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Depression Years - Public Works Construc


Public Works Construction camp during winter, c 1930s,

JDU.3A, Central Stories Art Gallery & Museum

Great Depression Leads to Great Progress 

New Zealand suffered in the 1930s as the Great Depression impacted employment across the country.


However, in contrast to this, Lauder grew as large irrigation schemes were initiated under the Public Works Scheme. The schemes were a Crown-owned initiative to introduce irrigation for local farming communities due to the low rainfall in the area and to provide much needed employment for men. Lauder became the site of the Head Office for the Public Works Scheme in the Otago area.


The Idaburn Dam and Poolburn Dam were built in 1931, followed by Falls Dam. Matakanui, Lauder and Dunstan irrigation work followed. All three dams still remain today.

Depression Years - Public Works Construc

 Public Works Construction Camp Hut c1930s,

RXY.36A, Central Stories Art Gallery & Museum


Letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times, 18 April 1934. The Lauder Camp.

Otago Daily Times, Issue 22240, 18 April 1934, Page 5

Workers arrived in the area in large numbers and were housed in small tents. 

“There were tents all over, up the Lauder Creek, over the banks, ...over the railway line, there were tents.” Jim Clouston

The tents were around 10ft x 8ft, with wooden sides and a canvas roof and in winter did little to keep out the freezing cold temperatures. Coupled with the living conditions, the small amount workers were paid meant workers and their families found themselves very hard up and struggling to make ends meet.

“Single men [were] paid a shocking hourly rate/wage to do hard work with shovels, pulling rollers, building the big creek.” Jim Clouston

Depression Years - Public Works Construc

Public Works Construction Camp during winter c1930s,

JDU.4A, Central Stories Art Gallery & Museum

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