Home' Greymouth Star : July 18th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
6 - Tuesday, July 18, 2017
River yields relic of past
Jetboat driver Joseph Coutts struck gold while completing routine maintenance in the Shotover River. While moving
rocks near the historic Oxenbridge Tunnel to clear Shotover Jet ’s boat access, he scooped out an old mining relic from
the riverbed that dates back to the early 1900s. LOUISE SCOTT unearths the story for the Otago Daily Times.
PICTURE: Lakes District Museum
The mouth of the Oxenbridge Tunnel on the Shotover River.
PICTURE: Lakes District Museum
The Oxenbridge Tunnel on the day it was pierced.
PICTURE: Otago Daily Times
Jetboat driver Joseph Coutts, left, pictured with DOC’s Geoff Owen, found the old pump while clearing rocks from the Shotover River.
or more than 40 years an
antique mining pump lay
undisturbed at the bottom
of the Shotover River.
That is until jetboat driver
Joseph Coutts stumbled
across it when moving two-tonne rocks
from the riverbed.
It is not known exactly when the
pump met its watery end. One theory
is it fell into the river when thieves
tried to pinch it. A second is that it was
washed away during a flood.
What is known is that it had not been
spotted in situ since about 1975.
Coutts says either way it was great
to unearth such an important piece of
Queenstown’s goldmining history.
It was originally installed on bedrock,
along with an engine, as part of an
innovative project by the O xenbridge
brothers in the early 1900s.
They had hoped to divert part of the
river above Arthurs Point to reveal
gold, but the high-cost initiative was
unsuccessful and brought them little
Left on the river bank, the machinery
became a tourist attraction, and punters
taking a ride on the Shotover Jet were
told about the engine and the tunnel.
Coutts reckoned it was fitting the
discovery was made by a Shotover Jet
“That is where we end our trip, and
we always talk about the O xenbridge
Tunnel and what it was. Effectively, it
was a failure, but now we have another
story. Before, we said: ‘ The steam engine
drove a pump we think and the pump
would have been used to drain the river. ’
“But now we can say: ‘The engine
drove this pump, which we have
recovered from the river. ’
“It’s part of the Shotover Jet story. It’s
Coutts and excavator driver Lester
Kelly, from Base Contracting, were
moving debris in mid-April when
they made the find. The river was low
and rocks were causing problems for
jetboats getting through.
Spotting something metallic, he
initially thought it was a bit of old
mining pipe. But when they started to
pull it out, they realised it was much
Coutts says it was like putting a jigsaw
“ We thought it was the old pump that
used to sit up on the rock, and figured
out how it all worked, the mechanics.
“There are spigots (bolts) coming out
of the pump and spigots coming out of
the rock, so you can actually see where
“There’s also a channel in the rock
which they car ved out to drive the
actual pump itself. (We) realised it was
quite an important part of history.”
The pair scooped out the relic, and
Coutts got on the phone to Lakes
District Museum boss David Clarke.
They needed to ascertain its condition
and find out what restoration was
Coutts contacted the Department of
Conser vation, which sent history expert
Neville Ritchie to have a look. Local
DOC boss Geoff O wen said its age
and historic value meant it would need
He gave Shotover Jet a pat on the
back for taking on the project.
The plan is to clean it up, build a
platform to attach to, helicopter it back
into place and add an information
panel explaining its place in goldmining
Mr Clarke said the pump, which
would have cost a whopping £600 back
in the day, was a great discovery.
“The fact it ’s been found still close by
and is still in pretty complete condition
is great news. Also the fact it ’s going to
be reinstated, along with the engine and
interpretation panels, will continue to
tell this story into the future.”
The Oxenbridge family is stoked with
Ken Tur vey, who lives in Australia, is
the great-grandson of Bert Oxenbridge,
one of the family members behind
the ambitious plan. The find had left
members of the extended family very
“All the relatives are over the moon
that part of our history has been
recovered. It’s a missing piece of New
The Shotover River earned itself the
reputation as the richest river in the
world during the Wakatipu goldrush.
Gold was discovered at Arthurs
Point in 1862 by Thomas Arthur, a
shearer working for William Rees,
After the discovery miners flooded to
the area with pans, sluices and dredges.
Much of the river had been worked
by the turn of the century but no one
had mined the deeper, fast-flowing
The Oxenbridge brothers set up
Arthur’s Point Gold Mining Company
in the early 1900s and took on the
ambitious task of tunnelling through
the rock on the west side of the
Lakes District Museum director
David Clarke said they hoped it would
drain the riverbed and reveal the riches
Bert Oxenbridge, assisted by his
nephew Victor Oxenbridge, started
work in 1906 and newspapers of the
time show it took four or five men a
little over two and a half years to build
the 250m long, 5m wide and 5m high
tunnel. But it was too high to control
Ned Oxenbridge built a dam in a bid
to divert the river, but the river flooded
and the structure was washed away.
When the family did finally search
the riverbed, after the installation of
a pump and engine, they found only
£600 worth of gold.
Despite it being something of a
failure, Mr Clarke applauded their
“ What the Oxenbridge brothers
attempted to achieve was legendary. To
build a tunnel and divert a powerful
river like the Shotover, using pick
shovel and blasting powder, took some
“ To then purchase a stationary engine
and a massive pump and get them into
position was another incredible feat.
That ’s what the lure of gold does to
Richest river in the world
The slip which brought rocks crashing
down on the main road into New
Zealand’s capital city last week was on
a slope modified in the 1950s and that
has got scientists thinking.
There had not been much rain or an
earthquake when the slip in Ngauranga
Gorge last Tuesday disrupted rush-hour
traffic and reminded everyone of the
fragility of infrastructure.
Anthropogenic, or man-made slopes,
modified by cutting and filling, began as
soon as people started settling in New
Zealand, and they got bigger from the
1950s onwards when increasing demand
for homes and infrastructure demanded
much larger scale earthworks, Geonet ’s
The scale of the “ landslide problem”
and the level of risk to critical
infrastructure from man-made slopes
is still not well known in New Zealand
though research is ongoing, they say.
The Ngauranga slip closed five of
the six lanes on the main road north
of Wellington, including all three
southbound lanes. Between 90 and 100
cubic metres of debris hurtled down the
hillside at about 1.8m/sec.
About 400 slope failures occur on
Wellington City Council’s road network
a year and many are on man-made
The Ngauranga slip is the second
high-profile landslide that has
happened on modified slopes in
Wellington the past three months,
The other is the fill slope failure that
occurred adjacent to Halifax Street in
the suburb of Kingston on April 6.
No modified Wellington slopes have
been tested under strong earthquake
ground shaking, as the ground motions
experienced since their construction
have been too low to trigger failure.
It is known that during the magnitude
7.8 Kaikoura earthquake last year many
cut and fill slopes along State highway 1
and the railway line failed in the upper
South Island, Geonet said.
It said landslides do not always need
a trigger, such as heavy rain or an
earthquake to occur.
Landslides are also complex and a lot
depends on location, gradient and base
geology. — N ZN
Exactly two years after New Zealanders fired
their first shots in the Vietnam War, Prime
Minister Keith Holyoake said there had been
no request to increase New Zealand’s troop
The next day — 50 years ago yesterday — it
was reported Mr Holyoake “was adamant that
New Zealand has no present plans to increase
its military commitment in South Vietnam”.
Three months later, he announced an increase
in New Zealand’s V Force from 376 to 546
men, after a request from South Vietnam.
“The Government now believes that the
demands of the Vietnam situation require a
further effort of us,” Mr Holyoake said.
Back in 1967, as remains today, sending
troops to war was sensitive and controversial.
For months, newspapers had been awash with
debate about the possibility of an increase.
It was calculated that the increase to
546 would bring New Zealand’s military
involvement to .025% of the population;
Australia’s planned increase to 8000 would
mean .066% of its population was involved.
The National Council of Churches opposed
a troop increase and thousands of people
marched in protest against the war.
In Auckland, a police inspector was pushed
over a cliff when protesters and police fought
a “pitched battle” in Paritai Drive outside the
home of the American consul. The senior
officer halted his slide, but suffered a cut head
and felt dazed.
New Zealand’s first shots in the Vietnam
War, also called the Second Indo-China
War or the American War, according to the
Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s nzhistory.
govt.nz site, were artillery shells fired on July
16, 1965 near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh
In May of that year, Mr Holyoake had
announced New Zealand would send a combat
unit to join the United States-led coalition.
Before then, the New Zealand contribution
consisted of reconstruction projects and a
civilian surgical team treating civilian war
More than 3000 New Zealand military and
civilian personnel ser ved in Vietnam between
1963 and 1975. Thirty-seven men on active
ser vice died and 187 were wounded. Two
civilians with the surgical and Red Cross teams
also lost their lives.
In 2008, the Government made a formal
apology to Vietnam War veterans. Prime
Minister Helen Clark acknowledged they
were not treated fairly on returning home
from the largely unpopular war. In 2007, a $30
million package was announced with the aim
of compensating veterans and their families
affected by Agent Orange and other chemicals
used in the war.
A Returned and Ser vices Association
national vice-president, Bob Hill, who ser ved
in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, said the
apology “did mean a lot to the guys”.
“ We came in (back to New Zealand) in the
middle of the night. They didn’t want you in
uniform and we went straight on leave.
“I never felt any backlash, unlike a lot of
others who did. ”
Mr Hill, who was a corporal in Vietnam and
later rose to be a warrant officer class 1, said of
his time there: “As young professional soldiers
it was exciting to go there. We were going to
do a job.”
He had some close calls but got through
without being wounded.
“ We had quite a few from our company who
were wounded. We even had the Australians
mortar us. That was exciting.” — NZME
PICTURE: Otago Daily Times files
How NZ’s Vietnam
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