risked our lives on distant sea
in hope for better life in far country.
Forever forsaking our home island,
this house I built with my own hands
from rock, and mortar of river sand
to stake my claim in this virgin land.
Fern and tussock line our floor,
the trees I felled frame sash and door,
behind this curtain our wee boudoir.
By here we could not wish for more.
with dancing steps and skipping toy?
Her flashing green eyes tease longing boy:
this life is hard, 'tis best enjoy.
Young women age before their time,
those flashing eyes soon lose their shine
hauling wood and water to bend young spine:
the child must fill that washing line.
Childhood is short, work needs be done,
a father desperately needs his son
to toil and dig where waters run:
survival by here needs gold be won!
We're glad you came to be with us
by here this hill so glorious
and experience this life laborious
so hard and short but ne'er tedious.
N. B. The above poetry style is an exercise to rhyme each line in each verse similar, and remain credible without being forced, and at the same time attempt to convey good information about Bendigo and the hard lives of these early goldminers.