Friday, 11 August 2017

Grahamstown Gazette: Thames gold field anniversary edition

‘A Momentous Year:’ Thames’ Golden Jubilee, Part 2

The story so far: in 1917, plans to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Thames gold fields had taken off with a hiss and a roar. Despite facing  the ‘flood of the century’ and the everyday struggles of living in a nation at war, Thames’ jubilee had the potential to be the biggest event of its kind in New Zealand’s short colonial history; public holidays, carnivals, regattas, and international tug-of-war competitions were all on the cards. But mere weeks before August 1st, the official kick-off date, something wasn’t quite right on Thames’ streets. The biggest event being planned seemed to be the Thames Old Boys’ Association’s reunion up in Auckland; nervous Thames Star correspondents wondered if Thames itself would manage to do anything at all to celebrate its own jubilee.

With the originally-planned carnivals and races safely postponed to sunny (and, so it was hoped, post-war) February 1918, the Jubilee Committee’s main aim was to get something suitably grand in place to mark August 1st. The big day, they decided, would start with a parade.

Lining up promptly outside the Shortland Hotel (the site of Fresho fruit and vegetable shop today) the town’s residents, and the hundreds who had travelled to Thames for the occasion, proceeded down Pollen St to the King’s Theatre (the modern Embassy Cinema). A civic reception hosted by Thames’ mayor inside the theatre marked the formal launch of the jubilee, and was followed by a luncheon for special guests and early settlers. The luncheon was held across the road in St. James’ Hall, a room draped in white and yellow and decorated with travelling cages to represent the aerial tramways which had once transported ore to the batteries. Giant fake gold nuggets adorned the stage.

Meanwhile, at the Queen’s Theatre in central Pollen St, students from Thames High, North, Central, South and the Convent Schools were entertained with a ‘specially selected series of pictures’ to mark the occasion. The day was rounded off with a concert back at the King’s Theatre, featuring both local talent and old favourites from Thames’ pioneering past.

The jubilee was a time not just for celebration, but for reflection on both the past and the future of Thames. ‘Now though the glories of the [gold] field are suffering a temporary eclipse,’ reported the Thames Star, ‘there is a substantial town firmly established, containing over 5000 inhabitants, and blessed with all the advantages of civilisation… The spirit of enterprise manifested by the early settlers still influences those who have followed them.’ The Star was confident the town had what it would take to blossom over the coming decades. ‘[We] will in the next half century convert this town into a large and enterprising city, with industries giving employment to thousands.’

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