Bright Fine Gold
DESCRIPTION: "Spend it in the winter or die in the cold, One a pecker, Tuapecka, bright fine gold." "Some are sons of fortune, And my man came to see" but found no gold. "I'm weary of Otago... Let my man strike it rich, And then we'll go. Bright fine gold...."
EARLIEST DATE: 1957 (Ruth Park, "One a Pecker, Two a Pecker"; see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: gold mining hardtimes travel New Zealand
1861 - the Tuapecka Gold Rush
FOUND IN: New Zealand
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Bailey/Roth-ShantiesByTheWay-NZ, p. 55, "(Bright Fine Gold)" (1 excerpt)
Colquhoun-NZ-Folksongs-SongOfAYoungCountry, p. 49, "Bright Fine Gold" (1 text, 1 "reconstructed" tune) (p. 29 in the 1972 edition)
Cleveland-NZ-GreatNewZealandSongbook, p. 101, "Bright Fine Gold" (1 text, 1 tune)
Garland-FacesInTheFirelight-NZ, pp. 36, 69-70, "(Bright Fine Gold)" (1 text and various loose verses)
ST BaRo055A (Partial)
NOTES [417 words]: Usually regarded as a New Zealand folk song, it appears that this is an example of the extremely complex interaction between oral tradition and print. Ruth Park in the 1950s was called upon to write a book about the New Zealand gold fields. This was "One-a-pecker, Two-a-pecker," with the title based on a traditional fragment, usually regarded as the chorus to this piece. Park and her husband wrote a couple of verses and published the book. Her text is on p. 68 of Garland; I've never encountered a case of her words being sung. But after she published, other verses started to show up. Better verses, I would add. It's these that are usually considered to be "the" song "Bright Fine Gold." But the extent to which they are based upon Park is not clear. It is likely that there was a song in existence before she wrote, and there is certainly one in existence now, but I don't think we can prove continuity of existence.
The tune is often said to be "Hot Cross Buns." The "Bright fine gold" line does use that tune (although usually sung so slowly that it's hard to recognize it), but the way I've heard the rest of the song is somewhat different.
According to Gordon McLauchlan, editor-in-chief, New Zealand Encyclopedia, David Bateman Limited, 1984, pp. 224-225, New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century had almost a permanent floating gold rush. I'll summarize the dates given:
1852: Coromandel gold rush. Very little gold actually found
1856-1857: Rush near Collingwood and Nelson
1861: Gabriel Read finds gold near Tuapeka in Otago, resulting in "the first gold rush worthy of the name," bringing in about 17,000 miners and hangers-on (more than doubling Otago Province's population); the rush lasted until late 1863.
1864: Rush on the Wakamarina near Havelock in Marlborough. Little gold found.
1865-1867: Multiple rushes on the west coast, some of which brought in miners from Australia. The town of Charleston, mentioned e.g. in "The Stable Lad," existed mostly because of these mines.
1867: Miners reach the Thames region, where there is some gold but in different sorts of rocks which required more capital to exploit. This eventually happened, but the problems of mining it caused the string of gold rushes to end.
The Tuapeka rush is, of course, the subject of the song. Otago is the southernmost of all New Zealand's provinces; the climate is "rigorous" (McLauchlan, p. 403). Even the Maori never made much use of the land. Little wonder, then, that the song talks about the cold. - RBW
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