Artist | Caroline McQuarrie
The photographs in the series Homewardbounder are of the entrances to ‘adits’, or horizontal mineshafts, left in the West Coast landscape after exploration by gold miners in the 1860s, when Europeans populated the region due to a gold rush.
Miners on the West Coast in the 1860s rush were usually men who were born overseas. Many came to the West Coast via other rushes in California, Australia and Otago.The aim of every miner was to strike a ‘homeward-bounder’, a claim that would provide him with the means to travel back to his home country and set himself up as a person of substance for the rest of his life. However the reality for most was hard physical labour with a hand to mouth existence in which they moved from site to site in hope of the big strike. In only a few years most of the goldfields were company run, and the miners who stayed quickly settled for the certainty of working for wages, the only sign of the haphazard madness of the rush being the marks left on the landscape.
What are we to make of these marks today? They were made up to 150 years ago; the voids themselves begin to represent our collective memory as we move further away from the time they were made.The dark, damp spaces in these images remind us of the hardship and extreme conditions many of our pioneers endured.
It is difficult for us to conceive of a decision to travel across the world and into an unforgiving landscape for a chance at making your fortune, yet thousands of people made this decision in the 19th century.These voids in the landscape are reminders of their extraordinary decision, which ultimately shaped our country.
And yet... this is only one version of the story. Another version might suggest that these voids explore a nationhood built on the heroic exploits of men, yet there were many women on the goldfields, and many more waiting at home (in New Zealand and abroad) for their husbands and sons to come home once they had their great adventure.These women also built our country, yet they did not mark the land in quite such a way, their exploits generally being of a less physically detrimental nature.
Yet another version of the story recognises that in Aotearoa New Zealand the question of ownership of and dominion over land is extremely problematic, and even if we accept that the sale of the West Coast in 1860 was legitimate,1 the European miner’s attitude to how the land should be used was very different from local Māori who had been living in the area for generations.
The idea that resources in the land are only there to be exploited still pervades the West Coast, and indeed New Zealand today. And yet in a cruel twist of fate for the descendants of these miners, the central paradox of the West Coast region is that the instability of the primary industries it was founded on also threaten its current existence; mining founded the region, mining keeps it limping along, but mining may also be its downfall.
Homewardbounder was first exhibited at Enjoy Gallery, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington in 2015
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