Wednesday 5 August 2015

Drybread & Tinkers

That got your attention. I bet you wondered what on earth Drybread & Tinkers were and what they had to do with a blog post. Drybread and Tinkers are the names of two tiny settlements in the foothills of the Dunstan Mountains. We took a small detour to check them out on our way to drive the Thomson Gorge track over the mountain range. I was going to just add a couple of photos to the beginning of the Thomson Gorge blog but when I looked at all the photos I couldn’t choose, so now they have their own post.

Legend goes that the name Drybread came after a wary prospector, when asked how he was doing, replied “Dry bread, seldom better” (sounds a bit far fetched to me). I found another explanation which sounds more feasible -
Locals tell of gold prospector Charles Wise, who was active along the foot of the Dunstan Ranges during 1863-64. His party had a nanny goat, whose milk was used to soften their hard, stale bread supplies. When the men found alluvial gold at the diggings, there was obviously cause for celebration. However, the goat had gone dry and the best they could rustle up was a feast of dry bread. So Drybread it became – and Drybread it remains today.
Few buildings remain and those that have survived are now used as farm buildings including the Drybread School which is now part of a woolshed complex. I wonder at the stories these old buildings could tell.

Not too far down the road is the Drybread Cemetery, we wait for a small herd of cattle to pass us by, and then turn into a farm drive and open the gate, another property we feel like we’re trespassing on as we drive past an abandoned farm cottage and through a flock of sheep who insist on running ahead of us no matter what speed we do, to try and get them to veer off to the side.

I have decided that sheep have certainly earnt the saying ‘just like sheep’. I really do think there’s not that much grey matter between their ears. I did laugh this morning though, when we were towing the 5th-wheeler past a huge bare paddock full of merino sheep and they started running towards us and along the fence, not away from the fence line like usual when we ‘thunder’ past. They thought we had the silage trailer on the back, the poor things!

Anyway, I digress. There was another gate at the end of the track and there across the paddock on top of a rise overlooking the Manuherikia Valley with the Dunstan Mountains as a backdrop was the cemetery.

A cemetery that is still in use with two new concrete strips down one end for the placement of headstones. Many of the old plots had new memorial stones, their original ones having been lost, broken or in fact never having had one. Many of the historic cemeteries we’ve been visiting have been re-plotted and re-stoned, obviously descendants and historians are making sure New Zealand’s pioneer past is not lost forever.

Out next stop is Tinkers, well in fact Tinkers was the old name for this settlement, it is now called Matakanui. It is thought that Tinkers got it’s name from the tinsmiths (known as tinkers- remember the childhood rhyme ‘tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…’ Apparently the tinkers abandoned their trade of repairing pots and pans and instead, used them for washing gold. Another explanation, and I like this one the best, is that when miners were asked how they were doing, they responded ‘Just tinkering about’. Just like our friends the whitebaiters, ‘just enough for a meal’.

Matakanui really is an isolated settlement, hidden from the rest of the world at the end of a short winding hill road, tucked in under the mountains behind. There are a number of mud brick buildings in various states of disrepair on the small loop road including the old Matakanui General Store that originally began life as a goldfields dancehall.

Across the road from the store and looking like a giant gun pointing directly at visitors as they drive up the road is a water sluicer from the nearby Deep Lead mine (now flooded) whose 80m shaft was sunk in the late 1890s.

The former Newton Tavern was rebuilt using the old stone walls of the original hotel.

Once again, most of the remaining old mudbrick buildings are being used as farm buildings and many seem to be only hanging on by a thread. There looks to be just a couple of households living here now and there’s not a chance that you can slip in and out of the settlement without being noticed, the place is at first deadly quiet. It wouldn’t have surprised me if a few tumbleweeds had come rolling down the street to meet us. Instead the silence is broken when a row of farm dogs at the back of the mudbrick stables sets up cacophony of barking and chain rattling and refuse to stop until we drive off.

Just down the road is another original building, Tinkers School with it’s rooftop bell tower a rare sight. Similar to the Drybread Hotel building, it looks like the school has been used as a woolshed at some stage, it has rectangle holes cut into the walls down low.

In the paddock in front of the school building is an antiquated looking contraption. I wonder how many know what this could be. It is in fact an old chaff cutter. It’s a pity it’s not sitting under cover at an early settlers museum or something similar.

Like the buildings it’ll soon fall apart and disappear, another slice of history gone forever.


  1. Great to see my grandparents old property again, brings back great memories, what a great area, alot of soul

    1. Pleased you enjoyed the blog & that the photos brought back happy memories.

  2. My Father Les Huddleston and his brother Chris Huddleston went to the Matakanui School on slege kas it was dragged to where the children numbers were.
    My Family prospers under the Dustan and Faming history would take days to write but only we could see it played on a screen / hardship and laughter is would consist richly.


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