Restoration job led to sense of kinship

The recent vandalism of historic buildings at Macetown, near Arrowtown, brought back memories for Nelson Cross, who worked on restoring the gold mining era relics more than 20 years ago.

Nelson Cross felt an enormous responsibility was placed on his shoulders when he was charged with restoring historic buildings in Macetown.

The former Department of Lands and Survey worker tackled the project over three long, hot summers in the mid-1980s, and today looks back on that project with satisfaction and fond memories.

Mr Cross, who now lives in Kaka Point, recalls those three summers as the best of his life, and a project that lingers happily in the memory banks, despite recent vandalism at the site, 16km up the Arrow River from Arrowtown.

"There are always going to be some idiots who have access to four-wheel-drives who will go up and cause trouble. It was pretty disappointing."

His job, more than 20 years ago, was to restore and stabilise buildings on the site, stone by stone, in a meticulous and careful manner that did not cheat history and gave visitors an authentic experience.

It was a lonely job at times. Mr Cross camped onsite for weeks with just his trusty Labrador dog for company, but knowing he was charged with "getting it just right" kept him from ever becoming bored or disillusioned with the job.

"It was quite major on your own, but I prided myself on getting it 100% right," he said this week.

Mr Cross said it was not like any other restoration project. The Macetown job required careful homework and ensuring every piece went in exactly the right place.

Almost all the original stones that had fallen off the cottages were used again, although about two loads of gravel were taken from the nearby Arrow River.

"It really was like a jigsaw puzzle. There was a lot of careful work involved."

Mr Cross said he felt "a heavy responsibility" with the job and admitted he learnt plenty as he went.

He followed a reconstruction principle used by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, and used clear and accurate historical records, he said.

Without wanting to reveal too much, Mr Cross said the job turned interesting, especially at nights, when he heard music and other sounds coming from the cottages.

"I'm not a great believer in spirits or ghosts or anything like that, but . . ." Mr Cross said.

The job could be lonely at times, but he never regretted taking on what turned out to be his most rewarding and challenging job.

He worked by three rules - to preserve, maintain and interpret.

"And I think I got it pretty right," he said.

Mr Cross said he felt great personal satisfaction with his efforts when he finished.

Although he has not returned for about 10 years, Macetown will always be a part of him, he believes.

And although he doesn't own the site, his months of sweaty toil left a permanent mark on him.

"I have this feeling, not of ownership, but a kinship with Macetown.

"It's one of my favourite places."