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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, 2001

There's Gold in Rocky by Jack Boyer

page 57

There's Gold in Rocky by Jack Boyer

Published by the author Jack Boyer, 4 Clouston Tce, Nelson. 109p. 2000. $25.95

This is a no frills book, both in its writing and presentation. Jack Boyer, now 90, was a young man when he and his brother Stan decided to seek their fortunes on the Collingwood gold fields. Although this was during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the brothers, unlike many who moved to the old gold mining areas of New Zealand, were not unemployed. Jack had a secure job with the Post & Telegraph Department and Stan's skills as a plumber were still sought after. In fact when they arrived in the Aorere Valley the locals were somewhat amazed that any one employed would leave for the rough life on the gold fields. However, for Jack it was not a question of financial security but getting away from the dull routine which went with it. What inspired them to go to Collingwood was an old miner who told Jack that there was plenty of gold for the taking in the Rocky. The river's very name does not seem to have raised any doubts in the young would-be miner.

There's Gold in Rocky chronicles the brothers' attempts at mining from when, one February morning in 1933, they stepped off the ferry in Nelson and made their way by bus to Bainham. It describes their purchasing of stores, establishing camps, learning how to cross flooded rivers, lighting fires in the rain, blasting boulders and all the other skills required of an alluvial miner. With a wry sense of humour, Stan nailed to a tree as they abandoned their first claim a notice proclaiming "Boyer's Mistake". Areas that were well known in the 1850s and 1860s such as Brandy Point, Devil's Hill and Manrope, were assessed. Nor does Jack ignore their contacts with others, whether they were men like themselves seeking gold, or the farming community comprising the James, Graham, Pomeroy and other families in the Bainham area. Some of the farmers and their wives were also at times supplementing their incomes from mining. What comes through in Jack's writings is the high degree of co-operation between everyone in the Aorere Valley. His book also provides a timely reminder that the 1930s was still within an era when neighbours kept a friendly eye on each other. Nor was anything wasted and, unlike in our present consumer orientated society, recycling was accepted practise. Hand in hand with this was the relative simplicity of everyday living, whether it be farmer or miner, in an area that was then exceedingly remote. His recollections exemplify this and include a farmer's wife quizzing Stan Boyer as to the latest in bathroom decor in New Plymouth, or the brothers being page 58invited into homes of farmers for meals followed by an evening game of cards in which the whole family participated.

The book covers activities such as the trading of machinery that would assist them in their search for gold or deciding on where to prospect next, with the latter largely depending on which of the stories of the "old timers" appeared the most credible. Each new campsite was chosen with care. Some camps were idyllic, such as in summer beside the Aorere, whereas high in the mountains they had snow for company. Trials and tribulations were relatively few; the ever-present sandflies at lower altitudes, blow flies in the Slate River that converted uncovered blankets to a seething mass of maggots in record time, and thieving wekas. Jack confirms the lore of the bush that in making weka stew a rock is added and, when ready, the bird is discarded. On one trip, when almost out of supplies and nearly starving, the prospectors found boiled weka inedible. Hunting trips proved relaxing and enjoyable interludes. Undoubtedly the freedom to do what they liked and work when they wished gave the brothers great satisfaction. In this they were probably more fortunate than their predecessors on the gold fields, for if a claim was not worked it could legally be jumped by others. But in those early days there was far more gold for the taking than the Boyers could ever hope for. Nevertheless there were times when a bit more than a few colours gleamed in the gold dish or in the ripples of the sluice box. The thrill of these occasions, along with the great expectations during the opening up of a claim, comes through in Jack's writings. Although largely unsaid, what is readily apparent is that the initial rush of miners had left little gold for the likes of Jack and his brother. The recovery of what gold was there had to wait for the wet suit and suction pumps of the 1970s.

Despite becoming proficient miners and adopting a methodical approach to the long and hard work mandatory in developing a claim they found, as had many miners before and since, that back breaking effort did not guarantee a profitable return. Only in their last claim, in the headwaters of the Snow River, did they find a piece of ground unworked by the Snow brothers and other miners of the 1850s. On this claim they bestowed the name of "Boyer's Jackpot", even though the amount of gold recovered was relatively modest. It is a pity that the Boyers did not have the same opportunities as their forebears who rushed the Slate and Rocky rivers in the late 1850s. If they had they would certainly have done well. While largely missing out on the golden returns, the brothers certainly enjoyed their years on the gold fields and Jack, and a number of his fellow miners, went on to work on the Cobb Power Scheme.

page 59

The book is a low cost production. The down side to this is a loss of clarity in photographs that were probably, by today's standards, not all that sharp to begin with. It is a book that recounts the adventures of two young men in what was then still largely a wilderness. It is also a valuable record of an era where farmers and miners alike relied largely on their own resources or those that could be obtained from the land, be it gold, firewood and timber from the nearby forests, or the grass which replaced the trees. Such activities required little capital but considerable physical exertion.

Mike Johnston