22 August 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Lost Gold: The 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest Nelson by Paul Bensemann

Lost Gold: The 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest NelsonLost Gold: The 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest Nelson by Paul Bensemann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a young man in the mid-1970s, Paul Bensemann was told an archetypal ‘lost gold’ story by his neighbour, a tobacco farmer in the Motueka Valley on the edge of what is now Kahurangi National Park. The story concerned an old prospector who had found a huge exposed gold reef, shining in the sun, deep in the mountain wilderness of Northwest Nelson. Just before he died, the prospector drew a map, and to Paul’s amazement his neighbour then produced an old, tatty, hand-drawn map, which had been handed down to him from his father.

Since that meeting Paul has spent over 30 years trying to unravel this untold story, linking many different characters and their often obsessive and always secretive efforts to find this very New Zealand treasure. The search was originally triggered by Government geologists who found a huge quartz reef in 1908. It has since been pursued by many different prospectors, from bushmen on the West Coast to F.G. Gibbs, a prominent early Nelson identity.

Lost Gold follows the many twists and turns of this 105-year-old story, and tries to explain why the reef has never been rediscovered. But in the end, whether or not the reef exists is only part of the story, and perhaps the bigger treasure here is the real tale of men in pursuit of their own El Dorado.

Every so often a book drops into your lap that captures your attention immediately and holds it right through. This is one such book. It was given to me as a gift by my mother due to our family having a connection to the story. The tale of an alleged lost gold reef in the mountainous country up behind my hometown of Karamea, New Zealand has often been told to local people with an interest in the back country. I have very vague memories of my grandfather Stan Simkin, one of the gold hunters in the book, telling me short yarns about tramping around the mountains in all sorts of adverse weather but at the time I was a young lad and had no idea what he'd actually been doing up there. Also, I am familiar with the photo that ended up on the cover of this book because it belonged to my father Lewis and he'd also told me about the gold search. So, I wast most eager to learn more of this interesting local story/myth and what I eventually found out was so much more. The author's research is excellent and he's woven much local history and anecdotal information into the yarn. With this I discovered things about my hometown and even my family that I hadn't previously known. I'm familiar with many of the characters in the book, many now dead but many also still alive and kicking. It's a fascinating story and quite captivating, and fans those rumour flames in my mind. I do reckon that there's large quantities of gold and other valuable minerals in those mountains and also all over New Zealand, but I'm not quite sure I would like to see it extracted. But, back to the book in question; this is a very well written and well researched book about a fascinating topic. Anyone with an interest in New Zealand mining history and the outdoors will love this. I sure did, which came as a very pleasant surprise.

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A gold-bearing quartz reef

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