Updated: Sep 3, 2019
It's a song by Spandau Ballet, an album by Ryan Adams and even a place in California...but the malleable ductile metal is most definitely the main reason why I ended up travelling to North-Western Canada for work in June-July this year.
Between 1896 and 1899, an estimated 100,000 fortune seeking prospectors swept through the Chilkroot Pass, onto the Yukon River and down to an area known as The Klondike. While buildings from that classic era of gold mining still survive in the charming city of Dawson, the easy pickings have long since been panned out and today miners work the klondike dirt in a process known as 'placer mining'. It is also the subject of arguably The Discovery Channel's most successful show: Gold Rush.
Now in its 10th season, the formula of plucky prospectors putting it all on the line for the promise of riches is still pretty much the same. In reality, that means filming endless hours of dirt moving from one place to the next, and while the finesse exhibited by the hard-working crews in manoeuvring heavy machinery is nothing short of impressive, there has to be something more cerebrally satisfying...and there is, the deep-seated history and stunning landscapes certainly kept me busy during any down time.
Armed with a stills camera and a curiosity to learn more about the history of the area, the Canadians have done something really cool with the historic buildings, sites and equipment left over from the Klondike rush...nothing. Refreshingly free from over-the-top signage and contemporary re-creations, in some cases such as with the Paddle Steamer Cemetery, the natural environment is gradually swallowing up the remnants of the once majestic boats that used to ply the Yukon River.
At a site known as Bear Creek Compound, the machine shops that serviced a fleet of gold mining dredges are almost exactly as they were when the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation shut up shop in 1966...it was too expensive to transport the equipment out of the province, so everyone just up and left and a contemporary ghost town was created. In Dawson City itself, the town structures are set on a layer of permafrost. While modern buildings with solid footings have no settlement issues, some of the older dwellings look like they are drunk...or possibly, they might look normal after a night perusing the never ending list of watering holes under the midnight sun?
Getting the opportunity to visit this part of the world is most definitely the premium perk associated with the work that I do. What it has also reinforced for me, is the glaring opportunity that exists for Central Otago to embrace our gold mining past as much as they have done in the Yukon. The parallels between the town of Dawson and the little town that I call home, Clyde, are very striking. We might not be built on a layer of permafrost, but the remnants of schist buildings left behind are certainly as striking as the sinking wooden structures in Dawson.
If nothing else, I have certainly gleaned enough knowledge about basic geology and gold prospecting to strike out in the local countryside, and with gold prices heading skyward, investing in a few bits of rudimentary sluicing equipment might not be a bad investment.