Kiwi ghost town set for major revival

by Friends of The Hill Society on October 14th, 2010

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By Lachlan Forsyth

It's situated on a miserable, windswept mountain top, but an abandoned coal mine will soon be one of the jewels of West Coast tourism.

The Denniston mine, just north of Westport, is being restored and the project will inject new life into one of the bleakest and most inhospitable settlements in New Zealand.

It wasn't the awful climate that attracted people to Denniston in the 1870's

Peter Robertson from the Denniston heritage trust explains that there were other motivations for moving to the settlement.

“It was born in the age when steam was king and it was blessed with very good deposits of high grade steaming coal” he says.

This cold, damp, mist-shrouded hilltop was once home to a thriving little village that turned into a ghost town when the coal ran out in the late 1960's

The site’s project manager John Green says the conditions were challenging.

“Not so bad for the miners - they were underground all day! The wives and the children had the tough conditions outside” he says.

It was even tougher getting up there on the terrifying Denniston incline, a steep railway line which carried the coal down and people and supplies up.

Despite the transport and the lousy climate, those who grew up there have no complaints now.

Former residents Abbie Curragh and Frank Roberston took life as it came.

“We took it all in our stride. The road could be closed, and the men couldn't get over to work. Sometimes the snow came in when they were at work and they couldn't get back - they had to walk back!”

The old timers are back to help celebrate Denniston's restoration, a project that will give visitors a taste of what it was like, living and working in New Zealand’s most inhospitable coalmine.

Mr Green hopes to restore some of the town’s lost culture.

“It is a part of our heritage that has disappeared - the underground mining culture…” he explains.

You had to be tough to live here old miners say the graft they endured was a world away from today's modern mines

Bob Robertson is one of those former miners.

“It was very wet sometimes. The mines were very shallow. If you were starting today they'd be all opencast” he says.

Denniston is littered with history - twisted metal rusts everywhere and the project is turning up relics and rubbish alike.

The restoration is set for completion by December - allowing visitors to experience the ghosts of Denniston past.

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