Writer lifts the lid on Waikaia's past

23:17, Dec 19 2012
Balfour genealogist Janine Donaldson, left, and Waikaia book committee chairwoman Wendy Williamson proudly display a new book on the quirky characters of Waikaia's past.

Murder, abduction and drug-addicted doctors - it sounds like the plot of a racy new television series.

There's no need to go to all the way to Hollywood however. It's all right here in the history of the Waikaia district.

The sleepy former gold-mining settlement has a not-so-quiet past, as revealed in Balfour genealogist Janine Donaldson's new book, Seeking Gold and Second Chances.

Approached by the Waikaia book committee to research and write a detailed history of the district to coincide with the 150th celebrations, Donaldson undertook the task of researching, collating and deciphering hoards of historic documents.

What she found was rather unexpected.

"[When they approached me] I suggested we look to just the people, a biography of the key figures in Waikaia history.


"[But] when you look at some of the characters, it almost was the wild west of Southland.

"Murder, abductions, drug-addicted doctors, it's all there. "Plus some respectable characters."

As a genealogist, Donaldson used her research skills to probe the district's sordid past, calling it "a bit like detective work".

The scope of the history of the area was huge, and a lot of the stories in the biography would be completely new to most people, she said.

Waikaia book committee chairwoman Wendy Williamson said she was impressed with Donaldson's efforts with the book.

"To get someone who has a feel for the area to write it is just fantastic. We had originally wanted a history book, but the biographies are just so interesting."