Book leaps into past

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Remember when: Alan Hamilton has written about the ice skating rink that once occupied this Arrowtown reserve

Veteran Wakatipu farmer and amateur historian Alan ‘Hammy’ Hamilton tackles a forgotten slice of Arrowtown history for his sixth book.

The 86-year-old says he wrote Bringing Arrowtown Alive: Ice Skating in the 1950s and 60s after a local woman raved about the hundreds of kids attending the school.

Hamilton told her it wasn’t so long ago that the school was so short of pupils that the new headmaster “was on skids”.

It got so bad in the ’50s, he and his wife Dot fostered two little sisters from Dunedin for two-and-a-half months to help raise the school roll.

When the lady said she’d never heard such a story, Hamilton thought many people in the town wouldn’t know about its skating rink either.

Hamilton says if Arrowtown was quiet in the summer, it was dead in the winter.

“The only thing that moved down the streets, in those days, were the shadows.”

Decimated by two world wars, the population of the former goldrush town was less than 200, and 100 were pensioners.

Hamilton recalls in the book that he and others, including Jim Wilcox, had heard about a rink in Cromwell.

“Jim and I drove down in my Morris Minor to check it out and it was just a pond in some trees and I thought, ‘gee, we could do that’.”

They got permission from the former Lands and Survey department to use a block of land by Nairn Street – now Wilcox Green – once Jimmy Cowie had dug his spud crop.

They bulldozed out a rink which opened in June 1954.

“It brought Arrowtown alive – the first weekend, there were buses from Invercargill, people from all over the place.”

In the book, then-school headmaster Russell Styles, whose job had been saved and who still lives in Arrowtown, recalls that in the 1960s the entire physical education syllabus in the second term consisted of skating.

Lights were installed and music from tape decks reverberated around town.

The skating club brought over instructors from Australia to teach figure skating.

Ice shows and champion-ships, including even the New Zealand champs, were hosted.

Ice hockey was also played, and there were regular games with Queenstown players, who had their own rink.

Nairn St was populated by out-of-town cribbies who took their families skating at the weekend.

Hamilton also reports the rink’s demise, as volunteer numbers dwindled and skiing took over.

He’s pulled together his self-published book using many of his own photos and others from Arrowtown’s Lakes District Museum.

Many former young skaters provided stories and photos.

The 69-page book, which has just been printed, will be stocked at the Queenstown Airport and Cromwell Paper-Plus stores and the Arrowtown museum.

scoop@scene.co.nz