Coopers Terrace: restore it or let it go?

Over the last couple of years, the ruins of a goldmining settlement have emerged from the blackberries at Coopers Terrace, about 1km up the river from Arrowtown. Now Jan Morrison, the driving force behind the project, is asking the Arrowtown community and other stakeholders what they want to do with the newly uncovered remains.

In 2009 Jan set off up the Arrow River in search of a stone hut she remembered from childhood. She eventually located it, and with consent from the Historic Places Trust cleared away the vegetation around it to discover a section of an extensive garden wall enclosure.

She had unearthed the lost settlement of Coopers Terrace, named after Englishman Samuel Ward Cooper. From the early 1860s – the very beginning of the gold rush – until around 1925 European miners lived here with their families.

Ten years after she first found the huts, Jan returned to continue her work at Coopers Terrace. Since then she has worked part-time with a group of volunteers to find as many features as possible. The remains of seven stone huts have been now been found, although most walls are very low because locals have taken away stones for their gardens and homes.

One of the most intriguing features is Millar’s Gateway, also known as the German Castle (photographed above in the 1930s). This striking entranceway to a large walled compound was a folly, a building constructed primarily for decoration. It had a central doorway and arrow-slit-like windows and the masonry style – including laying some stones vertically – has no parallel in the area.

Until now, most of the mahi has been clearing the site, recording the finds and researching the history of the settlement. Jan has worked closely with landowners, QLDC, DoC, Heritage NZ, LINZ, The QEII National Trust and the Arrow Irrigation Co and so far all consents required have been granted. Tangata whenua are on board and kept in the loop. Jan has nominated Coopers Terrace to Heritage NZ for Category 2 classification, the same as the Chinese Settlement – which before restoration was in a similar state to Coopers Terrace, just foundations overgrown with brambles.

Vegetation is still being cleared and the focus for 2023 will be on wall stabilisation by renowned heritage stonemason Keith Hinds. So the question Jan now asks is, what do we want to do with Coopers Terrace? She says there are three options:

1. After the walls are stabilised, leave it alone and allow the blackberry and gorse to reclaim it

2. After the walls are stabilised, restore some features, eg the folly, a hut, parts of a garden wall. This would require a resource consent from QLDC and funding as well. Signage may need upgrading. If possible there would be an annual weed spray and tidy up.

3. Full presentation: After restoration, the site is presented as a tourist destination. In line with the Chinese Village, but not as manicured. The folly would be restored, the hut locations would be signposted with an account of their story. Paths restored and bench seating added. Invasive species removed (retain the best trees) and planting done. Being a low maintenance plan, an annual work programme should not be hard to set up.

Jan herself supports the third option: “I anticipate this new addition to Arrowtown’s historical portfolio could be achieved within the next 4–5 years. I would be happy to stay on and manage the project to achieve that goal…

“We will need to have a clear path going forward with this project in the next 2 years or so. And only the people of Arrowtown can decide what that will be. I have brought this officially to the AVA as declared representation of the views of residents. If there is enough support for No 3, that is a way forward to examine the issues involved more closely.

“The Coopers Terrace settlement stands as as a partner to the Chinese Village. It is the only local early European community of miners who lived apart from the general Arrowtown population, by the river, close to their claims, to the source of the gold that drew them there. It’s that important. And it’s just a short walk up the river. Where you have the perfect setting to showcase a historical site and it’s not hard to envisage the total experience of Coopers Terrace capturing the hearts and minds of visitors far and wide, as it has captured mine.”

You can find more information about Coopers Terrace at Jan's blog and the project's Givealittle page.

We're conducting a poll to discover the community's preference on the course of action, go here by 23 August 2022 to have your say.

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