Old memories of summer days

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Old memories of summer days in use: The Sam Summers hut

Sam Summers’ former home is on the popular Mt Crichton Loop Track just off the Glenorchy Road. He thought it was haunted and swore old Chinese miners buried gold in the hills. Louise Scott catches up with his sister and niece 

Before Sam Summers died he drew a map and put ‘X’ on the spot revealing his secret gold site.

It was no easy feat – he was almost blind.

That was in 1997 prior to the goldminer passing away at the age of 92.

His niece Anne Henley has been to the spot – but didn’t venture far as there were too many spiders.

Many Queenstowners will have been to Summers’ house which is now a designated Department of Conservation hut.

Four generations: Betty Ramsay, Ahlia Barrow, Anne Henley and Carey-Anne Henley

There’s information at the hut about his life and a few pictures – one including his younger sister Betty Ramsay, then 12.

She remembers the photo being taken.

Summers built the house in the 1930s with help from his brothers. He was one of 10 boys.

Ramsay says all the materials were hauled up by hand with some help from horse Ginger.

“The boys stayed up there most of the time and they would bring venison and rabbits home to cook.

“He carried the building materials out towards Glenorchy.

“There were no bridges so when I went up Sam used to piggyback me through the creeks.”

Like many gold prospectors of the time he had miner’s rights on the Twelve Mile Creek gorge.

Ramsay says they didn’t make a huge amount of money but enough to get by.

She loved spending time with her big brother.

“I remember going up there and making toffee on the open fire.

“There were two big beds – me and my cousin would go up and stay.

“We used to take tins of biscuits with us and play in the creek.”

She lived at her parents’ place on Shotover Street.

Things were a bit different back then – it was a town of gravel roads and roaming chickens.

She’d stop at the grocer’s before heading to Summers’ place and pick up supplies, including bacon.

“He had a veggie garden and a pipe in the ground that kept the butter cold.

“He made stew, he looked after us.”

Henley never visited the hut while her uncle was there but he often talked about it – and gold.

“He was so passionate about mining. It was his life.”

She says he wasn’t scared of anything.

“He wasn’t a bragger, he was neat. A gentleman and very determined, very tough.

“Sam believed firmly there was a ghost up there, believed the hut is haunted.

“He saw the person across the river quite a few times and he was 100 per cent sure it was a ghost.

“He reckoned it was a Chinese man.

“He also said a lot of gold [was] buried by the Chinese miners in the hills.

“They’d bury the gold and would put gun pellets round it – get in a fight in town and never come back.”

Hut visit: Betty Ramsay, front and centre, at the hut with her brother, back left

Summers served in the Second World War, leaving Queenstown when he was 33. Three other brothers also signed up.

Ramsay, who is 88 years old and living in Lake Wakatipu Home & Hospital, remembers making care packages.

Fruit cakes would be sewed into old sugar bags before being shipped to Egypt.

“Every Christmas we had a [radio] link up. We would be waiting for hours, waiting to hear his voice, for him to talk.

“He just wished us a merry Christmas. We spoke to them all, it was great.”

Lights had to be blacked out in Queenstown during the war – Ramsay remembers putting a blanket over the window every night.

When Summers returned she walked to Frankton to meet him coming off the bus.

He returned to the hut for a time before meeting his wife, Winnie, and moving to Dunedin.

However, Henley was told he had a 100-year mining claim on the land so the family looked after it.

Sadly the hut was vandalised and it was closed.

The area was designated the Mt Crichton Scenic Reserve in 1991 when DoC took over management and maintenance.

Ramsay is chuffed it is still used and proud that Summers’ name lives on.

“A lot of people come in here and say they’ve been up and show me a picture of my photo in the hut. It’s great.”

louises@scene.co.nz