Inspirations: New Zealand’s wild wild west

A century and a half ago, New Zealand could easily have been mistaken for mid-west America. It was the spitting image of the frontier across the Pacific.

The towns had the same limed roads, hitching posts and clap-board buildings. When the railway went in, even the locomotives were the same.

In a literal sense our ‘west’ was actually our south, our middle and our north. Oh, and our west. The whole country, really. It wasn’t surprising. Colonial-age New Zealand was part of the ‘Pacific rim’ – a frontier subculture that shared values, look, speech patterns and even people. Many of them were gold miners, rushing from California to Victoria and finally to Otago.

You can still see traces of it today – a point that came home to me a little while ago when I was in Cromwell for the first time in many years.

Cromwell's preserved historic district - once a road at the top of the town, now lapped by the waters of Lake Clyde.

Cromwell’s preserved historic district – once a road at the top of the town, now lapped by the waters of Lake Clyde.

I have to say, the phrase 'yeeeee-haw!' went through my mind when I took this photo. Inappropriate, really...

I have to say, the phrase ‘yeeeee-haw!’ went through my mind when I took this photo. Inappropriate, really…

Cromwell is unique; the town was part-flooded during the 1980s when the Clyde Dam was completed and Lake Clyde began filling. There was a scrabble to do some last-minute archaeology. And what had been one of the upper town streets was preserved as a historic district, redolent of the way the town had appeared during its golden age in the 1860s.

Elsewhere,  glimpses of later history still poke through – in places, redolent of mid-twentieth rather than mid-nineteenth century – less American, but still here and there with that cross-Pacific influence.

OK, the car's English - a give-away really. This scene is pretty classically New Zealand, I have to admit.

This scene is pretty classically mid-twentieth century New Zealand, complete with English car – except for ‘gasoline’. We usually call it ‘petrol’.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: more sixty second writing tips, ‘write it now’ – structure, and total geekery with ancient astronauts.

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6 comments on “Inspirations: New Zealand’s wild wild west

  1. “Now that’s a real fine Yee Haa son.” (City Slickers)
    Very cool. Reminds me of Colorado front range silver towns.

    • Very similar. This one was a gold town. Back then, NZ settlers took huge inspiration from th US – speech patterns, business practises, look (stovepipe hats!) and style. It all overlaid a British origin, which grew later as people continue to arrive. I’ve looked into how the American influence happened, and a good part of it – it seems – came from US whalers who were working our coasts, followed later by gold miners – many of them the real ‘forty niners’ who had come to NZ via the fields in Vidtoria.

  2. Susie sent me and I am glad she did. Great post. You may be interested in:

  3. susielindau says:

    I had no idea! It does look like the wild west. Wilder than Boulder!
    Thanks for bringing this to the party. Have fun clicking on links and saying hello. It’s all about the mingling!

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