29 January 2008 | Shantytown
Shantytown is a 'theme village', set up to illustrate the gold mining history of the region. A little steam train takes you up the hill to the sawmill and then the 'gold claim'. The logging and forest clearance was also very important here.
Pip got an invaluable lesson in panning from the guys who run the 'claim'. They bring in loads of gravel and water and from it a few crumbs are extracted. So much of the hills here have been mined three, four or five times. They have surrounded the 'claim' area with copies of the sluices, gullies, waterwheels and pumps of alluvial gold mining on an industrial scale. We (or at least Sarah) had never realised how fantastically destructive such river mining was; it's not an old codger with a back pack and pan. Or rather, it's thousands of old codgers, with pumped water and endless gullies and sluices.
The other fascinating element of Shantytown is the recreation of Chinatown. Such a settlement existed on the sites of all the gold rushes, as Chinese would come in to the fields. Many (the most prosperous) worked to service the miners, and the Chinese ownership of market gardens and grocery businesses testifies to their success. Others worked over the areas already abandoned by the Europeans. Patience and persistence paid off, often providing reasonable yields from areas deemed as worked out.
For the Chinese men (and the vast majority were men), even this hard life was preferable to the appalling prospects back home. China, particularly Canton where many came from, was ravaged by war and famine. The Opium wars (forced on China by the British in the name of free trade) had also generated massive addiction with accompanying violence and disease.
Despite their industriousness and low profile in NZ, many Europeans resented and feared the Chinese. A poll tax, initially £50 then £100, was imposed on them, along with other legislative discrimination. For instance, the State Pension introduced before 1900 was not paid to Chinese residents till late in the 1930's.
The little area in Shantytown (of which we shamefully neglected to take pix) was very well done and moving. We think there must still be a reasonably powerful Chinese presence in the area, to pressure for or pay for the exhibit, which we enjoyed.