Arrowtown has seen a lot of change in the last 150 or so years. It started with a bang as a gold rush settlement of thousands, but when the gold ran out, businesses closed and all but a few residents moved on to the next rush or the next adventure. By the end of World War II, it was said that the only thing moving in the main street during the day were the shadows.
Arrowtown was in danger of becoming another ghost town. But then came the cribbies.
The first cribs – that’s what we call holiday homes round here – were built just after World War II. The owners were Southland and Otago families searching for an escape, a slice of paradise where they could relax away from the stress of daily life.
Building regulations were loose and if you were handy you could build your crib yourself – some even built their cribs at home in the back yard and transported them to Arrowtown. Others employed builders, or bought army huts or old cottages and trucked them in.
Joan McSkimmin’s family took the last option: “We purchased a cottage in Timaru and transported it over the Lindis Pass. It was shingle roads with great pot holes. We had to take the roof off. When the house eventually got to Arrowtown, talk about a kit set!”
It was back to basics at the crib. Beds made of leftover timber. Old couches brought from home. Long drops and septic tanks. You bathed in the river and spent most of your time outside. But the primitive nature of life was part of the charm.
Arrowtown’s cribs were generally used only in summer (though some families would come up in winter too, for skiing and ice skating).
Young cribbies had much more freedom than most modern children do. The only rules were about how far they could wander from the crib and to be home by mealtime. The town, the lake, the river and the hills were their playground. The kids didn’t usually realise it, but in this small safe community parents always had a fair idea of who they were playing with and where they were.
As Cicely Morrison put it: “The children disappeared for the day. They tell me now of the horrific things they did. How they walked along the pipeline, how they went into the baths at night and had a swim, just for the devilment! They had a wonderful time.”
Adults also had a chance to recharge their batteries. Once lawns were mown (or scythed), crib maintenance done and meals organised, grown-ups took every opportunity to relax and soak in the hot Central Otago sun.
Cribbie Deanne Andrews said: “Mum would bring a big sack of books, and she would read them…she just sat under the trees and read. Dad was a keen golf player so he would have played golf every morning, out early to avoid the heat.“
Meals for the cribbies were much less formal than they were at home. Picnics and barbecues were the order of the day. According to Anne Gormack it was: “Picnics, endless picnics. Lake Hayes, the river, Whitechapel and then we’d start again. Sandwiches, Christmas cake and Christmas mince pies. A box of biscuits, a plain and a fancy, that’s what we were allowed. Every fine day was picnics.”
For many a cribbie, coming to Arrowtown for the Christmas holidays was the highlight of the year. Little wonder, then, that so many of them chose to move to Arrowtown permanently when they retired!
Many thanks to Jane Peasey from the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown for helping to compile this blog post using material from the museum’s oral history archive. The museum is currently under threat as it must raise millions of dollars for strengthening work to stay open. If you’d like to contribute, you can do so at this fundraising page.
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