A Bit of China
Although Dunedin was founded by settlers who were predominantly Scottish in origin and is known as the “Edinburgh of the South”, another ethnic group that played a significant part in Otago history was the Chinese. As in most settler countries that experienced big “gold rushes” in the nineteenth century, people from China were part of the ethnic mix of people chasing the allure of the yellow metal. It was also common at that time for European settlers to have a deep suspicion, even hatred, of the Chinese migrants, who were segregated, taxed excessively, denied status in the community, and consigned to menial work. But these people were resourceful. They came from a place where they knew real hunger and hardship and were looking for the better life that a fortune in gold could provide. The gold was, as usual, harder to find that everyone had hoped and many of the gold-seekers moved on the the next big find to try their luck there. Like others in the gold rush communities, some of the Chinese settlers saw opportunities to grow and sell food, provide laundry facilities and trade in other goods needed by the miners. As time moved on attitudes changed and the Chinese settlers gained more rights and became integrated into the community, but still retained their cultural roots.
As a fitting, permanent, recognition of the Chinese people who first came to Otago during the 1860s gold rush and stayed to establish some of the city’s businesses, the Dunedin Chinese Garden Trust developed a yuanlin style garden in Dunedin which was opened in 2008. The garden has become an important attraction in Dunedin.
Dunedin was linked to Christchurch in the north by rail in 1878, with a link south to Invercargill completed the following year. Designed by George Troup and opened in 1906, the station pictured above is the fourth building to have served as Dunedin’s railway station, and replaced a simple weatherboard “temporary” structure that was built next to the present site in 1884. At that time the city of Dunedin was an important commercial and industrial centre close to still-active gold and coalfields, and was surrounded by a hinterland that was dependent on both livestock and forestry for its economy. For a time this was New Zealand’s busiest railway station, handling up to 100 trains per day.
Improved road transport lead to a decline in the use of rail and the only regular train service that uses the station today is the Otago Excursion Train Trust’s Taieri Gorge Railway tourist train that runs to Middlemarch in Central Otago. The station is now owned by Dunedin City Council and houses a restaurant, the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society.
The Dunedin Railway station is a must-see place to visit to gain a glimpse of a time when rail was king and an essential part of the economic infrastructure of the country. The attention to detail that was a feature of government and civil architecture at the time provides quite a contrast to modern architectural styles.
Mitchell’s Cottage – Fruitlands, Central Otago
The stonefruit growing area of Fruitlands lies on State Highway 8 between Lawrence and Alexandra, but before any fruit was grown in the area men came here looking for gold.
Very quickly the diggers discovered Central Otago’s rigorous climate and the need for good shelter. Mitchell’s Cottage utilised the traditional building materials favoured by the diggers, some of whom came from the Shetland Islands. One such was John Mitchell, who had been a gold digger in the Shotover Valley near Queenstown before seeking his fortune here at Bald Hill Flat, as the area was once known. He first erected a corrugated iron cottage on the site, then over the following years he and his brother Andrew used skills learned from their stonemason father in the Shetland Islands to construct the present stone dwelling. The cottage foundation was once a massive rock tor which was quarried for building stone for the cottage and surrounding stone walls. John Mitchell and his wife Jessie raised 10 children, most of whom were brought up in this remote home.
In 1980 the cottage and its grounds were acquired as a historic reserve. The building has been restored in the style of the turn of the century.
In the foreground of the above image is a sun-dial platform chipped by John Mitchell from a solid block of schist.
Peeling, Faded & Abandoned
The town of Lawrence in Central Otago has a colourful history that stretches back to when gold was discovered in nearby Gabriel’s Gully by Gabriel Read in 1861. Today it is a small rural town on State Highway 8 from Dunedin to Queenstown.
Glimpses of glories past can be seen in the heritage buildings dotted around the town, from the two grand white churches on the ridge overlooking the main road, to the derelict old convent school opposite the Gothic-style St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Colonsay Street.
The old convent school is showing its age. Unpainted and unused for years, this old lady has a bent back and a tattered petticoat. There are plans to restore the building by its overseas owners, but in the meantime it broods over the town waiting to be returned to its former glory.
Other parts of the town are also a bit ragged at the edges, but the locals are proud of their heritage and the main street presents a pleasant view to motorists at they journey onward to their destinations. Lawrence boasts free broadband internet available to all visitors to entice them to stop to visit the local cafes and craft shops.