The Lost Ruby Mine
Self-published by Brian Jackson

Brian says he wrote this in a few weeks, and it shows. It's very much a hand-made book. And maybe that's exactly as it should be.

Otago's Lost Ruby Mine story deserves to be one of our great camp-fire yarns. It's got everything: Great fortunes found and then lost (and maybe found again), high drama, capital crime, the world's most dramatic scenery, remote, inaccessible valleys full of history, rich with colourful characters, very much a part of our culture.

This is a story best told as the ripping good yarn that it is. A mixture of myth and reality, adventure and imagination, hard geology and fanciful prospector's ambitions, the Lost Ruby Mine story doesn't need high scholarship and endless analysis.

It's a story that also needs to be written the way it has always been told. In the language of the high country and bush, with the smell and feel that can only be supplied by someone who has been there. Brian Jackson's telling is immediate and compelling. It's all over the place, but good yarns often are. Take it for what it is, and you'll enjoy this book enormously.

So what do we know about the Lost Ruby Mine, and what does Brian's book add?

Are there rubies in South Westland? Probably not. But I've seen and collected gem-quality pink garnets from the Little Red Hills, and those are almost certainly the 'rubies' of past discoveries.

Was there ever a mine? If the Walter Murray narrative is credible, there was rudimentary surface mining carried out in the 1890s. All trace will have long since disappeared.

Where was the mine? Almost certainly in the Little Red Hills, north of the Upper Barrier Flat and West of Lake Alabaster in South Westland. Or just maybe, in exactly comparable geology on the south side of the Simonin Pass, along the eastern margin of the 'big' Red Hills.

What's the significance of the Walter Murray story, published in the Otago Witness in February 1987 and reproduced in Brian's book? It's clearly written by someone who visited the Red Hills area - the descriptions are too accurate for it to be a complete work of fiction.

But if the parts of the Walter Murray story that we can verify ring true, does that mean it's all true? If the geology and the geography are right, does that mean that the mineralogy is also right, and did they really find, mine and sell large quantities of rubies? Or were they the much less valuable garnets known to exist in the area? Or is the narrative a boy's own mixture of truth and fiction?

Until someone finds genuine rubies in South Western New Zealand, the answer to that last question will remain a mystery.

Like all good yarns, enough of the Lost Ruby Mine story is true for the rest to be possible. Good on Brian Jackson for keeping this important story alive.

Malcolm Macpherson Monday, December 24, 2001

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