Goldminer’s cottage set to open in March

Waiuta on the West Coast. Photo / Claudia Babirat
Waiuta on the West Coast. Photo: Claudia Babirat
A 100-year-old gold miner's cottage at Waiuta will be opened in March after a $100,000 restoration by the Department of Conservation.

The West Coast cottage was the home of pioneering "selfie" photographer Jos Divis (1885-1967), who is the subject of a documentary Jos — The Forgotten Photographer Who Saved a Town, released in March.

The tiny wooden cottage lay abandoned for decades after Divis' death and is one of the few buildings remaining in the ghost town of Waiuta, about a 36km drive south from Reefton.

The town was largely abandoned in 1951 after its underground gold mine suddenly shut down.

Department of Conservation Greymouth-Mawhera area manager Chris Hickford said the effort to save the cottage was very complex but a satisfying project for the department.

He said the restoration over the past year aimed to keep as much of the original building fabric as possible while ensuring it could be made structurally sound.

This had meant "splicing of new material" into the building.

"It's a really unique project ... it's provided an unique training opportunity for Doc staff from around the country," he told the West Coast Conservation Board.

"You are dealing with a fairly run-down building with a whole lot of structural challenges."

Mr Hickford said in the course of the work they had discovered the building was effectively four miners' huts joined together, with foundation and damp issues.

It had required a lot of work to "keep the good stuff where we could."

The department plans to have an interpretation installation within the building where visitors would be able to access the interior to get a glimpse to the past.

The department was now in the final stages of the work and was undertaking landscaping of the grounds to have it well established, ahead of a formal opening on March 15, 2024, he said.

The cottage's former occupant, Czech emigre Divis, was a keen amateur photographer who, following his arrival on the West Coast in about 1909, began documenting mining life in startling photography.

This often included the photographer posed within his photos, deploying self timer technology of the day, and he was widely published in the national newspapers until the late 1930s.

By Brendon McMahon