Thousands attend Arrowtown 150 celebrations

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Thousands of people lined the banks of the Arrow River yesterday (Saturday) for a re-enactment of the Arrowtown gold rush days.

More than 3000 locals and visitors watched 120 residents perform in the hour-long recreation of 1860s Arrowtown.

The spectacular set-piece featured gold panners and their families, dancing girls, police and businessmen, a camp, horses and carts and even the Prince of Wales Hotel saloon.

Narrated by long-time local Peter Doyle, the story began with the discovery of gold by shearer Jack Tewa, or ‘Maori Jack’, and chronicled the influx of prospectors hoping to strike it rich, the frontier spirit, the growth of the town and arrival of Chinese miners.

Co-ordinator Julie Hughes says: “It was amazing and there was a huge crowd.

“The performers said it was absolutely fantastic and better than they could have imagined.”

Chinese Consul-General Madam Xiutian Tan was present at the official opening on Butlers Green, which featured a Chinese dragon and lion dance and 16,000 firecrackers, designed to ward off evil spirits. Madam Tan gave an impassioned speech on the history of the Chinese miners and relations between the two countries.

“From the Chinese perspective, they said we had honoured them with what we had done,” Hughes says. “They were overwhelmed.

“Madam Tan told me she goes to events all around the world but this was the one that would stick in her head forever.”

Queenstown mayor Vanessa van Uden also gave a speech as thousands potted about the streets of Arrowtown, many dressed in Victorian period dress.

The 150 celebrations continue all weekend with community events, performances by the New Zealand Army Marching Band and vintage vehicle displays. Tomorrow a plaque will be unveiled to Maori Jack and a time capsule buried.

Today’s Town and Country event has been moved to Millbrook Green, instead of Millbrook Corner, after heavy rain overnight.

“Have you ever tried to shift 14 traction engines?” Hughes says.

“They’re in the centre of Arrowtown and we’re at Millbrook Green. It’s a fantastic event considering we’ve had to change everything around. Millbrook has pulled out the stops and done everything they can to help us out.”