The Highway Boys
A Voyage to Australia
Fires of 1967
Julie, eat your heart out!
The Last Stand of Black Pete
Enter the 21st Century
Tales from the Crib Room
The Bus Trip from Hell
Agonising About Acronyms
The Vacuum Cleaner
Forward to the Past
List of 2003 stories
In 1880 my grandfather, Andrew Paterson and his brother James came out from Scotland and settled in the Otago district on the South Island of New Zealand. They ran a dairy together until James decided that more could be earned mining and took himself off to Arrowtown which was then a booming gold town.
With hard work and good luck he made enough to buy the hotel at the nearby town of Cardrona, the site of another well-established gold mine. A sober and canny Scot himself, he was renowned for refusing to sell liquor to those who were obviously past the stage where they could walk unaided from his premises. This must have impressed the locals and in particular the mine manager's daughter who became my great-aunt Carmelia.
In 1899 my great-uncle James, along with 5,000 other New Zealanders and 16,000 Australians went off to fight the Boers. On his return he was presented with a gold watch and chain as a mark of the esteem in which the inhabitants of Cardrona held him and which, I am happy to say, was handed down to me. He resumed his role as Mine Host and also bought gold from itinerant prospectors. His practise was to store this gold in a glass jar which would be locked in a safe in the hotel. Not many had seen this wonderful sight of gold nuggets, but all the locals knew about it.
When, in 1930, he died - my great-aunt Carmella died five years earlier - the locals waited for a couple of weeks and then broke into the hotel which had been closed since his death and ransacked the place. They tore up the floorboards in every room and dug up the ground beneath, certain that James Paterson, gold buyer and canny Scot, had a small fortune hidden somewhere on
the premises. It must be here, they reasoned, because as far as anyone knew, he had not spent a penny since erecting his wife's tombstone. The furthest he had travelled during those five early years was to Queenstown, and that was less than an hour's journey away.
But no gold was found and the Cardrona Hotel remained derelict for many years until it was turned into a tourist attraction selling knick-knacks and crafted items to passing travellers. Its sagging facade shows the effects of subsidence in the old mine below and the mystery of what happened to my great-uncle James' bottle of gold nuggets remains unsolved.
My father used this background to tell the yarn about old George who had recently suffered a stroke. He was sitting in his rocking chair on his verandah when an old friend dropped by and said, "G'day, George - I hear you've been pretty crook."
"Yes," replied George in not much more than a whisper.
"In fact," said his friend, "I heard that they reckoned you were going to die and all your relatives gathered round."
"Yes," replied George, "they did."
"And I heard they kept asking you where you'd put all the gold you had in that big bottle."
"Yes," replied George, "that's true."
"And you kept pointing down all the time."
"Yes, I did."
"And I heard they tore up the mattress you were lying on and then they ripped up all the floorboards and dug up all the back - is that true?"
"Yes, yes, it's all true."
"Well," said his friend, "where was the gold?"
"There wasn't any gold - it went years ago paying off the mortgage on the pub."
"Well, why did you keep pointing down?"
"Well," replied George, pointing two fingers in the air, "I was too bloody weak to point up!"