‘So many stories’: Chinese Camp descendants gather

Adrienne Shaw, the organiser of the Descendants of the Chinese Camp Reunion, addresses attendees...
Adrienne Shaw, the organiser of the Descendants of the Chinese Camp Reunion, addresses attendees at a memorial stone unveiling at the Lawrence Chinese Cemetery yesterday morning. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
It was a celebration of old connections renewed and new bonds forged for descendants of Lawrence’s Chinese Camp this Labour Weekend.

About 100 descendants from across the country gathered for a first-of-its-kind reunion taking place in both Dunedin and Lawrence.

Organiser Adrienne Shaw said she was "exceptionally" pleased with the turnout, and with feedback from participants.

"Our visitors have been full of enthusiasm, and so many stories," she said.

"You could barely hear yourself think during Saturday night’s celebration dinner.

"People have had a ball."

Yesterday’s events were somewhat more sombre, featuring a series of headstone, tomb and memorial unveilings at the Lawrence Chinese Cemetery and gold rush era Chinese Camp.

Among those was the official unveiling of the Sam Chew Lain mausoleum tomb, which Ms Shaw said was now unrecognisable from its previously ruinous state.

The Gothic tomb was designed by noted Otago architect John Burnside, and built on Mr Lain’s death in 1903 for him and, later, his wife Amelia.

The tomb was believed to be the only one of its kind worldwide built for a Chinese man and his European wife.

"We’ve seen the conclusion of several projects today, but probably the one that has moved me the most — and been the biggest challenge — is the Sam Chew Lain tomb," Ms Shaw said.

"When discussions began about restoration, it had no roof, no glass in the windows, and no gate.

"To see it sympathetically re-roofed, refurbished and restored to its former glory is quite emotional."

Restoration project manager Robin Miller, of Origin Consultants, Arrowtown, said it had been a "privilege" to work on the tomb.

"Old buildings are always interesting to restore, but this was unique in my experience.

"It was really a case of putting together fragmentary clues like a jigsaw puzzle, and working to solve problems inherent in the original design while retaining the building’s integrity."

That had necessitated a last-minute adjustment to one of the tomb’s Gothic pinnacles.

"Although it had been placed vertically, unfortunately the original walls were not straight, so it didn’t quite look right.

"Our craftsman adjusted it by 2mm-3mm, and now it looks natural, although it’s actually slightly out of true."

Fourth-generation descendant of gold miner See Kew Wong, the Rev Lisa Barlow, of Dunedin, attended the reunion with her family.

She said she had grown up proud of her Chinese heritage.

"This event has been so important in setting the path straight, and acknowledging that our ancestors here were adventurers, contributors to their communities and, above all, survivors in adversity."

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

 

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