When I look at any of my photos from the past I get sentimental about my children and nostalgic for the place. I do have a strong sense of ‘place’. You carry memories of a visit and the photos re-ignite that, allow you to re-live the experience. It is quite possible to focus only on the good bits.
Arrowtown felt very different to me when we re-visited it. It was the sort of one-horse town that time forgot, way out west somewhere… a sleepy backwater, you get the picture. This photo (right) shows just how quiet the main street was in the height of summer. Compare that to a photo taken in 2018 (below). So many vehicles. It is the virtual absence of them in the 2004 street scene that amazes me.
In 2004 we spent several days here, returning to the same wild camp spot in the centre of the town. I remember making up long stories to get Joe and Freya off to sleep… we wandered into the free museum, panned for gold in the Arrow River, walking through the river waters as far as we could go. We played mini golf, went in the open-air swimming pool.; it was summer, after all. We had all the time in the world, fitting as Arrowtown is the sort of place people come to retire to and spend days ambling about in.
Autumn is a good time to visit Arrowtown they say. Colder than summer of course, but this is compensated for by the red and gold display of the trees.
On our 2018 trip we did get to see a scene that looked similar to the watercolour print (above) that we have on our wall of the famous row of miner’s cottages in autumn. However, we were here in early April and I think a couple more weeks would have made it even more spectacular. The avenue of trees was planted along this street in 1867.
The main street, Buckingham Street, looked unchanged in some parts. Remarkably, there was still the ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive’ poster that you could stick your head through for a comical photo.
Annoyingly, the Lakes District Museum now had an entrance charge. Well, I know you have to keep museums running but it would have worked out a bit steep for all of us so we had to leave. At least there was no charge to see the Chinese Miner’s Settlement.
Here is the main attraction of Arrowtown: a legacy of the gold rush of 1862 with the ‘only remaining 19th century Chinese store of the southern goldfields era’ Ah Lum’s store. The store was also a community centre, informal bank and opium den. It closed around 1925 when Ah Lum died.
What shocked me was the description of Chinese people on the interpretation boards the DOC put up. I approached one to look at, just as a young woman (who looked Chinese) was finishing reading it. The words must have been all the more horrific to her. The local newspapers reported the settlers as ‘Almond eyed, leprosy tainted, filthy Chinamen.’ Such incredibly racist comments may have been made by the anti-Chinese European Miners Association. Another newspaper cutting displayed on the board was a little more generous, but patronizing, calling them ‘Temperate, frugal and well-behaved’, also praising their industriousness and ability to extract gold where everyone else had decided there was none. The DOC information told us that in 2002 there had been a formal apology from the government to the Chinese community for discrimination against early settlers.
Pretty much all of the settlers came from Guangdong in South China, where they had faced disease, hardship, poverty and political upheaval. They sought a better life, leaving their families behind. These were uncertain times, as one in seven miners died on the goldfields. Not only did they risk their lives to send money back home, but they lived in these tiny, basic huts, that were built up against the rock face, with whatever materials were to hand.
Nomad Safaris do over a dozen tours inspired by The Lord of the Rings, including the intriguing-sounding Earnslaw Burn Heli-Hobbit. If I ever go back there, must give that one a try! Their 4WD vehicles are each named after a character from the films. Don’t choose this one if you have arachnophobia.