31 May 2022
Newsletter 3 part 1 - the Goodwood cannon and other heavy metal.
Tuesday, May 17 was the AGM of the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Festival and, as a trustee of Dunedin's Southern Heritage Trust, I decided to attend to meet the committee and begin some kind of liaison between the groups, considering that their festivals occur on the same month.
I also had another reason to go - to see if the Oamaru festival wanted a cemetery tour on the programme - and, if I were to do one, I'd have to get more photos and more stories from the cemetery.
Also, as I tend to do, I had a list of abandoned places to explore, compiled after finding them on my phone, mostly during ad breaks on tv.
I packed the van and drove up SH1 to Goodwood, a location just off the highway on the back road to Palmerston. I had a mysterious piece of metal to look for. I recently picked up "the AA Book of New Zealand Historic Places," a 1984 publication that was produced as a touring guide. A photo in the North Otago section shows a rusty old ship's cannon from the black powder era, simply describing it as "Old cannon at Goodwood." The text of the book doesn't mention it. So I stopped at Goodwood and knocked on a front door. No response there but the barking dog caught the attention of a local across the road. "This may seem strange," I said, "but I'm looking for a cannon."
He'd never heard of a local cannon but did have some information. Goodwood used to be somewhere else - that is, the name originally meant the area down the road where the church once was and the little cemetery still is. The school was near there too. The name migrated when the railway was built and a railway station took the name.
I thanked him for the information and the directions to someone who might know about a local cannon. Then asked him another question. Some years ago I would make an annual two-week (or so) tour of the countryside by cycle. One warm summer afternoon I took a break and had a look inside an abandoned house near the road. (I should make it clear here that this was some years ago and it's not something I would do now.) It was full of stuff. It was a hoarder's house. I soon realised that, if the owner was still alive and living there, he wouldn't want to meet me and I wouldn't want to meet him.
So I asked about the place. Yes, it was an old guy who'd lived there, and he was a hoarder. And he was alive when I went in years ago.
I made my way to the earlier Goodwood, following directions to a couple who lived on the site of the old school. The husband was an architect and interested in history but had never heard of a cannon in the area. Said he sometimes finds pieces of lined slate - presumably from the school - and the occasional ink bottle. The remains of the roadhouse or hotel were in the trees on the opposite hill. For future reference, I asked which door I should knock on for permission to find those. I was given directions to a place I'd been to before, asking permission to take photos of the old house on the adjacent property. I'd had a rare refusal there from a rather gruff individual. He'd died recently, I was told, so I should wait a while before asking there. No problem. I'll give it a year or so.
Having not found a cannon yet I made a short visit to the museum at Palmerston and left a question and my email address. We'll see.
Next stop was a house off the road through Trotters Gorge. It was my fourth visit to seek permission to photograph the old farmstead behind deer fencing on their land. Nobody is home again so I guess I'll be making a fifth visit.
I continued my drive to Herbert. Then I headed off the highway toward Iona, the school camp. And then onto a road, I had never driven before.
Tullimet road heads uphill on the north of the north branch of the Waianakarua river, onto Mt Stalker, then becomes a vehicle track. My plan was to drive as far as I could then walk to "Bog Hut," asking permission at the house on the way. Halfway up the hill, the warning sign about logging trucks was made real and I had to reverse a few metres and off the road. I couldn't see what I was driving onto and soon found that driving back out would be impossible due to the mud. I had a quick look, reversed further onto dryer ground, and managed to get back on the road. Approaching Mt Stalker on a shallower slope I passed something which the topo map shows as a stockyard. And so it was, with a stone musterers' hut beside it. Nearly reaching the Mt Stalker house I saw that my intended route was closed for logging operations. Bog Hut will have to wait. Making my way towards the house I saw a quad bike on the adjacent field fast approaching. I halted and got out to meet the farmer.
He was not only a farmer but a photographer. "Crock" was the name he gave, and he reckoned his neighbours would be fine with me having a look at the stone hut. I drove further down the access road to turn and was halted by him as I left. He was on his phone to Kuriheka Station and told me it was all good. And to ask for Megan when I got to Kuriheka. All good.
I pulled off the road at a passing bay put in for the logging trucks and made my way to the stone hut. It was old all right, big stones and Oamaru stone chimney. It was built in 1891 after the original hut was destroyed by arson. To prevent another arson it was made with a cement floor and has a heavy, locked iron door.
Returning down Tulliemet road, I turned onto another road new to me. One Tree Hill Rd led to Kuriheka and when I arrived at the historic homestead I knocked on a door or two. No one home. Kuriheka will have to wait, though I took some photos of their artillery collection from the road. The big guns are 150mm calibre 64-pounders and were collected by the station owner, Colonel Cowie Nichols. A little research identified them as coming from Fort Taiaroa on the Otago Peninsula, though it seems that one at least was presented to the town of Oamaru to be placed in the botanical gardens there. How it came to be at Kuriheka might be a mystery. The smaller guns around the memorial to Kuriheka workers who fought in the "Great War" are trophies brought back from the battlefields of Europe. It's my understanding that such trophies were shared out to towns whose men had gone to war - I've seen individual ones at Roxburgh, Cromwell, Naseby, and Portobello. For Nichols to have several at his private memorial truly shows that "rank hath its privileges."
Leaving Kuriheka I headed north on another road that was new to me and found myself at Incholme, after a brief stop to photograph from the road an abandoned house surrounded by cows. Incholme was never very big and now it's a district hall, repurposed church, and a few houses. And a war memorial, strangely without names on it. A Roll of Honour visible through a hall window couldn't be read or photographed.
Walking down to the church I asked an inhabitant if it was OK to photograph it from the road. I not only got a yes, but I was also invited to look around it and met the other half of the couple living there. They wondered about the history of their home so I directed them to "Papers Past" which instantly showed more than a thousand hits. I'll be back that way in the foreseeable - one of the stations nearby had a slate quarry on the property in the 1870s and also generated their own electricity from the nearby river. I'm looking forward to seeing what's left of those.
Light was fading with cloud overhead as I turned east and headed to Oamaru. I made a quick visit to Gemmels Crossing to see if there was anything like a memorial to the victims of a murder/suicide involving a returned soldier who should have had his emotional condition recognised before he used his rifle in April of 1918. Onslow Mayhew killed George Burke and wounded his two sisters in an attack whose cause is still a mystery, except that his time in the army, according to his records, includes being arrested while dressed as an Australian soldier with a pass that was not his and wearing rank badges to which he was not entitled. He suffered in a gas attack in August of 1916, caught pneumonia two months later, had, or believed he had, or simulated a heart attack while in France in 1917, and was eventually sent home as physically unfit for service.
There was no memorial at Gemmells Crossing itself - it was not the scene of the crime. That was the Burkes' farmhouse somewhere in the area.
Arriving at the Oamaru cemetery I started walking the lines of the graves, photographing inscriptions for future research. Light was gradually fading and a light rain made the job less than luxurious. I walked the cemetery until I could no longer read the epitaphs.
I had a couple of hours before the 7 pm meeting so I made my way to the old part of town and had a look around the lagoon of the Oamaru Creek for something I was hoping to do after the meeting. During lockdown I went out on a number of evenings to take time exposure photos of passing trains - the locomotive headlights painting strong, bright straight lines across the image. After lockdown, I spent a number of nights further from home on the same project. I was hoping to find a place where the curved railway bridge over the creek would be in shot and found one - not only the bridge in frame but the still waters of the lagoon reflecting the lights.
Back at the van I changed and went to the meeting. It was fairly standard as such things go. I wasn't there to take part so the useful part of it for me was refreshments after the meeting and then a beer downstairs in the bar. Good to make contact.
With the meeting over, I returned to my photography position by the Oamaru Creek lagoon. It was cold but not too cold as I sat near my mounted camera. I was sure I'd hear the crossing bells on Oamaru's main street and be ready for a passing train. I didn't hear any bells and didn't see any trains.
Eventually cold and bored I returned to the van and drove to an overnight spot I'd used before. Before sleeping I read about half of "The Maltese Falcon" - a book I'd had in the van for a year or two. Dashiel Hammet's spare, concise prose had me hooked till I was too tired to read anymore. A passing car or two reminded me I wasn't home.