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"Beside the South Opuha"

Ashwick Flat, Fairlie, South Canterbury, New Zealand
August 1997. Monument Corner, Ashwick Flat. Two Thumb Range dominated by Fox Peak (7604ft  2317m) to the right of the momument. The trees are along the bank of the South Opuha River.

A Tribute to Enterprise!

When Ashwick was divided
They sold the tussock plain
To sturdy bearded settlers
Keen sheepmen in the main.

There neighbour helped neighbour
Without a thought of pay
And women nursed each other
As is a woman's way.

Where once the snowgrass flourished
And wild boar reigned supreme
those early settlers struggled
For a living hard and lean.

They tapped the South Opuha
And shovelled stone and rock
To bring the living water 
To thirst tormented stock

In spring old man nor'westers
Howled down the devil's den
And threatened devastation
To puny works of men.

But that was in the eighties
They're long since laid to rest
Now sons and grandsons labour
With scientific zest.

The vicious matagourie
And spear grass tipped with pain
They've had their day of greatness
Upon that wild terrain.

Top dressing's been adopted
results are clearly seen
There's English grass and clover
where native grass has been.

Electric light replaces
The candle and the lamps
'Telly' and the radio
Tall tales of bygone camps.

Yest if I pause in passing
I think I hear again
Lilting songs of bearded men
Who rode the Ashwick plain.

                        Mrs. Nelly Saddler

The Carin

'Twas thought to build a monument
With your names there on a plaque

To show the folks who passed that way
That you had left your mark.

But meantime this short history
Will have to satisfy,

In thinking now to build a Cairn
We've set our sights too high.

You pioneer have all passed on
And your children drop out fast

'Twill have to be next in line
who commemorate the past.

Let then take a stone from every block
To represent each run holder

And carve the names of pioneers
Upon the largest boulder.

Take sand from South Opuha,
Take water from the "race";

Let snow storms cover over it,
Nor'westers on it blow,

Hot sun bake and broil it
Morning dew drops make it glow,

Write on it "We thank you",
For your toil, your smiles, your tears,

We're proud of you, our forebears.
you brave old pioneers.

Janet Cotterell 1959

In 1884 6,000 acres of Ashwick Station was offered by the Crown and subdivided into 24 farms of approximately 300 acre each. The water supply was inadequate so the farmers dug miles of races and tapped into the South Opuha River at the mouth of the gorge.

Mrs Cotterell wrote the book "Beside the South Opuha" as well as other poems.  The cairn was never built. Only the War Memorial stands at four cross roads on Ashwick Flat but the wateraces remain. 

Timaru Herald, 6 April 1894, Page 3

The opening of the Ashwick Plat water races, which took place on Wednesday last, marked an important step in the work of colonisation in the County of Mackenzie. Years ago, when it was first proposed to cut up the Ashwick Flat for settlement on the deferred payment system, it was thought by many of those who were supposed to know most about the capabilities of the land that the scheme was a hopeless one, not considering that the land was suitable for settlement in small blocks. However, there are now between 5000 acres and 6000 acres taken up in about 300 acre blocks and settled upon. The county, though well watered, considered in the light of a sheep run, is by no means well off for water from a small settlement point of view, and as settlement proceeded it became highly necessary to supply the deficiency. The ceremony of opening the water race system was an interesting and enjoyable one to all those who took part in the proceedings. A drag left Fairlie at 11 o'clock on Wednesday morning, having on board members of the County Council and others who had been invited to take part in the proceedings of the day. The weather was all that could be desired, and the drive to the head of the works, a distance of about 10 miles, was most enjoyable. The ranges, more heavily clad with snow than is usual at this season of the year, shone out with great brilliance, and formed a marked and striking contrast to the rich agricultural country between Fairlie and Silverstream. Near the Ashwick Station the road branches off to the right, and skirts along the foot of the lower hills, the extensive Ashwick plantation adding considerably to the effect of the landscape. Arriving at the mouth of the south Opuha Gorge, where the race takes off from the river, the party were met by a considerable assemblage of settlers, the whole gathering presenting the appearance of a picnic of tolerably large dimensions. The spot is most picturesque, the gorge running back through the lower hills, and apparently terminating in the greet snowy ranges. In constructing the head works of the race considerable skill has been shown by the engineer, Mr B. L. Banks, in taking advantage of a point of rock standing out into the river to protect the race from all danger of flood water. This rock has been tunnelled through into deep water, and as the main sluice gate is fixed in concrete well at the lower end of the tunnel, perfect control is secured over the water flowing along the head race. Same heavy work has been done between the head-works and the top of the terrace, the very steep slope of the face along which the race runs making the excavation work heavy. A by wash and sluice gates have been constructed on the head race before it commences to rise the terrace, acting as a self regulator, and by its means all surplus water is diverted again into the river. The distributing races supply water to all the sections on the Ashwick Flat deferred payment block, and have been laid out to meet the requirements, as far as possible, of all the settlers, some of whom were previously altogether without water on their sections. After a picnic luncheon, which came in very acceptably after the drive in the keen autumn air, the ceremony of opening the water race was proceeded with Mr McGregor, chairman of the County Council, in addressing the assemblage referred to that day as a notable one in the history of the district. This was the first public waterrace opened in the county for supplying the needs of agricultural settlers. Though it was the first it would undoubtedly not be the last work of that kind undertaken in the county. The water supply system which they were then opening would probably be extended as settlement increased, and the time might even came when the barren Mackenzie plains would be treated in a similar manner. He thought, however, that the irrigation of the Mackenzie plains would be a work for posterity to undertake, and when the first water race was opened in that part of the country he did not expect to be there. The settlers on the Ashwick Flat were very favourably situated with regard to irrigation. There was a superabundant supply of water to draw from, and the natural lie of the country rendered the distribution of the water comparatively simple and inexpensive. In the matter of finance in connection with the water supply they were also favoured by circumstances. No special rate had to be struck to pay interest on the outlay, the funds being provided out of the "thirds" accruing from the land. It was true that some roads had to be foregone by the settlers, but that was a comparatively small matter as weighed against the compensating advantages arising from a plentiful supply of water. In viewing the completion of the undertaking he thought that the greatest credit was due to Mr Banks, the engineer, for the way in which the work had been laid off also to Mr Gregan, the contractor, for the way in which be had carried out the plans, and to Mr O'Connor, the clerk of the works. He then asked Mrs R. Mackay, of Trentham, to perform the ceremony of opening the race, which was done by that lady giving a few turns to the very easily worked screw of the flood gate, by breaking a bottle of champagne against the wall of rock through which the tunnel penetrates, and by declaring the water race duly opened. Bounds of cheers were given for Mrs Mackay and for the County Council.

After this Mr Macgregor asked Mr Milne, the ex chairman of the County Council, who had been intimately connected with the work in the past, to give some account of the earlier history of the work, Mr Milne said : I have often thought it a great pity to see this plain burnt up in a dry season for want of water, and millions of gallons running to waste close alongside. And no one can possibly tell me the value of this splendid stream in a dry summer when it is constantly poured by three races on to the plain below. Wood and water are two of the principal things that beautify the world we live in. Those races will provide the settlers with abundance of water. It will rest with themselves to secure the wood by judicious tree-planting. If they go in for that vigorously now, they can in ten or twelve years have good shelter, abundance of firewood, and part of their fencing material, and nothing they can do outside of their water supply can enhance the value of their holdings like plenty of timber. I have given the settlers the advice without being asked, but I will give it gratis, and trust to see it acted upon, especially by those who have done little or no planting hitherto. I have had some experience in carrying out works of this sort myself, for I have constructed at least half the number of miles you have here for my own use on Strathallan. You will observe where we stand to-day in this beautiful gorge that nature intended it for this very purpose, and I would advise you all to examine it closely, for I don't know if you will ever see a better headworks of a water race in any part of the colony. It is plain, I admit, for no money has been spent on ornament, but it is solid and strong as a breakwater, and will almost last for ever, and is well protected from floods in the river by that reef and the tunnel. The whole race from start to finish reflects great credit on the contractor, the Council's foreman, and their engineer, and I certainly must compliment the Mackenzie County Council on having such a splendid piece of work as this carried out under their supervision, and I wish also to congratulate the settlers of the district on having secured a valuable improvement to their properties at so little cost. Mr Milne concluded his remarks by calling for three cheers for the engineer. In responding to the compliment Mr Banks said that be had tried to carry out his instructions faithfully, and also to satisfy the wants of the settlers. He had received the most able co-operation in the work both from the contractor and the clerk of works. Mr Gregan, the contractor, upon being called upon to get upon a boulder and make a speech, which he did very reluctantly, pithily and succinctly remarked that it took one man by draw the plans of such works, and another man to carry them out ; the latter part of the business he had done his best to fulfill. The official part of the proceedings was brought to a close by Mr R Allan, on behalf of himself and other Ashwick Flat settlers, expressing his appreciation of the work which had been done for the benefit of the locality. After spending an hour or two inspecting the works, and in the enjoyment of the scenery, the gathering dispersed well pleased with the day's outing.

Timaru Herald, 9 March 1897, Page 3
The monthly meeting of the Mackenzie County Council was held yesterday. Present, all the members - Messrs F. R. Gillingham (chairman), J. S. Rutherford, A. Hope, A. McLean, M. McLeod, and W. Wreford. The ranger reported that the Ashwick Flat races were in good; order. Mr Wreathall stated that the settlers complained that Mr Mackay, of Trentham, was using the water from the races, outside the district, and was not paying anything for it. It was decided after some discussion to ask Mr Mackay to contribute �5 a year to the Ashwick Flat settlers' race fund for the use of the tail water.

Timaru Herald, 3 August 1897, Page 3
The caretaker of Ashwick Flat water races reported that they were running satisfactorily. The race had been stopped one or two days by frost. Mr W. Hervey wrote offering to pay �2 a year if the water from Ashwick races through Trentham Greek reached his property. Mr R. Mackay requested him to state that he would give �2 a year also, if the water reached his property. They would both wait on the Council at next meeting.� Deferred till next meeting.

Timaru Herald, 5 October 1897, Page 3
Mr R. Mackay wrote asking the Council to reconsider their rejection of his offer of �2 per annum for water from the Ashwick Flat races. He enclosed the Geraldine County by-law, to show that for the area to be benefited (100 acres), �2 a year was a high charge compared with Geraldine charges. After some discussion, Mr McLeod proposed to offer the supply to Mr Mackay and Mr Hervey for �5. � Leave to rescind a resolution fixing a larger amount was refused, and the matter was shelved for notice to be given.

Timaru Herald Tuesday 4 July 1899
Mackenzie County Council Monthly meeting

Mrs Cotterell reported the Ashwick Flat races were in good order, and P. Mcvory that three Springs-Fairlie races were running satisfactorily, except the part stopped for repairs. The engineer stated that the upper race was choked in one place now with silt, though scour of the new ground. The caretaker was not expected to clear the race of such obstructions. Mr McLeod said the water was running , but outside the race. Mr G.J. Hamilton wrote that the Ashwick race was overflowing into the school plantation and injuring the trees. - Engineer to write to the caretaker. Rabbits were showing in the Tekapo and Ashwick plantations. - Them engineer had arranged for rabbitting them. " That the Tree Springs-Fairlie water-race charges for the year ending 31st March 1900, be a rate of � penny in the �, subject to minimum amounts as prescribed by the by-law No. 7."

Timaru Herald, 26 June 1895, Page 3

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMARU HERALD. Sir, In reply to " Water Rat's " letter in your issue of the 12th, trying to throw cold water on my statements, which were facts, "Water Rat " only makes my case stronger by saying that Ashwick Flat land "drinks water as a Scotchman would mountain dew" a compliment to Scotchmen certainly. He states that our race is 18 inches or 2 feet wide. He does not mention the depth, viz., 9 inches. "Water Rat" expects this size of race to supply all requirements on the Flat, as well as another large estate. He says the water races on the Canterbury plains are from 15 feet to 20 feet wide. It does not matter to me if the Suez Canal running through the plains. Those races water miles and miles of country, whereas ours were constructed to water only a fair sized paddock. Now, Sir, I will analyse " Water Rat's" statements. He speaks of the half raised floor and water running to waste. I may state that, six weeks ago the settlers wanted more water, the said door being up as high as it could go, and twelve days ago " Water Rat" could have swum under the door without scratching his back. About the Ashwick Flat roads, I will refer him to the Fairlie storekeepers. He states that Sherwood Downs estate has no roads, whereas there is a metalled road running from one end of the estate to the other. The owner can please himself whether he grows his grain close to the road on the top of Fox's Peak. In Sherwood Downs was in "Water Rat's " county, perhaps he would be as liberal with roads as with water-races. He says that several farmers complained to the Council about the water making a swamp of their land, there being only one farmer whom the water was ever likely to trouble. I understand that the Crown Lands Ranger suggested that Melville Downs should pay their fair share of the first cost of the headworks. What a nice throw in, to pay only on maintenance! Now, Sir, I will bid "Water Rat" goodbye, as I see by the Council's last report that we have got him m a trap. I am, etc., Ashwick Flat Settler. June 20th.

Timaru Herald, 4 July 1895, Page 3

TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMARU HERALD Sir,� Neither "Ashwick Flat Settler" nor "C.B.J." denies that the former's allegation that the settlers were sacrificing, roads to obtain water, was anything more than a fabrication intended to gain sympathy for a class that is never happy unless it has a grievance. Sherwood Downs certainly has one good metaled road running along the lower boundary, but to reach this estate it first threads its way through the Ashwick Flat sections as a string passes through a bead necklace. From the letter of the "A. F. Settler" the public would conjecture that the grievance of the settlers was that the surplus water was being diverted to Melville Downs, which liquid they wished to use in some way for their own purposes. But " C.B.J." comes forward to point out that the real matter at issue is whether or not the settlers have the right to have the "thirds" expended for their benefit. The capitalised thirds were spent solely on the Ashwick races more than a year ago, so that it is difficult to get an abiding conception of the settlers' wrongs. In a moment of justifiable irritation the chairman may have said that "the Council could spend the thirds at the other end of the county if they wished ;" but this is open to grave doubt. The diversion of the waste water does not make harder the terms on which the sections are held ; rather the reverse, for they are assisted to maintain the races. " C.B.J." admits that the irrigation privileges desired were not more than the irrigation of gardens, which, with the houses, are mostly situated on a "rise." Why, sir, one settler, whose initials I believe, were " C.B.J.," was trying to coax water up hill ! But the obstinate stuff will not run above its level though one is ever so polite to it. Though according to your correspondent the peronns most interested are not allowed to interfere in any way, he admits that they "looked, naturally, on the water as their property and used it as such." Yet there was waste, painful to see in a dry season, at the tail of each of the sub-races, not to speak of the intake gates. The correspondent with whom I first crossed koradis, "A.F. Settler," says that their races were constructed to water only a fair-sized paddock. They were not constructed to water a paddock at all, but to water stock. Moreover, they were made under an Act that forbade irrigation. I did not state that Sherwood Downs has no roads, nor could I, twelve days before your correspondents letter was written, have swum under the intake door without diving and leaving a string of air bubbles, for the river was then a trifle fresh and the roads heavy. The settlers seem delighted at the breach of faith on the part of the Treasury. The Sherwood Downs goldmine is not to be compared in richness with the outcrop of human nature on Ashwick Flat. Finally, " A.F. Settler," to his disappointment; will find on investigation that the trap wherein I am supposed to be languishing is empty, for an animal that can burrow under the finest superstructure will not be detained by a cage with so many holes in it. ........... I am, etc., Water Rat. Fairlie, July 1st.

Otago Witness, 23 October 1890, Page 35
Dear Dot, Our examination is over, and I passed, as did also my brother and sisters. I am in the Fourth Standard now. My brother had two guinea pigs, but one died, and he gave the other away. I am learning to ride, and like it very much. This is a very pretty place. There are a lot of trees about the house, and the hill at the back is planted with trees, and they are very big now, Out in the paddocks there are large plantations. I have got a starling's nest on the verandah, and the bird is sitting, and there will soon be young ones. I am going to take them and put them in a cage.� Yours truly, Betsy Macintyre (aged 10 years). Ashwick Station, October 15.

Otago Witness, 22 June 1893, Page 45
Dear Dot,  I am going to tell you a little about a pleasant trip I had with my mother and my brother and sister to Aswick station. We left Shag Point at 8 o'clock in the morning passing through Oamaru and Timaru by the main line, then taking the train up the Albury branch line. We arrived at 8 o'clock at night at Fairlie, and were met by our friends and driven to Aswich station, which is a very beautiful place. I visited some old schoolmates of mine, whose parents reside in a house at the station. The residence of Mr Seddon is surrounded by a lovely garden, very pretty plantations of ornamental and forest trees ; so also is the house in which my friends are living. I saw a fine little Shetland pony which could curry Mr Seddon's two little children at once. I saw plenty of paradise ducks, blue ducks, hares, pigeons, and woodhens. I was out for a day's hunting, and saw some wild pigs. So, dear Dot, I think that Aswick station is the prettiest place I ever saw, and I enjoyed myself very much during our stay.  Yours truly, March Johnsen (ago 12 years). Shag Point, June 11.

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