BACK IN THE DAY WITH LAKES DISTRICT MUSEUMhttps://theflyer.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/Building-the-Lake-Road-Public-Works-Camp-at-Devils-Staircase-circa-1930.-Photo-Lakes-District-Museum.jpg1024658The Flyer MagazineThe Flyer Magazinehttps://theflyer.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/Building-the-Lake-Road-Public-Works-Camp-at-Devils-Staircase-circa-1930.-Photo-Lakes-District-Museum.jpg
By 1926 following the turmoil of WWI, New Zealand entered the beginnings of the Great Depression. This worldwide economic ‘slump’ peaked in the early 1930’s and while it bought with it, high unemployment, low incomes and a lack of security, at the same time the Wakatipu developed a strong sense of community spirit. The building of the Kingston-Frankton Road was a public works project that gave many men work and others were subsidised to go and look for gold. By 1931 tourism was starting to gain traction again, thanks to a government campaign called ‘See New Zealand First’. Southland and Otago people supported their local resorts of Stewart Island, Queenstown and Manapouri.
Wakatipu people were and always have been resilient, something that was born out of the tough pioneering days. They grew big vegetable gardens and had lots of wild fruit, rabbits and trout to eat. There were no expectations regarding material wealth and people looked out for each other. Eventually they got through it.
A few snippets from the Lakes District Museum’s oral history archives:
The gold was over and tourism hadn’t really started. Access to Queenstown was by one road and the other link was from Kingston. We lived in Shotover Street. We had a good garden. My job was to go and get firewood four to five times a week. We were worse off towards the end, but it’s great what you can do. If it hadn’t been for the gooseberries and the goats around the place, we might’ve been hard pressed. – ALEC ROBINS
The population of Arrowtown was about 86 before the Depression. There were no holiday houses then. Every second house was empty, but when the slump came they all filled up. There were quite a lot of people here mining. – HARVEY SUMMERS
We lived in Glenorchy for a year, away up on the hill near the scheelite mines. My brother and I had about three miles to walk to get our provisions. We were on nightshift and you’d go a fortnight at a time without seeing daylight. You went into the tunnels before daylight and you came out when it was dark. I can remember the unemployed here chipping the sides of the road, clearing the grass off. Things were pretty grim. – IAN COWIE
I did most of my schooling at Billy Creek en route to Macetown. My relatives were on the government mining scheme. They worked trying to recover gold near the foot of Mount Cardrona. Our lessons came in folders every fortnight. Our lessons were taken in a tent with a wooden floor in the middle and a form on each side. It got so very hot, occasionally we’d have to give up and go to the river to cool off. In the winter your fingers would be paralysed with the cold. – JACK REID
Buckingham Street possibly 1930s before Arrowtown Hall burned down. Photo – Lakes District Museum
Building the Lake Road – Public Works Camp at Devil’s Staircase, circa 1930. Photo – Lakes District Museum