A Little Piece Of Ireland?

Earlier this year I visited Fox Glacier having to ‘do a bit of business’ but as I’m not heavily into ‘business’ that part didn’t take too long and I found I had a few hours spare. What to do? Obviously there is the glacier but each time I go there I tend to be more depressed by the unseemly haste with which the glacier’s charging back up the valley!! I remember where the terminal face was when I first visited in the late 60s but that position is left behind as you continue past to drive to the car-park hundreds of metres away, with a further 300-400 metres on foot to where the face is today!

But there’s a sign-post indicating “Gillespies Beach” is just a few kilometres away across a bush-covered range behind Lake Matheson (where my ‘business’ was completed) so I decided to investigate and took a right turn at the T intersection on the road from Matheson.

The road’s well-formed if a bit windy but if you don’t aspire to being a rally driver or are driving a BIG RIG it’s a pleasant drive of about 9 or 10 kms from the bridge- or 20 from Fox Glacier township.

As you exit from the bush just a short way before the beach, the camping ground and beginnings of walking tracks
2013-09-19 23.24.52 there is a signpost for the Gillespies Beach Miners Cemetery. Just 2 minutes? Why not!! (…and if you take your time, or include the time taken parking the car it may take you 2 minutes!!)

The ‘bush’ in the immediate area is low scrub, flax and tea-tree but the track heads towards more established natives…
gillespies beach cemetery …and suddenly you are there- no gates, no fences, no fanfare, just a nicely maintained walking track entering a grassy reserve sparsely patterned with a variety of headstones and gravesites, and indeed a few rather suspicious depressions in the ground!
gillespies beach cemetery1It is a very eclectic collection of graves and possibly points to the mixed fortunes of the people who are buried there. There is a range of graves here, from those with impressive headstones to those with a simple wooden cross or even none, from those with properly formed concrete plots to those with no obvious burial plot ‘construction’ at all.
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And who are they and where were they from, these early pioneers? Browsing the headstones in any cemetery never gives us a LOT of information on the person or persons who lie there but in an isolated little cemetery such as this, the community that they established may be pondered on, and the ‘Miners Cemetery’ gives a big clue!
2013-09-19 23.27.24This is the last resting place of James Walsh, a native of County Clare in Ireland. He died in 1889 (aged 60yrs) and his loving wife Ellen erected this headstone to mark his passing. Nearby is this grave-
2013-09-19 23.29.34where are buried father and son, Edward RYAN of Limerick, Ireland who died 22 Aug 1899 (57 yrs), and his son 
John Edward RYAN
who died in 1902 aged 31.

Among others who are able to be identified from the inscriptions on headstones from Ireland are James O’LEARY a native of Cork in Ireland who died in 1892 (interestingly his headstone was erected by Edward Ryan!!), Annie (d 1894) & her husband John QUINLAN (d 1910), and (I’m taking a guess here) Patrick CARROLL. Patrick, who was the son of Michael Carroll drowned in nearby Cooks River 1890 aged just 17 yrs.

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Obviously not all of those buried in this quaint wee sacred place were from Ireland as this headstone attests- Robert Curry McINTOSH was a native of Rothesay in Scotland. Whether Henry MORRISON who died 1911, or Eleanor or Fredrick MEYER  who are also buried here are Irish or not isn’t clear…
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It is a very peaceful part of New Zealand and can reasonably be thought of as being a little bit of ‘The Emerald Isle’ in far off Aotearoa.

It must be said that this cemetery isn’t all there is to see at Gillespies Beach and spending some time walking the tracks there is rewarding both from a scenic point of view and also for a glimpse into the history of gold mining as well as seeing current operations (assuming the old bugger’s still working his claim- either suction dredging in the lagoon or black sand from the beach.) Or you can just walk along the wonderful seashore filling in time before another one of the magnificent sunsets that can be seen on The Coast!

Enjoy your day.



Dunganville– get your attention and prick your inquisitive side a bit? I love this area and it is a popular place for locals to go for a leisurely bush walk at the historical Woods Creek gold field. Nowadays it’s a sparsely populated area about 25kms out of Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand where I live (Greymouth, not Dunganville.) The Woods Creek walking track meanders through old gold-mining workings and is a fascinating window on this 19th century activity. Not only is the walk educational it is also restful the path passing through areas of logging operations (for building lumber for the establishment of the nearby town) and virgin native bush. There are birds aplenty, with tui, kereru (wood pigeon), various tits often seen. If you feel so inclined have a bit of a fossick in the streams that flow through the area, but remember that this is NOT a public prospecting area and anything you find you are not legally entitled to remove. Bugger! The track is very well formed and sturdy steps and bridges make getting around very easy. The walk is neither long nor difficult and would suit wanderers of all ages amd fitness levels. The workings (which are liberally serviced by information boards) show a variety of processes. It was clearly very hard work winning the gold-bearing gravel for sluicing, and digging out the tunnels to provide further sluice material as well as water channels to power the sluicing operations. The stream that winds through the area gurgles gently in the background and the steep banks are festooned with ferns of many kind. The colours are vibrant greens and the plants range from tiny fungi and ferns to hundreds years old native giants.There are numerous tunnels of various sizes (width and height) and one can only imagine how difficult it must have been both initially excavating them and then working in the tight spaces to win the gold-bearing spoil. Take your time passing through these tunnels (and it’s a good idea to go armed with a torch as some of them are very dark). Don’t be afraid- you may come across cobwebs, but the spiders won’t harm you. You may see some cave wetas but they are more afraid of you than you should be of them. If you are adventurous enough revisit the track at night and you will see beautiful glow-worms.
As mentioned there are numerous information boards along the track and it is worth the time to read the stuff that’s presented.But, sad to say, New Zealand has its share of bloody idiots, people who have no respect for the property around them, and even scant regard for the safety of others.  Look closely at the image above. This is a section of the main information board at the start of the track, and you will notice the bullet holes on the top quarter. Many New Zealanders love their hunting, and the vast majority of them are very safety conscious, but it is a sad fact that there will be the numbskulls around who just HAVE to shoot something. How much of a hero do you think this drongo would have felt having shot a large information board. Whatever greater being there be, please protect me from these idiots.
These last two images show the processes used then and now to extract the valuable yellow metal from our earth. Above is a typical sheer face that is formed when high-pressure hydro-mining is used to wash down the gold bearing gravel for sluicing while below is how it’s done today with heavy duty machinery able to move in minutes what it would have taken our forebears days. Pretty ugly but those licensed to mine are required to return the land to its original state when they have finished working the claim. 
I hope I’m around to see THAT happen!