Chinese camp festivities welcome in new year

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Welcoming in the rat . . . Dancers from the Dunedin Chinese Cultural and Arts Association perform in front of the newly restored Joss house at the Lawrence Chinese Camp during the Chinese New Year celebrations held there on Saturday. PHOTO: JOHN COSGROVE

JOHN.COSGROVE @cluthaleader.co.nz

The Year of the Rat was welcomed at Lawrence over the weekend when the Lawrence Chinese Camp held its Chinese New Year celebrations.
Several hundred visitors attended the event where a wide variety of activities had been arranged for visitors of all ages.
Camp trustee Rachel Gemmill said it had been a wonderful day and she was happy with the turnout of visitors who came to celebrate the Chinese New Year with them, learn about the history of the camp and hear about the trust’s progress towards restoration.
“It has been a good day, we’ve had a lot of local support and the activities have kept everyone entertained,’’ Ms Gemmill said.
“It was good to see Dr Jim Ng (84), the former chairman of the trust, attend the celebrations.
‘‘He had the great vision to start the restoration project, one which we are still pursuing today.
“He had many great designs and ideas for the heritage Chinese campsite and it is our time now to continue his work.”
Dancers from the Dunedin Chinese Cultural and Arts Association performed several routines, before a lion dance officially marked the new year.
Visitors from throughout the Otago region were introduced to the art of baking mooncakes, gold panning, rat puppet-making, and Chinese dancing and costumes.
On hand for hungry visitors were a variety of Chinese inspired foods, including a pig roast and a sausage sizzle.
The Lawrence Chinese Camp is one kilometre west of Lawrence and was founded in 1867 to accommodate Chinese goldminers.
By 1883 it had 60 to 70 buildings housing about 125 people. Today just three remain; they are all undergoing restoration by the trust.
At the celebrations trust chairman Geoff Blackmore spoke of the history of the camp and the work the trust would seek to undertake in the future.
“In those early days, the Chinese New Year celebrations were banned in the township, so the miners held their own in the camp,’’ Mr Blackmore said.
“The year of the Rat is an auspicious year for those wanting to build, so we hope it will help us achieve our goals of restoring this historic campsite.”