Over the years, family myths and legends sometimes imbue treasures with a provenance that may have no basis in reality and be unable to withstand any meaningful scrutiny. Recent examples of some families’ overly embellished treasures came to light with the ballot for places at next year’s 100th anniversary of ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, with some discovering that now deceased family war veterans weren’t part of that campaign, despite family stories to the contrary.
My mislabelled family taonga is a fob-watch chain, presented to me many years ago by mother after cleaning out my Grandpa’s house following his death.
The story that accompanied this object was that it was made from a single gold nugget, panned by my great grandfather on the South Island’s West Coast. The associated hand crafting was used to explain this chain’s dull, dark, un-gold like hue.
This chain sat in my top draw for many years in a plastic zipper bag that my Mum had written its story on with a black marker pen. One day my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to take it to a jeweller for a professional opinion. The jeweller told me that it was made from finest brass and that any gold that may have once covered it was long since gone.
So it turns out that great grandfather Sangster has been misrepresented. He was actually a brass miner. With his loyal mining mates Yung Bok Choi, Lockjaw Jones and other luminaries, he journeyed to Hokitika for the riches on offer during the Great Brass Rush of ‘88. The nugget of purest brass that they unearthed behind the Kokatahi Pub was split into three equal pieces. Great grandfather made his into a fob-watch chain, Yung Bok Choi made a Chinese-inspired candle holder, and Lockjaw Jones forged his into a brass band.
I think that that will be the story I attach to the chain when my time comes to pass it on to a future generation. If I stretch it out a bit, there may even be a Booker Prize-winning novel in there too.