Joss House set for public unveiling

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Lawrence’s Chinese Camp will come alive next weekend with the unveiling of the area’s newly acquired Joss House.

The event would be a public celebration of the restoration of the Chinese camp and allow the community to find out more about the historic location, Lawrence Chinese Camp Charitable Trust chairman Dr Jim Ng said.

The original Joss House, which included a meeting area and was named after the “joss” incense Chinese miners burned there, was built in 1869 in the Chinese gold-miners’ camp on the outskirts of Lawrence, and rebuilt after it was damaged by fire in 1898.

The building was moved to Maryport St, in Lawrence, in the 1940s, and bought by the trust and the Clutha District Council several years ago with a view to returning it to the 5ha Chinese camp.

Dr Ng said it was “wonderful” to finally see the building back at the camp site and exciting to open it up to the community.

The open day would feature speeches from dignitaries – including New Zealand’s Chinese Consul – and a Chinese lion dance and firecrackers. Two pigs would also be roasted to provide a small public “feast” on the day.

Some “final touches” would be made to the Joss House to prepare it for its public unveiling and new information panels written in both English and modern Chinese were being installed inside the building and at other locations around the Chinese Camp, Dr Ng said.

The camp was formed during the Otago gold rush after local Chinese were given a block of land to live on, as they had been prohibited from living in Lawrence, and the land became a well-known Chinese settlement and small township with dozens of buildings.

Most of the site is now bare land, but the camp’s red brick Chinese Empire Hotel, which was built in 1884, still stands, along with a stable.

Trustees were now planning to restore both the hotel and stable buildings and also hoped to recreate some of the miner’s huts at the camp, Dr Ng said.

A book on the camp and its archaeological diggings by Dr Ng was also nearing completion and would be published within the next year, he said.

The public unveiling of the Joss House will be held at 1.30pm on February 11 at the Lawrence Chinese Camp.