gold bought them in
and broke them
the micks, the chinks, the poms
In early 1851 Victorians’ started leaving the colony to seek their fortune in the new gold fields near Bathurst in New South Wales. The Melbourne Mayor and local business owners formed the Gold Committee because they feared a mass exodus interstate. They offered a two hundred guinea reward for payable gold found within 100 miles of Melbourne.
Melbourne publican of the Rainbow Hotel in Swanston Street, Louis Michel, despairing at the loss of his customers to the northern goldfields went in search of gold with his companion William Habberlin. In the depths of winter in June 1851 the men found ten pieces in the bed of Andersons Creek at Warrandyte and a fever of gold erupted.
By August the gold epidemic had attracted one hundred and fifty miners. They swarmed around Andersons Creek scouring the gullies for alluvial gold, slipping and slid through the steep surrounding hills of stingy bark searching for finds. The sounds of the men as they dug and washed, dug and washed, would have echoed through the bush as they sifted for the precious metal.
The activity resulted in a series of proclamations being issued that established Victoria’s first ever goldfields regulations. By the end of the year many prospectors had left due to floods, or were lured by the whisper of rich gold deposits at Clunes and Ballarat.
The Wurundjerri were no longer free to move around their ancestral lands. They wanted to have a place that gave them access to their traditional country and managed to gain a reserve of about 782 hectares on the Yarra near what is now known as Pound Bend.
Alluvial miners took a renewed interest in the Andersons Creek area in 1854. A sense of adventure, dreams of prosperity and being your own boss led to a new search for gold. Stories of gold nuggets that promised a quick fortune were plentiful.
Before the introduction of big machinery, prospecting was one of the few pursuits that offered an equal chance of success to both rich and poor. By September 1854, around two hundred people lived in tents and crude shacks, and dug at Andersons Creek using the water in the Yarra for their sluicing and puddling operations.
In 1855 quartz reefs were discovered in the area around Fourth Hill, one of the highest points in Warrandyte. The mining population swelled to around six hundred and the river was soon lined by tents.
A miners life was tough with long hours of physical labour in harsh conditions, often with only damper and mutton to sustain them. The camp-followers who sold food, drink and stores at inflated prices arrived in the wake of the miners, and Victoria’s first goldfield, and the town of Warrandyte was born.
The area would be poked and prodded and pillaged over the next one hundred and sixteen years. Fourth Hill was denuded of tree cover for structural timber and firewood to drive steam engines that worked the mines pockmarking the hill.
In 1856 it became apparent that the area needed policing and the first police magistrate and goldfields warden, W.C. Brackenbury, after whom the street I live in was named, was appointed to resolve mining disputes and other problems. The same year the first school was opened for the miners children, and a year later a postal service commenced.
The remaining Wurundjeri became an annoyance to prospectors who wanted to work Pound Bend. New resident Gold Warden and magistrate, Warburton Carr, was appointed in 1858. His attitude toward the presence of the declining Wurundjeri was that they were a problem, evidenced by the fact that his judicial decisions towards whites were more lenient when Aboriginals were involved.
The acceleration of gold mining hastened the demise of the Warrandyte Aboriginal Reserve at Pound Bend as prospecting claims intruded. By 1859 the Aboriginal population had fallen by an estimated eighty-three percent from 1836. The remaining twenty-two members of the Wurundjeri clan were eventually moved to Coranderrk, established by the government as an Aboriginal reserve on Badgers Creek at Healesville in 1863.
Over a period of about seven months from mid 1859, Patrick Geraghty, the local innkeeper began an ambitious project with William Moore to dig a tunnel into Fourth to intersect the gold veins believed to be hidden there. They built a tramway to carry rock away and dug one hundred and twenty-two metres into the hill through solid rock. It would have been back-breaking, monotonous work digging and lifting heavy loads in the confined space of the mine. The pursuit of what was believed to be a line-of-reef in the hill proved frustrating and elusive for the miners and when they failed to find what they was looking for, the endeavor was abandoned.
Large-scale machinery gradually took over from individual prospectors. Massive earthworks were undertaken to manipulate and dominate the environment in search of the elusive, precious yellow metal.
A sluicing company set out to divert the Yarra River and create an island to enable the bed of the main course to be dried out and worked for alluvial gold. It was one of the biggest engineering feats attempted in gold mining.
Another significant engineering project was tackled by the Evelyn Tunnel Gold Mining Company in 1870. It involved blasting a tunnel 195 metres through the isthmus where the Yarra completes a hairpin bend at Pound Bend near where the Wurundjeri used to live. This enabled about five kilometres of the riverbed to be dried and dredged for alluvial gold. The tunnel was completed but a plethora of setbacks and poor yields resulted in the company being wound up in 1872.
The discovery of gold in the late 1890’s near Blacks Flat, and the Victory mine which penetrated Third and Fourth Hills, led to the brightest spot in the history of Warrandyte’s goldfields. Both mines achieving sizable yields.
Mining activity started to decline after 1910. The last mines to be sunk between 1953 and 1965 were the Monument shafts on Fourth Hill. The lessees of lease number 9188 who dug the shafts laboured whilst they lived in a tin shed built using a stringy bark tree for support. They found no gold and the dig closed in 1965. The shed and mine slowly being reclaimed by nature can still be seen on a walk along a steep narrow goat track.
The output from the Warrandyte goldfields was modest compared to larger fields, but the cost to the Wurundjerri, the local landscape and many of those who came seeking their fortune was high. With perseverance, some got lucky, but many succumbed to poverty, illness, violence or despair.