126 years of camerons on ben ohau
On reaching the Ohou River in the spring of 1856 two Scotsmen McMurdo & Fraser admired the north facing slopes above and simultaneously exclaimed “I’ll have that country”. Instead of making off to the Christchurch Land Office to lay their claims, they decided to save their horses by racing them to a nearby matagouri bush to see who would take up the land. McMurdo was victorious and landed what he called Benmore Station and Hugh Fraser took the neighbouring property.
In 1857 the lease was first applied for by Hugh & Samual Fraser, named "Beinn Achiu" gaelic for "mountains of the dog". The lease consisted of all the land between Lake Ohou and the Pukaki River. This covered 80,356 acres. The Fraser’s culivated one acre of barley per annum and distilled their own whiskey. The Haldon Station diary dated 22nd August 1868 has an entry stating they had received one gallon of whiskey from The Frasers’. The Fraser Stream is named after the Fraser brothers.
In 1867 the station was sold to Messrs Ostler and Dawson. The name then becoming Ben Ohau. Early maps show Lake Ohau spelt as Lake Ohou. This was most probably bought about by a spelling mistake on later government maps. William Oster died sometime after straining himself whilst trying to stop a wool bale falling from a wagon into The Ohau river. The hill to the south of the homestead is named Mt Ostler.
Mortgagees Goldsborough and Company took over the running of the property until the sale in 1889. There was however no bid due to too many rabbits. In 1891 James Preston bought Ben Ohau including 16,800 sheep. Preston lost 6,000 sheep in the massive 1895 snow. This along with the devastating rabbit plaque, and what Preston considered then as a lime and salt deficiency was reason enough for him to try and abandon the run eventually succeeding in 1897 when his manager-nephew John E.P. Cameron was granted a lease by the Crown at a special rental due to the massive degradation by rabbits.
John nurtured the land back to production and at one time had 16 rabbiters’ poisoning and trapping rabbits. His success was evident for the Crown decided to reduce the area of the property in the 1911 release of runs. The Crown also made Cameron relinquish almost 40, 000 acres for post-war soldier resettlement in 1920 producing 3 new runs, Benrose, Omahau, and Ruataniwha.
The Cameron family have continued to farm this area for over a century. The small local town of Pukaki was flooded when the new high dam was built and a further 1200 acres of Ben Ohau was sold to the crown for the hydroelectric development for the building of the canal during 1967-1983. The town of Twizel was built during this period to accommodate all the construction workers.
In 2016 the fourth generation of The Cameron family celebrated 125 years of settlement on Ben Ohau Station, carry with them a lasting respect for the land and all that their forebears endured.
Steeped in history, you can read more about life on our iconic high country station below:
Jubilee History of South Canterbury
1945, My First Eighty Years by Helen Wilson
1964, Life On a Five Pound Note by Evelyn Hoskin
1971, Early South Canterbury Runs by Robert Pinney
2005, From Thistle to Fern by Eilidh McPherson
2007, Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots by Eileen McMillan
2010, The Mackenzie Country by David Relph
2015, High Country Stations of the Mackenzie by Mary Hobbs