Author(s): Brian Wood
"Coal Gorge" and the southern Paparoa area of the Grey District, West Coast is a unique place on account of its heritage and environment. Human contact by Tangata Whenua had minimal impact but with European settlement the place was radically transformed. Nineteenth century European settlers believed that with progress including industrialisation New Zealand could become "the Britain of the South". Coal Gorge became a major coalmining centre with coke and fireclay manufacturing industries. The immigrant miners and their families formed the distinctive Brunnerton community. Monopoly capitalism and mining activity did not greatly benefit the place or its people. Conflict, tragedy and degradation of the environment are part of the legacy. In the areas of industrial relations and accident compensation their struggle has impacted on national legislation. The recently renewed Brunner suspension bridge has associations with major events such as the Mari-time Strike 1890 and the Brunner Mine Disaster 1896. Its long history of industrial and community use also illustrates changes in transport technology. Its construction, the issue of tolls and several renewals have been occasions of community activism and cohesion. In the post industrial phase the heritage of the place is being revisited and the Gorge environment enhanced. Similar developments are taking place on other West Coast sites. A heritage strategy is being devised to co-ordinate and facilitate this.
Brian Wood has a continuing interest in West Coast and New Zealand history and has contributed chapters on the West Coast to New Zealand Historic Places Trust publications, notably "Historic Buildings of New Zealand: South Island". (1983) and "The Past Today. Historic Places in New Zealand" (1987). He is the author of "Disaster at Brunner. The Coalmine Tragedy at Brunnerton N Z. 26 March 1896". (1996) Revised and enlarged