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 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.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up: more sixty second writing tips, ‘write it now’ – structure, and total geekery with ancient astronauts.