Archive for December, 2011

Arrowtown: the Denis Glover version

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Denis Glover

Gold in the hills, gold in the rocks,
Gold in the river gravel,
Gold as yellow as Chinamen
In the bottom of the shovel.

Gold built the bank its sham facade;
Behind that studded door
Gold dribbled over the counter
Into the cracks of the floor.

Gold pollinated the whole town;
But the golden bees are gone –
Now round a country butcher’s shop
The sullen blowflies drone.

Now paved with common clay
Are the roads of Arrowtown;
And the silt of the river is grey
In the golden sun.

It was gratifying to discover this poem again, courtesy of the NZ National Library Service and Lizzie, who’s the librarian here in Arrowtown. I don’t think it’s one of Glover’s best –the Sings Harry sequence must be the top of his particular mountain of great work – but there are characteristically lovely images, even so: like the “golden bees” pollinating the town, and the gold dribbling over the counter at the bank.

But I think the “yellow as Chinamen” is a curiously lazy image, and even for the times (I believe this was written in the early 1960s) oddly offensive for such an emotionally astute writer. And yes, I do know that the 1960s are a long way from Helen Clark’s 2003 apology for the anti-Chinese sentiments of earlier years (when she paid tribute to “the unique identity, history and strength of the original Chinese New Zealanders”) but weren’t we mostly beyond all that knee-jerk racist stuff back then? Or is that a false memory distorted by time and wishfulness?

One pleasing update: I don’t know where the butcher’s shop was in the 1960s but I do know where the butcher and his family lived, because there’s an historical plaque on the building. And guess what? It’s now home to the excellent, award-winning Provisions shop and café – no blowflies there!

Anyway, thank you National Library Service, and Lizzie, and Denis Glover.

Arrowtown, and how I got here

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

One hundred and fifty kilometres.

Count them slowly, effortfully and sweatily, one by one – I certainly did.

One hundred and fifty kilometres on a bicycle. There were times when I thought the whole journey was a compelling argument in favour of the combustion engine.

In four and a half days and in blazing heat – though I’d rather have had that, than rain or snow. At times we pedalled with a significant gradient to climb, which was exhausting, but at other times we freewheeled down slopes with the breeze behind us, which was utterly exhilarating. And at all times the journey took place against the background of the most sensational scenery in the world: Central Otago in the South Island of New Zealand. It’s the Rail Trail bike path, which runs along the route of the old railway line that used to go between Clyde and Middlemarch.

Clyde. Alexandra. Galloway. Chatto Creek – great hotel. Omakau. Lauder, which seemed to take for ever to appear. Auripo. Oturehua, and then struggling on to Wedderburn, after which it’s mostly (but by no means entirely) downhill. Ranfurly – unusually bad coffee. Waipiata. Kokonga. Tiroiti. Hyde. Rock & Pillar. Ngapuna. And finally, at last, Middlemarch!

Would I recommend it to you? Well, yes and no. It’s very hard work, and most people don’t admit that when they’re boasting about their feat. They also say anyone could do it, which just isn’t true. Everyone warned me about bum ache but I didn’t find that the worst part – it was the gradients that did for me and my knees.

Also, I fell off – skidded in some loose gravel and slipped sideways, none too gracefully. My shoulder and neck seized up for days.

But did I love it? Yes I did, yes and yes again, especially the sense of achievement: that and the extraordinary scenery. Coming through two tunnels and over a viaduct over the Poolburn Gorge and seeing the lush Maniototo plain stretching away like a vision of the Promised Land was something to treasure. Fields of wild lupins, roses blooming everywhere, sensational contrasting layers of hills and rivers and trees. Birds all the way, and glorious birdsong all day.

And frankly, I’m proud of myself for having done it at all.

Would I do it again? Nope. Not if you paid me all the gold ever found in Arrowtown, which is where we have ended up for a week’s R&R, and where there’s another almost-150 to mark because gold was discovered here in 1862, and the Arrow River became one of the richest sources of alluvial gold in the world. About 8000 miners arrived to pan for it during the 1860s, but now it has a population of about 1200, mostly involved in tourism. It’s the prettiest little town imaginable with many of the original nineteenth century buildings still standing, all surrounded by huge shady trees that were planted by the early settlers. We’re staying in a little cottage built somewhere between 1875 and 1877, where the first Town Clerk lived in 1878 – so a bit grander than a miner’s home. Here’s its website.

I planned to post the poem that the late great Denis Glover wrote about Arrowtown. I’d have thought it would be displayed on every street corner here but the helpful young librarian in the Arrowtown library hadn’t even heard of it. She has now, and a copy is coming from the National Library Service, and when it arrives I’ll post it!