The Chinese Gold Miners
Iconic ridges and deep valleys of Central Otago NZ thrived, breathing life into Chinese men dreaming of returning home rich to a proud family.
This is a unique story of a struggle amidst unwarranted prejudice. Although hard working and harmless, Chinese were seen as a steady flow of money exiting New Zealand. That was, unfortunately, the trade off for a cheap work force that the government hoped would eventually return home.
Chinese settlements swiftly established in the 1860s as the ‘New Gold Mountain’ of Central Otago promised riches beyond belief. A desperate need for more prospectors grew as many European miners from the initial gold rush left for the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
Working abandoned mines, solitude, the tyranny of distance, gambling and reliance on letters from home soaked in opium, led to dreams unfulfilled. Yet, Chinese resilience in the extreme Central Otago climate was reflected in simple shelters - caves, rock dwellings and earth houses.
Clues of the bygone era still remain - remains of a schist fence at Butchers Gully, a mud brick house at Macrae’s, graves located on the perimeter or facing in the ‘opposite’ direction of many cemeteries and rock dwellings in Conroy’s Gully. A gentle stroll on Shek Han Historic Reserve on the Upper Fraser River near Cromwell reveals hut ruins and alluvial workings. After the China Town at Old Cromwell was submerged under Lake Dunstan, focus shifted to an Arrowtown settlement.
Swirl these waters of time in your own gold pan at Gees Flat in the Kawarau Gorge, home to a replica Chinese village and actual mine workings.
‘The Gold Mountain’ still remains an idealistic dream today. Central Otago – A World of Difference acknowledges the special contribution by Chinese to our rich and precious New Zealand heritage. Chinese brought to Central Otago stoicism, determination and spiritual beliefs which once threatened the fairer ‘Britain of the South Seas’ but would later become both accepted and respected.