Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A Drowned Village, An Invisible Road

On our way back from Queenstown last visit, we were struck by how calm Lake Dunstan was and stopped to take photos.

Robert's a fan of the panoramic.

I prefer the straightforward approach, capturing the square.

I can never look at the lake and the town of Cromwell as it is now, without remembering the part of the town that used to be visible, before the Cromwell Dam was built.
That part of the Cromwell I remember, is now under water. A drowned village. And whenever I'm travelling on the present highway, zipping along and around the edge of the slow and heavy, man-made Lake Dunstan, I always remember the narrow, winding road far below that we used to travel on in Robert's parent's teal Austin 1100. The road that ran alongside a swift and crooked, fast-flowing river, but which now lies at the bottom of the lake.
I am warning myself a lot lately, not to be tethered to the past. I don't want to go into the rest of my future so dragged down by chains of the past, that I am in danger of missing the total experience that the present has to offer.
Even so, when in the vicinity of the relatively newly-created Lake Dunstan, the past still tugs at me through an image of drowned buildings and streets, and an invisible narrow road; one that once faithfully followed the natural curves and valley contours alongside the Clutha when it was a vigorous, free-flowing
The takeover by the present reality of a sleeker, more efficient, modern highway following a sluggish, fat dammed river, fails to impress me as much.
Maybe I'm deluding myself, thinking that the old road and those old streets and buildings need me to keep remembering them.
To shake off these sleeve-pulling memories, I take myself in hand, instructing myself to stop over-thinking, to just dwell on the lovely colours and play of light on the skin of wide Lake Dunstan. I make concerted efforts to appreciate the result of humans daring to rein in the mighty forces of nature. The dam. It's pretty impressive.
But at other times, I know that I am kidding myself.
I did prefer it the way it was.


Avus said...

I feel very much the same about drowned valleys, too Kay. We have a few such around here which were once delightful wealden countryside with small villages, which are now reservoirs. As to being tied to the past - don't let go completely. Without your memories the past dies, as do individuals. If we live on in another's memories we are never truly dead.

Kay Cooke said...

Thank you Avus. I am getting the message about not letting go of the past too quickly. I just don't want to be one of those people who are always reminiscing ... I guess there's a balance; as in all things.

J.T. Webster said...

I so know how you feel! We drove up that way a coule of weeks ago and all I could think about was the beautiful Cromwell Gorge and how sad that it's lost. But I do have to concede that as we took a stroll along the lake's edge at dusk, that the lake does have some beauty - just a lttle :)

Dona Bogart said...

The lake scenery is stunningly beautiful, but as I pictured the winding road by the river, it was even more beautiful. I would love to see the drowned village before it was drowned. You took me on a nice little trip. Thank you.

Kay Cooke said...

Sue - Yes, we are so often torn between what is and what was.

Dona - Thank you. I guess we can look at it as being in two worlds at the same time - not a bad thing, albeit tinged with sadness.

Linda said...

Hi Kate

It’s been a long time between visits to your wonderful blog. Beautiful words, wonderful photos – especially for this former Andy Bay resident (formerly Botha and Gresham Streets, now living in Oz).

I was visiting Central at the time when Cromwell had just been demolished. There was nothing left of that magical town of my childhood when we headed into the gorge on a visit Up Central. When I was a kid I used to imagine gold diggers and highwaymen fighting it out on the street – all a bit John Wayne, but it was fun. I also used to scramble down and gaze at the two rivers as they met one another (my parents close by in case I decided to go for a swim!). Now, that was a magical sight – and is no more. A crime against nature, surely?

On this visit, I was travelling by bus and another ex-pat joined us at Ettrick - undoubtedly a former local as he seemed so at home. When we reached the gorge, the tears filled my eyes at what I saw and I turned to look at him - he was very quiet and looked as if he was in shock too. His US style clothes looked out of place, but his eyes were at home in a place that was being changed forever. He was seeing what I was seeing. It was as if the land had been raped.

One side of the river was nothing but grey and brutalised rock – it looked cold and in shock. The brutal machines were grinding away as we made our way through the gorge, pausing for a moment to allow us to pass – I sensed that the machines were angry at this inconvenience (a “oh hurry up” kind of message). I remember the faces of the men working on demolishing the gorge and village – they looked angry and sad – at everything, not just the bus that was slowing them down. Subliminally, it must have been a sad place for them to be.

On the other side of the river, the Central of my dreams was still there – dry, rocky land – magical. This land remained untouched, and the rivers were still mixing their colours. I hope that that side of the river was left unbruised - before it was drowned and lost.

Your thoughts of what has gone are more than fine – it’s OK to remember the past. Keep on remembering the village and gorge that are no more. Maybe, just maybe, the gorge will be brought back to life again – free to breathe again.

My Dad lived in Gresham Street and walked to Musselburgh School when the land was being drained. He could remember jumping across small ditches full of water (occasionally landing feet first and spending all day at school with wet socks and cold feet – a very Dunedin memory, yes!). He was good at reading nature and used to say to me “You mark my words, one day the sea will want to come back”. Given what has been happening in South Dunedin, he may have been right.

Remembering the past was OK for Proust, and OK for you too. Your memories could save us from such a horror occurring again. A poem? Yes, please.

Will be back soon for another visit to your wonderful words and photos.


Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...