Dredge remnants return to home site

It extracted a rich seam of gold from the Manuherikia River 114 years ago and the Chatto Creek Dredge's final resting place is now close to where it all began.

Remnants of the dredge stored at a scrap metal dealer's yard in Alexandra for about six years after being removed from the river were this week returned to Chatto Creek and placed in a paddock between the Chatto Creek Tavern and the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust secretary Terry Davis said the new site was a couple of kilometres away "as the crow flies" from where the dredge was based from 1889-1901 and would be easily accessible for the public to view.

The heavy metal parts, the boiler and bucket chain, along with the Australian hardwood and North Island kauri timber used to build the dredge and pontoons, were taken to the new site and placed in roughly the order they would be if the equipment was operational.

"We'd like to reconstruct it in the future... but in the meantime it'll be displayed as it is and we'll put up an information panel about it," Mr Davis said.

Trust president Martin Anderson said the relocation of the dredge was one of the special projects to mark the 150th anniversary of gold discovery in Central Otago.

The Chatto Creek project cost about $3000 and salvaging and removing the dredge pontoon from the riverbank was the next stage.

Celebrating the gold anniversary had heightened the profile of the trust, Mr Anderson said.

"It's been a busy year for us and it's not over yet."

Chatto Creek Tavern owner Lesley Middlemass said she quite often had descendants of people who had worked on the dredge call in and ask where it was sited.

"The family of one man said he'd started as an apprentice on the dredge and had to sign a document saying he wouldn't fraternise with the opposite sex for two years as one of the conditions of his employment." She was thrilled the dredge was back in the district again and would be accessible to all.

Alexandra historian John Douglas said it was interesting that considering Alexandra was once a "mecca" for dredges, there were very few left in the area.

About eight years ago, a dredge sub-committee of Promote Alexandra was formed to locate dredge sites and restore old dredges. The Chatto Creek dredge was one of its projects and it found the machine in the river about 12.5km north of Alexandra and removed all salvageable parts of the dredge with the intention of rebuilding the machine one day.

"For various reasons, that never happened, so we've picked up the project," Mr Davis said.

The dredgeworked on the river between 1898 and 1901 before the Chatto Creek Dredge Company went into liquidation.