Adventures in Shantytown
Although my career goal has always been “author,” rather than “historian,” it seems that the following words are my catnip:
So, when I heard about the historic, recreated nineteenth-century mining village that is Shantytown Heritage Park, I knew I’d be making a stop in Greymouth. Greymouth is a town of about 10,000 on the West Coast of the South Island. That makes it considerably bigger than Fox Glacier, which my bus driver described as a “township” (with a total of two streets, even that felt optimistic).
Regardless, Shantytown is the reason I didn’t make a trip straight from Fox Glacier to Nelson. So imagine my dismay when I discovered that the shuttle to Shantytown doesn’t run in the winter, and a return cab would be about $70. At 12 km outside of town, it is just too far to walk. Luckily, my hostel is awesome (PLUG FOR NOAH’S ARK BACKPACKERS). Not only did they look up a route for me on Google Maps, they lent me a bike.
Biking in downtown Toronto forces you to become fairly fearless, but I white-knuckled my way along the main road, spending most of the trip muttering, “On the left, on the left..” While I mostly managed to avoid veering right (except whe I was really startled or stressed), I still pulled into Shantytown with a soft, “I didn’t die!”
Shantytown itself was fine. There was a decent assortment of buildings, including a church, a jail, and a school, and the Chinatown area was actually really well done. That being said, the lack of interpreters was depressing. It was awfully lonely wandering from building to building, glancing over artifacts in silence. In the “hospital,” I met a young New Zealand couple who felt much the same. “I wish there were people to tell us what we’re looking at,” they said. “Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of old stuff.”
Luckily, the hospital had many of the same instruments as the Doctor’s house at Black Creek. Also lucky: Doctor’s is one of my favourite buildings, and probably the one I’ve been in most.
I was warned this day would come….
So, after a little impromptu interpretation of another museum’s artifacts, I walked around some more, rode the steam train, and then biked 12 km back. I’m glad I went, even just to reaffirm that what we do is important. Living history museums only work if there are, you know, living people in them…
Ah, well. Nelson tomorrow, and then onto Wellington for a third and final time.