Renovations for historic hall

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Visitors to Lawrence will soon have the opportunity to experience what life was like in a Chinese “joss house”.

So named for the use of joss sticks to ward away evil spirits, the meeting place of Chinese gold-miners at the historic Lawrence Chinese Camp is receiving an upgrade.

Lawrence Chinese Camp Charitable Trust chairwoman Adrienne Shaw said it would become a key attraction.

“The Poon Fah joss house had a number of uses. It was used as a place of worship, a place to share meals and even play games.

“The closest equivalent would be a community hall.”

The east wall of the building had been regibbed and would soon be ready for the application of traditional Chinese decorative painting, a process which would be carried on part way into next year.

The Clutha hall was built in 1865, and was the only original one of its kind in the country, Mrs Shaw said.

“It is possible it is the only one in all of Australasia.”

The house was moved around a number of locations before it was bought by the Chinese Heritage Trust in 2009, which returned the building to its original location.

“The old foundations are still there, so we plan to put in glass panels so you can see through the floor to the original structure.”

The joss house would become like a museum, with information panels and artefacts for visitors to get a feel of what life was like for those Chinese settlers who attempted to hit the jackpot in the New Zealand gold rush.

This journey did not always go to plan.

“If you look in Papers Past for the Tuapeka Times around 1866 to 1867 there is a story of a man who hanged himself inside the building.”

However, the building was usually a place in which to get together and socialise, and amenities were available for those who fell on hard times, Mrs Shaw said.

The joss house upgrade was only one part of a larger vision for the Chinese camp, with a visitor centre, a set of restored stables, and a car park in the works as well.

The entire project was projected to take about five years.

“We’re also looking at putting in a cafe or a restaurant, and accommodation, to get more people along to see what’s here.”

The recent Lawrence Heritage Day proved the popularity of the historic site.

“We had a great response. We had more than 25 families through from all over the country, and other countries. Local people were enthusiastic as well. It was really positive.”

To capitalise on the interest, the Lawrence Chinese Camp Charitable Trust had applied to the Clutha District Council for resource consent to run events at the camp three or four times a year.