Sunday Star Times: Review of ‘Promised Land: From Dunedin to the Dunstan Gold Fields’. Helen Watson White. 10 January 2010.
“The text is riveting, his own landscape photographs almost sublime.”
In the story of Wild Bill Enderby, 1860s Dunstan/Clyde is a “remarkable” town: its “one long straggling, crooked street extended along the precipitous bank of the Molyneux river, which brawled amidst rocks and reefs a hundred feet below. Beyond the township the plain narrowed to a gorge, at that time inaccessible by reason of the huge slate splinters which blocked up the way”.
It’s not the town that’s remarkable to artist Grahame Sydney but the Molyneux (Clutha) itself, where gold was discovered in quantities that eclipsed earlier finds. The rushing river now gone, stilled by dams at Roxburgh and Clyde, his book is partly a tribute to it. Using contemporary art, photographs and diaries, he describes in fascinating detail the gold seekers who journeyed there. The text is riveting, his own landscape photographs almost sublime.
Otago Daily Times: ‘Savouring Riches of a Load Well Mined’. Review of Promised Land: From Dunedin to the Dunstan Gold Fields”. Clarke Isaacs, 28 November 2009.
“It’s a fine publication, one to be savoured.”
How appropriate that artist Grahame Sydney’s striking book, Promised Land, should have been published mere days before a death-blow was delivered against a massively expensive wind farm on Central Otago’s Lammermoor Range.
Sydney, in Promised Land, draws on a rich range of archival material to describe the joy, the heartache and the riches which followed upon Harley and Reilly’s discovery of gold in the Dunstan in 1862.
Fast-forward to the present day and this unashamed proponent of preserving unique and wild Central Otago landscape, declares that the dreadful spectre of massive industrial wind-farm estates “looms over some of the region’s most unspoiled high country…”.
Much of what Sydney presents to the reader will already be known to those familiar with Central Otago gold-rush activities. But I was impressed with the skill he has shown both in digging deep to obtain highly interesting material and assembling it to the reader’s best advantage. As befits the highly talented artist who is the author, Promised Land is a handsome publication (make no mistake, the Chinese can print superbly), well designed and laid out and containing both historic illustrations relating to yesteryear and colour photographs of areas apposite to the book’s theme that also Sydney’s work.
The author mines a rich lode of historic material, including gold prospectors’ diaries, to shape his own particular rundown on the gold discoveries – beginning with that of the beneficent Gabriel Read in 1861 that assured Dunedin and Otago a prime place in New Zealand’s sun, some diggers of wealth, and many others of disappointment and misery.
He shows too that in penning his own observations he can produce good prose.
Thus: “The reckless self-centeredness and driving materialism of goldfields life was a dangerous and evil opposite to the rigid, ordered, spiritual haven the settlers were seeking to establish when they turned their backs on Scotland and England. But the desire for betterment, for deliverance form a lifetime of poverty, for the satisfaction of fulfilling one’s dream – the confinements of class left behind – these were aspirations common to both pioneer colonist and restless digger alike”.
Promised Land has a good bibliography, notes and index. It’s a fine publication, one to be savoured.
New Zealand Today: Review of ‘Promised Land: From Dunedin to the Dunstan Gold Fields’. 01 April 2010.
“A wonderful book that tells of a point in time when the Central Otago that we knew, before grapes’ was being formed”.
Is there no end to this man’s talents? Noted painter, gifted photographer and now an historian. Grahame Sydney is best known for his special treatment of (mainly) Central Otago scenes and his love for that area was confirmed when he was one of the leading opponents to the proposed wind-farms in the Lammerlaws.
The inside fly of this superb landscape-format, soft covered book reads “Before gold was discovered, Central Otago was known as the ‘Wasteland’ and was home to no more than 40 or 50 pastoralists”.
And there is a quote in the book from John Henry Watmuff – “I don’t think there’s such a miserable country on the face of the earth – if so, God help its inhabitant’s”.
Sydney tells the story of this period in the history of Central Otago – when it changed from being the ‘Wasteland’ to what amounted to the Promised Land. He uses diaries of gold miners and has matched historic photographs with some of his own work.
A wonderful book that tells of a point in time when the Central Otago that we knew, before grapes’ was being formed.