Families devastated by homestead loss


Members of the last two families to live in the historic Mount Aurum Homestead at Skippers are devastated by its loss in a fire on New Year’s Day.

The homestead, which was occupied by runholders of the former Mount Aurum Station from the 1890s until 1969, was burned to the ground by a fire that started about 2am.

Police and fire investigations into the cause of the blaze are continuing.

Myrna Sarginson and her late husband Mick were the last runholders of the rugged and remote sheep station north of Queenstown.

The 81-year-old Queenstown resident told the Otago Daily Times they took over the station’s lease from the Macnicol family in 1957 and stayed for 12 years.

The homestead held ”many special memories” for her and her four children, Mrs Sarginson said.

Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren enjoyed her stories of ”life and adventures of the golden days” on the station.

The homestead also held special memories for Arrowtown resident Colin Macnicol, who often visited the homestead as a boy in the 1950s.

His aunt and uncle, Mona and Archie Macnicol, lived there from 1940 to 1956 as runholders of the station.

He felt ”sad and angry” the homestead had gone.

”It feels like I’ve lost part of the family.”

Family and friends overseas had contacted him to express their shock and sadness.

Mr Macnicol said he felt sorry for Department of Conservation staff and volunteers, who had put a huge amount of time and effort into restoring the building.

Dunedin author Danny Knudson, who wrote about the former township’s history in his 2015 book Skippers: Triumph & Tragedy, said the homestead’s destruction represented more than just the loss of an old building.

It was the oldest remaining farmhouse in the Shotover area, and dated back to the gold rush.

”It’s a tragedy the homestead fire has destroyed another part of Otago’s farming heritage.”

The neighbouring schoolhouse, which opened in 1878, was restored by the Department of Conservation and volunteers in a five-year project completed in 1992, Mr Knudson said.

The leftover funds from a government restoration grant were used to ”rescue” the homestead, which was restored in a six-year project that finished in 2000.

Doc carried out further restoration work on the homestead in 2011.

Before the fire: The homestead as it used to be. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


A couple who fled the scene of a fire that destroyed an historic homestead at the Skippers camping area on New Year’s Day are ”embarrassed”, police say.

The man and woman, who are believed to have been staying in Mount Aurum Homestead on the night of the fire, contacted police yesterday afternoon, after a public plea for information on their whereabouts.

Detective Sergeant Derek Shaw, of Central Otago CIB, said in a statement he was satisfied the couple ”had reasons for not coming forward before now”.

No arrests had been made, but the police were not seeking anyone else in relation to the fire.

He told the Otago Daily Times police remained in contact with the couple while waiting for the fire investigator’s final report.

”They’re embarrassed about what’s happened, and are helping us with our inquiries.”

Police had received valuable information from the public about the fire, he said.

Many people with a connection to the homestead have expressed their anger at the couple’s actions.

Other campers who worked to prevent the fire from spreading say the pair left the scene without alerting them or calling emergency services.

Destroyed: All that remains of the historic Mount Aurum Homestead are two chimneys and charred roofing iron.