Whakatipu-wai-maori (Lake Wakatipu) once supported nohoanga (campsites) and kainga (villages) which were the seasonal destinations of Otago and Murihiku (Southland) whanau and hapu for many generations. The lake was a significant mahinga kai (food and resource gathering site) and provided a route to access the treasured Inaka and Koko-takiwai pounamu resources located beyond the head of the lake in the Dart and Routeburn River catchments. Pounamu was transported back to coastal settlements for fashioning into tools, ornaments and weapons. Waka and mokihi (raupo reed rafts) were the key modes of transport for the pounamu trade, travelling the length and breadth of Whakatipu-wai-maori. Thus there were numerous tauranga waka (landing places) on the lake and the islands upon it (Matau and Wawahi-waka).
Permanent settlements in the area included the kainga, Tahuna near present-day Queenstown and Te Kirikiri Pa, where the Queenstown gardens are located today. Strategic marriage alliances between hapu ensured rights to the use of the lake’s resources through whakapapa (genealogy). The lake continues to be important to Ngai Tahu Papatipu Runanga in Murihiku, Otago and beyond. The significance of Whakatipu-wai-maori to tangata whenua is acknowledged by a Statutory Acknowledgment under the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. Although iwi knew of Central Otago’s gold, they had no use for it. Their taonga was pounamu (greenstone).
By the 1850s, the area of land later known as Mount Aurum Station formed part of an 100,000 acre lease taken up by William Gilbert Rees for farming. Yet when two Europeans named Thomas Arthur and Harry Redfern discovered gold on the Shotover in November 1862, Rees’ pastoral run was cancelled. In less than two months after their original discovery, Arthur and Redfern had won £4,000 of gold and the rush to the ‘fabulous Shotover’ had begun. A thousand miners had flooded the Shotover within a month. Internationally, the Shotover became known as the second richest goldfield after the Yukon and Shotover was called the ‘Richest River in the World.
During the rushes, a community grew up at Skippers Point – hotels and stores and other services were developed on the high terraces from Skippers Point to Burkes Terrace. The Skippers township serviced the surrounding area with its isolated pockets of mining on nearby terraces (such as Pleasant Terrace) with their scattering of residences and further into the mountains with Bullendale and other mining operations.
Yet the rush was short. As the gold returns declined, the settlement at Skippers shrank to a cluster of families who chose to settle more permanently, eking out an existence mining and working on the pastoral properties of the area. Land around Skippers was let under a system of depasturing licences or agricultural leases recorded by the Queenstown Warden’s Court, which maintained the rights of access for gold mining. The area around Skippers was reserved as commonage or as a town site although the town does not appear to have been officially surveyed. The hot summers, cold winters and mountainous country made life difficult for pastoralists and residents alike. Rabbits plagued the hills, the land flooded and slid. Access to the outside world was difficult and often hazardous, even after the construction of Skippers Road (Register no. 7684, Category 1). Such isolation meant that everything had to be packed in, including building materials; nothing was wasted, everything was reused or adapted.
Run 13 – Mount Aurum
By the mid-1870s larger blocks in the area were being granted under lease. Run 13, which included 14,000 acres (5665 hectares) to the north and west of Skippers Point is first recorded as being first taken up around 1874. Popularly it is written that Run 13 was taken in 1867 and that the first lessee, Julien Bordeau (1829-1916), held the run between 1867 and 1874. However, the early history of the run is difficult to trace – between 1865 and 1869 there is no application from Bordeau in the Queenstown Warden’s Court. Bordeau did apply for a 193 acre agricultural lease in January 1873, but that was in a different block. The earliest record for Run 13 therefore seems to be Bordeau’s ‘licence to occupy Crown lands for pastoral purposes’, for the 14,000 acre run and a neighbouring one in 1874.
Bordeau was a well-known and colourful figure in Skippers and Queenstown. Montreal born, he came to New Zealand and to the Wakatipu district in 1863. He bought the Skippers Point Hotel, started a butchers, bakery and general storekeeper’s business as well as packing stores over the rough track between Queenstown and Skippers. His store was to the east of where Mount Aurum Homestead would later be. In his later years he shifted to Arthurs Point (where he had a store (Bordeau’s Store (Register no. 2238)) before finally settling at Burkes Terrace near Skippers. He carried the mail between Queenstown and Skippers for twenty five years.
Bordeau’s run, which became known as Mount Aurum Station, was a difficult property to manage – it had little land for wintering stock and access was difficult. Over the next 100 years, it had 16 lessees which averages out at around three years tenure per lessee. On four occasions the lessee would walk off the run. The 1880s saw a particularly rapid turnover of tenants. The Runs Register records David McKinlay as tenant for Run 13 in 1880. Shepherds Thomas Davidson and Thomas Hope took up the lease in 1884. Davidson and Hope surrendered their lease early in 1886. Skippers storekeeper Henry Augustus Evans took up a fourteen year term but transferred it to Frederick Evans (mine manager at Bullendale) in 1888. In 1890 shepherd Finlay McMillan took up the lease and held it for nine years.
Andrew Lambie leased the run in 1899, adding the neighbouring runs 15 and 16. With his brother Bob and family he managed 32,000 acres. Tragically, in October 1912 Andrew’s wife Mary died, her infant son following her to the grave three months later. Andrew Lambie and the children remained on the run until 1917. Andrew Lambie died in 1923 aged 66.
RM Paterson owned the run from 1917 until his death, around 1941. Paterson owned two other stations – West Dome in Southland and Ayrburn near Arrowtown. Archie Macnicol and his family took over the run after Paterson.
Where did the runholders live?
The runholders did not necessarily live on the run. In 1880 the Runs Register records runholder David McKinlay as a Skippers sheep farmer, but he was already living there – he had a seven acre agricultural lease at Skippers granted in 1878. Local expert and historian, the late Peter Chandler, writes that McKinlay’s house may have been shifted to become part of Mount Aurum Homestead.
Thomas Davidson may not have lived on the run, as he had a residence at Arthurs Point. He had other pastoral interests, having (with Hope) leases over Runs 11, 12, 13, and 15 – 59,910 acres, and Goldfields Run 27 in 1884.
An 1888 survey plan shows that the site next to Skippers School (now identified as Mount Aurum homestead) as a ‘residence area’ for a Mr Richards. The survey plan has three structures within the one acre site. Thomas Francis Richards is recorded as a packer and labourer at Skippers 1884-1890. The New Zealand Archaeological Association Site Record Form indicates that the homestead was most likely built by Richards circa 1884, and that runholder Andrew Lambie and family lived in there once they took over the run. It is also possible that the house was already there, and that Richards took it over.
According to conservation architect Jackie Gillies, the first part of the house was built by Julien Bordeau, with internal features dating it to the 1860s-1870s. Whenever it was built, the nearest source of building timber was from sawmills at the head of Lake Wakatipu, and it would have to have been packed in.
Another possibility, put forward by Peter Chandler, is that the house is made up of what were originally three separate structures. The central portion was originally a single-roomed cell with verandas back and front. To this may have been added a later addition to the north and another addition to the south. According to Gillies, the central portion is the oldest, and reflects the common pattern of a single room used for all purposes. The northern portion (1890s), Gillies argues, was added later, and the southern section last (1912-1917). Chandler wrote that the original portion of the homestead was the centre and northern elements, and that these may have been ‘McKinley’s’ [McKinlay more likely as noted above]. Chandler identifies the three southern rooms as ‘McMillan’s’. Both these names are associated with Run 13. It is possible their dwellings were shifted to form a single homestead.
According to a descendant of the Lambie family, the southern addition to the house was made between 1912 and 1917 to accommodate a housekeeper, following Mary’s death. Such a recycling of buildings and movement of structures was typical of an isolated area where nothing went to waste, but rather was salvaged and reused, an important element in back country life.
The Upper Shotover School
Where there were families, there was a need for a school. Upper Shotover School (known more commonly as Skippers School) was opened in 1879 near the Mt Aurum homestead. The school was a substantial stacked stone building, housing the teacher and the school, built rather optimistically for an anticipated roll of 120 pupils. Only 24 pupils were on the opening roll. A telegraph office was built in a small room on the north west corner. In its heyday, the school had 27 pupils on its roll. However, getting (and keeping) teachers in this isolated area was a problem, with 24 teachers coming and going in the years the school was open. It was, however, an important institution in the small Skippers community that remained after the gold rushes has ceased – and it also provided a connection with the outside world through the telegraph office that was part of the building. There was an addition to the building in 1884, thought to be the two small bedrooms off the living area – having a residence provided meant teachers were more likely to accept a teaching position.
By 1927 only 6 pupils attended and the school was closed. Runholder Paterson took over the former school as a farm building to use free of charge. The Macnicol’s converted it into a woolshed in 1941. The buildings of the station, then, included not only sheds, but also the old school which was used as a woolshed until 1982.
Life at Mount Aurum – The Macnicol’s Story
One family’s life at Mount Aurum has given the place a special resonance for the New Zealand public. Terri Macnicol (a pseudonym – her maiden name was Mona Bobsien), wife of leaseholder Archie Macnicol, wrote two popular books describing the family’s life at Mount Aurum in the 1940s and 1950s. Although Terri was new to Skippers, the Macnicol family had a longer association. Archie’s grandfather, Alfred Smith, had followed the lure of gold to Skippers in the 1860s and brought his family up at Skippers Point. Archie’s father Colin had moved to the area probably around 1902.
Runholder Paterson employed Duncan Macnicol, Archie’s brother as a manager on the run. Later when Duncan moved to West Dome station, Archie followed and learnt to muster and shear, eventually becoming head shepherd at Mt Linton station. When Mt Aurum Station was rumoured to be for sale Archie Macnicol returned to the Wakatipu. He finally took up the lease to Mt Aurum in 1940. He and his wife and their family of four children lived on the run until 1957.
Mona Bobsien married Archie and came to live at Mt Aurum Homestead. Under a pseudonym she recalls her life there in Echoes of Skippers Canyon and Beyond the Skippers Road which bring to life her family’s isolated existence. They were the only permanent residents of Skippers and completely cut off in the winter – ‘[t]he homestead dwarfed by the rugged grandeur of the surrounding country appeared like a miniature doll’s house placed in the chipped, dented, rusty bottom of a white enamel bowl.’ As a new bride she describes the house: ‘It was very old although sound, built partly of timber and partly of corrugated iron, and had evidently been one long room at first, later divided into two. More rooms had been added as required or, perhaps, as material became available. There were seven small rooms and seven outside doors. To go to any bedroom from the kitchen or living room one had to go outside, which would be pleasant in summer but at this time of year [August] would be an endurance test.’
The water supply came from a spring high up behind the house and piped to a barrel near the back door and heated in a copper. It was another four years until hot and cold water was piped to the bathroom. She describes vividly the life of her family, ranging the isolated hills, the tenacity and the joy of making do. As the family grew, they moved off the run, but her books have left in place the sense of Mount Aurum Station as it was.
Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve
Run 13 was sold to KJ Sargison and in 1977 it was acquired by the then Lands and Survey Department. With no adequate winter country and a restricted stock carrying capacity, the run had no economic potential. Mount Aurum did, however, have a long history of public use for recreation, and these values were recognised in 1982 when the station was designated as a recreation reserve.
The Department of Conservation restored (largely rebuilt) both the former school (returning it to the form it had as a school) and the homestead in the mid-1990s, with community funding support for the building work and interpretation. For the homestead, like materials were used where possible, including demolition red beech, rimu, and roofing iron. Lakes District Museum director David Clarke said at the time that the building was ‘a lasting tribute to the pastoral history of the district.’ Work was completed by volunteers and Department of Conservation staff. The building was restored to the 1920s period (after the Lambie addition) – which involved replacement of some features, such as the casement windows on the front elevation.
The school was restored and reconstructed as well, using historic photographs to guide the construction. The project received funding from the New Zealand Tourism and Publicity Department’s community grants scheme. Collapsed walls were reinstated and the interior was returned to its original layout. A picket fence was erected around the original boundary of the school site. Hundreds of people gathered for its opening as a public interpretation centre in November 1992, including the oldest surviving ex-students including Duncan Macnicol, and Grace and Francis Cotter. It was reopened by the Minister of Conservation, reflecting the importance placed on recognising one of Skipper’s most significant buildings.
In 2013 Mount Aurum Homestead and the former Upper Shotover School (Skippers School) remain a focal point for commemorating the history of Skippers Point remembering the lives of pastoralists and gold miners in this isolated and spectacular setting.
The buildings associated with Mount Aurum Station (the homestead, outbuildings and the former woolshed (Upper Shotover School) sit in a commanding position on Burkes Terrace at Skippers. When they were built this was a treeless landscape. Wilding pines have colonised the surrounding land and now these buildings are surrounded by tall trees. Behind the mountains tower and in front, the Shotover River runs below Burkes Terrace through its steep gorge. The area is spectacular, as Department of Conservation notes, the location is among ‘the most scenically stunning spot in the country.’
These buildings are the most significant structures surviving in the Skippers area. The other remnants of the township include the nearby Skippers Cemetery and the ruins of the Otago Hotel, as well as many archaeological remains indicating mining or residence areas. Further away, on Pleasant Terrace, is Sainsbury’s House. Although both the school and the homestead substantially been reconstructed they represent the people and the history of the area, as reflected in their continued survival.
The homestead represents the history of miners and pastoralists in the Skippers area, while the school represents not only pastoralism but the memorial to teachers and children who attended for the 48 years the school was open. These adjacent buildings are the focal point for visitors to Skippers, the old school providing an interpretation centre and the homestead providing insight into the way of life for residents of this isolated area. Along with other ruins, mining remains, and the nearby cemetery, these structures make up part of the extensive historic landscape of Skippers. There are many recorded archaeological sites nearby which relate to the gold mining era of Skippers.
Mount Aurum Homestead – Exterior
Mount Aurum Homestead is a single storey timber-framed building made up of three separate elements. The central portion was originally a single-roomed cell with verandas back and front, the alter addition to the north and another to the south. The central cell has rusticated weatherboards, a pair of vertical sliding sash windows, a glazed panelled entrance door and a low pitched roof in painted galvanised corrugated iron, with verandas front and rear.
Evidence of relocation includes the double thickness of a wall at the kitchen door, sarking between the living room and bedroom, ceiling height differences.
The building was altered over a long period – doors were closed off or replaced, weatherboards renewed, windows replaced with 1930s style casements. Internal rooms were repartitioned and partitions removed. By the time the restoration was considered the homestead was in a dilapidated state. In order for the building to survive the restoration saw further replacement of existing fabric, including windows, weatherboards and roofing iron.
The rear verandah had been modified with modern rafters, building paper and chicken wire added as well as a concrete floor. The front verandah was also repaired using new rafters and a concrete floor. The restoration saw this rebuilt once again.
The southern addition has a matching roof pitch while the northern addition as a steeper pitch of 45 degrees. The rear gable was clad in corrugated iron for much of its life. It is not known if this was original or a repair. A kitchen and bathroom were incorporated into the southern addition in the 1940s, dividing one room into two. The fireplace in the living room went through a number of changes. At the time of the restoration it was clad in painted concrete bricks with a chimney and flue in three parts (base, corrugated iron and cast iron pipe flue).
The washhouse and shed stand nearby. The outhouses have a low mono-pitch corrugated iron roof, with bevel-back weatherboard and corrugated iron cladding. The shed is a small single gable, single room timber structure.
The chimney to the north elevation comprises a concrete base and firebox with corrugated iron centre portion and an old cast iron water pipe flue. There is a modern concrete block fire surround internally.
An old Champion range sits at one end of the central room. It does not appear to be original, but the internal lining of galvanised sheet and the iron chimney still in situ probably are. There is a painted mantelpiece which may also be original.
Water was brought in from a spring up the mountain via a buried water pipe, but today there is collection of rain water from the roof to a tank on the veranda.
Power was connected from a hydro dynamo from at least 1912. At the time the conservation plan was written, there was no active power supply to the house.
In 2013 onsite interpretation provides a history of the run and the people associated with it.
Upper Shotover School (commonly known as Skippers School (Former), also the former Mount Aurum Station Woolshed)
Skippers School is located 50 metres to the north east of Mount Aurum Homestead. Like the house the old school sits in a clearing on Burkes Terrace, originally part of the scattering of buildings that made Skippers township which stretched from Skippers Point to Burkes Terrace. The building is in a prominent position and can be seen from a distance. It is a focal point for visitors to this isolated place.
The building is T-shaped in plan. It is constructed of stacked stone with a corrugated iron roof. It is surrounded by a picket fence which marks the original boundary of the school grounds. The building was reconstructed in 1992 using much new material. The reconstruction shows the value the community placed on the history and physical form of the structure, and its importance to the Skippers area.
The school is built of schist stone, with timber joinery, including multi-pane sash windows. The floors are timber. The building has an entrance porch, school room, hall, three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and telegraph office.
The school is the most substantial structure left in the Skippers area. The school originally comprised of a school house and school master’s residence combined. It also had a telegraph room at one end. It was substantially rebuilt during its restoration in 1992 when it was taken back to its form as a school. The school is the only early school in an isolated part of the Wakatipu district which remains to tell the story of education during this period. Its prominent site and location next to Mount Aurum Homestead give it added significance. The building houses an interpretation centre which provides information into the lives of Skippers residents and of the children of Upper Shotover School.
Original construction of homestead
Additional building added to site
Addition to the School (thought to be the two small bedrooms off the living area)
1912 - 1917
Southern addition to homestead
1992 - 1993
School reconstructed and homestead restored
Demolished - Fire
2018 - 2018
The Mt Aurum Station destroyed by a suspicious fire on 1 Jan 2018.
Homestead: Timber (red beech, rimu), corrugated iron, glass. Schoolhouse: stone (schist), corrugated iron, timber joinery.
Public NZAA Number
16th September 2013
Report Written By
De La Mare, 1993
A.J. De La Mare, The Shotover River - 'The Richest River in the World': A History of Gold Mining on the Shotover River, Lakes District Museum, Arrowtown, 1993
T. Macnicol, Beyond the Skippers Road, Reed, Wellington 1965
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
18 Oct 1866, p.4.; 5 Dec 1878, p.3.; 11 Oct 1915, p.4
3 Jun 1876, p.17
2 June 1988, 29 Apr 1992, p.18.; .1 Feb 1995, 18 Feb 1995. [copies held NZHPT file 12013-1355)
16 Sep 1916, p.12.
Jill Hamel, The Archaeology of Otago, Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2001
21, 1978, p.13.
Jackie Gillies, ‘Mount Aurum Homestead, Mount Aurum Recreation Reserve, Skippers, Queenstown, Conservation Plan 1993’ prepared for the Department of Conservation, 20 Dec 1993.
Duncan Macnicol and Margaret Trotter, I, Duncan from Skippers, Invercargill, 1987
A fully referenced copy of the registration report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of the NZHPT.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.