Old Work Horses
Well, not the kind you were likely thinking of perhaps. Outside the entrance to Gumdiggers’ Park, just north of Northland’s northern-most town Awanui, are two old mechanized work horses – a tractor and a truck. Gumdiggers’ Park is a small museum and outdoor display dedicated to the digging of Kauri gum.
Kauri gum is formed when resin from Kauri trees leaks out through fractures or cracks in the bark, hardening with the exposure to air. Lumps commonly fall to the ground and become covered with soil and forest litter, eventually fossilizing. Prior to European settlement the indigenous Maori used the amber-colored gum for chewing, fire lighting, jewelry, and as the basis for a pigment used in tattooing. European settlers soon found that the gum mixed easily with linseed oil to make an excellent varnish, and from 1910 Kauri gum was used extensively in the manufacture of linoleum. A lucrative trade started in the 1890s and continued until the 1930s when synthetic substitutes came into use. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries transient workers fossicked in areas where old Kauri forests once stood, often in swampy ground, seeking out hidden gum deposits which they sold at quite low prices to gum merchants. My own grandfather worked in the gum fields of Northland when he first landed in New Zealand in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Getting back to the mechanized work horses. Although they are outside Gumdiggers’ Park, they are unlikely to have been used in the gum digging industry described above. Because of their age, they are more likely to have been used in the recovery of “Swamp Kauri” i.e. old fallen logs which are hauled out of the swamps where they had been preserved by swamp water for use in furniture manufacture and souvenirs of Northland.
For me, these two vehicles were as interesting as the exhibits inside the park, especially because of the late afternoon lighting.