The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)
New Zealand's Gold Coast — Westland's Second Spring — The Greatest Digger
The Kanieri dredge, that great land cruiser recently anchored in its little lake a few miles from Hokitika, is now turning over the earth's surface at a speed equivalent to that of ten thousand gold diggers—skilled diggers of those palmy days when the West Coast was in its first golden flush, the 60's and 70's of last century.
There is a Scriptural saying: “The stone that the builders refused is become the head stone… .” So the gravel the early miners rejected is become the backbone of the modern gold dredging industry. The Kanieri dredge is actually working over the same surface as that in which pioneers of the pick, the shovel and the pan have already toiled and moiled—but how different are its methods! Forty men man this ship, which is manipulated entirely by a few levers on the control deck—the captain's bridge, if the nautical idea is to be maintained.
These levers raise or lower the two 65 ton “spuds” or anchors, swing the dredge on its moorings as it eats its way around the half-moon of the bight upon which it is working, elevate or lower the ladder, the elevator and the chain of 2 1/2-ton buckets, and turn on or off the electric power and light on the various decks of the vessel. They also control the pumps and sluicing as the raised gravel is worked and washed down through the grids and over the riffles.
The action here resembles a great obstacle race in which only “light-weights” can make the distance. The “heavy-weights” are all trapped somewhere on the journey—if they get past the swings they are caught on the round-abouts—and they are later given “the woiks” that rob them of the very gold that gave them weight.
The virtue of the big dredge is that it can both dig much lower than the old-time miners could, and also raise the spoil much higher, so that on its tortuous downward journey through the dredge so many are the traps set for it that the gold gets no chance of final escape.
The dredge is licensed to work in any direction over the company's territory, the only navigating endorsement on the ship's papers being that it must not travel more than a hundred miles from its present anchorage!
The surface of the pond in which the pontoon floats is 25-ft. below the general surface of the flat where the dredge is working, and the buckets dig below water level to a depth of 85 feet, turning this gravelly land into lake as they do so.
But with dredging, as with most other matters subject to the law of gravity, “what goes up must come down,” so the boulders, gravel and earth lifted at one end of the dredge are dropped with resounding thunder at the other, only the residual gold being kept as a souvenir to mark their passage. Thus the pond in which the dredge plays gets no bigger for all the digging, but it keeps on moving along in the desired direction.
The Kanieri, the largest dredge in the Southern Hemisphere, was built by the Railway Workshops at Addington and erected by the Railway staff at the site where the dredge is now operating.page 13
This was a great achievement, not only for the Railways but for New Zealand, as the dredge would not have been built here had the Railways not made their great resources in men and machinery and mechanical skill available for the purpose. So the Railways, as when the Otira Tunnel was built, are again associated with the romance of West Coast development.
New Zealanders are by nature and historical background essentially adventurous. No job looks too big for them, and no potential danger daunts them. “Give it a go” is the average New Zealander's attitude to anything that is new and looks hard to do. The early gold diggers, the early settlers and home-seekers, are responsible for this present adventurous spirit, this confidence in capacity to achieve. So the busy Railways took on the job of building the biggest dredge, and they made so good a job of it that it has worked without a hitch from the day of opening.
And what a typically West Coast opening that was! Crowds and speeches, and cheers and inspection in the morning, and then a “Luncheon” that lasted from noon to dewy eve. And then a West Coast ball that saw the sun rise on the following morning. Never was such a launching!
But science and invention have almost eliminated the risks associated with gold winning in these days, compared with the older times of the West Coast diggings. The only “gamble” is in regard to the price of gold. How much can be got from a given area is worked out very accurately before the first rough draft of a specification for the dredge is drawn. When the plans are completed it is then known how much gold can be obtained in a given time, in just the same way as a flour-miller knows what the output capacity of his new mill will be.
These modern gold adventurers—of whom such men as J. M. Newman, Geo. Watson and J. W. Ellis, of Kanieri Gold Dredging Ltd., are outstanding examples—have as much confidence in the general gold content of the land they are working as a man cutting into a loaf of bread has in its general food content. And just as it is known that every loaf of bread will have so much vitamin B (or whatever the analyst calls it), so careful prospecting has shown that there are so many pennyweights of gold in every ton the dredge will turn over. That assurance is, of course, necessary before the huge capital expenditure required for a modern dredge can even be contemplated.
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New Zealand'S Gold Coast—
(Continued from page 13 )
How different from the old “hit or miss” methods of the early alluvial diggings, or from the world's first gold dredge—the invention of a Chinaman working on the Otago goldfields sixty years ago!
How various people view this great enterprise—the re-working of the great alluvial flats of the West Coast with modern dredges—is as interesting as the actual operations.
To the Minister of Railways (the Hon. D. G. Sullivan) the enterprise is a further sign of faith in New Zealand, its accomplishments and resources, and the faithful building of the dredge is just an additional opportunity taken by the men of the Railways to do the best they could for the people of New Zealand.
To the General Manager of Railways, Mr. G. H. Mackley, there is satisfaction in the fact that the great Railway organisation could with equal facility turn from the manufacture of rolling-stock to the manufacture of dredges that would bear favourable comparison with the best in the gold-dredging industry.
To Mr. J. M. Newman, a Director of the Company, it is just one among a number of gold dredging enterprises with which he is connected in various countries, now brought satisfactorily to the production stage.
To the Minister of Mines (the Hon. P. C. Webb) it is a further step in the development of the mining industry, a source of revenue, and a chance to turn some rough and ugly country on his beloved Coast into level, well-forested land.
But to the average person it is an impressive and exciting spectacle of tremendous power devoted to a purposeful exploitation of the West Coast's potential riches. Here one thrills to the sight of the majesty of machinery in action, where boulders are the playthings of an octopus which reaches down with one huge arm to pluck out the bowels of the earth for its own consumption, and then after shaking them and sifting them and sluicing them and nibbling them—searching ceaselessly for the gold among the dross—throws the whole lot into the air with another monstrous arm and drops them crashing and barren back to the earth from which they were reft. And all the while it mutters menacingly, to the gold that glitters and the gold that hides—the Spanish “No Pasaran”—it shall not pass.
And to the eye of the man of vision, of whom Mr. James A. Murdoch (Chairman of the District's County Council) is an eloquent example, it is the dream ship of M'Andrews’ Hymn come to life:
“Uplift am I? When first in store the new-made beasties stood,
Were Ye cast down that breathed the word declarin’ all things good?
Not so! O’ that warld-liftin’ joy no after-fall could vex,
Ye've left a glimmer still to cheer the Man—the Arrtifex!
That holds, in spite o’ knock and scale, o’ friction, waste and slip,
And by that light—now, mark my word — we'll build the Perfect Ship.”
Production from modern dredges, like those at Kanieri, or Rimu Flat, or Barrytown are bringing a second spring to the West Coast; but unlike the earlier unorganised wild rush of the gold fever days, this promises a steadier industry, with years of work ahead. And in place of the desolation left from the former workings—the abandoned townships and waste areas of boulder dumps—there will grow levelled and smiling areas of forest and farm land.page 16