[Image courtesy of Department of Conservation]
The moon-like landscape of the Earnscleugh Tailings near Alexandra has been named as a category 1 listed historic place by Heritage New Zealand.
The tailings on the bank of the Clutha River consist of mounds of stones and gravel and illustrate the massive scale of gold dredging undertaken during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Heritage New Zealand southern director Sheila Watson said the Earnscleugh tailings had outstanding historic, technological and archaeological significance, representing the evolution of mining (specifically dredging) and its associated technology from the early 1860s through to the 1960s.
Spoon and bucket dredges worked the Clutha in the 1860s and it was not until the 1880s, when Charles Sew Hoy developed the steam-powered bucket dredge, that dredging boomed and more than 200 dredges mined Otago’s rivers and old river channels, recovering tens of thousands of ounces of gold and transforming the landscape in the process.
Dredges operated on the Earnscleugh Flat from the 1890s until 1963.
The scale of the dredging was enormous, huge machines churning through the river gravels, transforming the flat into an eerie landscape of tailings marking the path of the dredges.
The Clutha Dredging Company’s giant dredge Alexandra worked into the 1960s and was the last dredge operating in Otago.
The value of the landscape was recognised in 1990 when part of the dredge tailings were included in a historic reserve.
In 2015, the tailings alongside the Alexandra riverside walk provided visitors with an insight into the historic operations of these significant dredges.
Contact Energy worked closely with Heritage New Zealand to ensure the heritage listing of the Earnscleugh Tailings respected both the future and the historical significance of the site.
Head of hydro generation Boyd Brinsdon said it was a pleasure to work with Heritage New Zealand to ensure the site’s preservation.