Fourth Hill. Part 6

and still the river flows ever onward
washing away the forests tears
and it’s struggle to make us love it
so it can love us in return

From its source in the Yarra Ranges, the Yarra River flows for 242 kilometres, snaking its way to Melbourne where it empties into Hobsons Bay at Port Phillip. At Warrandyte, thirty-five kilometres from the city, the river is fed by local creeks such as Andersons Creek and meanders through steeply undulating hills and under the Warrandyte bridge as it makes its way through the Warrandyte Gorge.

Early settlers experienced a number of massive floods in 1844, 1849, and one in 1863 that wiped out the bridge. Water would inundate the township’s main street and halt sluicing activity, forcing the miners to wait for waters to recede to resume their work.

The new bridge, contracted in 1875, was submerged by floods again in 1934. The Argus newspaper reported that a house, a haystack, a dead horse attached to a buggy, and a shed swept over the bridge in the turbulent flow. The flood prevented anyone without a boat from crossing the river until the waters subsided. It was not until the Upper Yarra Dam was built between 1947 and 1957 to create a water supply and reduce the rivers flow that massive floods like this ceased.

Warrandyte sits within Melbourne’s green wedge where the confluence of nature and society exist at the urban fringe.

Warrandyte State Park was established in 1975. The park is the result of conservation and recreational groups banding together in opposition to a proposal to develop Black Flat crown land into a country club with golf course, bowling green and swimming pool on the banks of the river.

The 680 hectares that make up the state park form an important habitat corridor that protects about 485 flora species, 202 fauna species and historical cultural values, the signs of which can be seen in scars that remain on the landscape. Over the years additional tracts of land have been added to the parks to safeguard them from development, including Scotchman’s Hill, the parcel of land over my back fence that was converted to state park in 1997.

Outer urban bushland is a contested space that radiates both beauty and fear as only an Australian bush landscape can. Issues of sustainability, and the tensions that exist between environmental, economic and social demands have competed for power, influence and control for almost two hundred years.

Some residents create safe places for wildlife and proudly display Land for Wildlife signs on their gates, whilst others strip their properties of trees out of fear of bushfires or because they wish to build large dwellings. Local councils and State Parks try to balance the desire to preserve environmental values of the area with the demands of residents to protect them in the hottest months.

Only about 30% of Victoria’s indigenous vegetation remains. Warrandyte holds an important part of the state’s remnant vegetation and is part of the green wedge that makes up the city’s lungs. Still, the State Government intermittently turns it’s eyes toward us to consider opportunities for development and roads. For now Warrandyte’s bushland is protected by the limitations on development and the ever-present vigilance of strong local action groups with a mandate to preserve the natural values and heritage of the area.

At only a stone’s throw from the city, the strength and health of the land reflects the strength and health of Melbourne itself. Despite being protected from human structural development, the signs of decline are evident in the forests. The introduction of weeds by careless gardeners, the loss of fragile fauna and flora species from introduced pests such as deer and domestic cats are evident, and the effects of a changing climate on biodiversity creep into the landscape. The changes occurs at such a slow pace that you might not notice if you weren’t paying close attention.

Unless we embrace a greater respect for the environment as a source for our livelihood, health and sustenance, and understand that we belong to it more than it belongs to us, we will rob future generations of places that can nourish and sustain them. That would be a great tragedy.

The spirit of Bunjil lives in the trees, the rocks, the streams, and the wildlife that hold reminders of our histories and the power of nature to recover from our failings. I am confident that nature will prevail in the long run. We need to decide whether it will be with or without us.

Fourth Hill. Part 2

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.

Fourth Hill. Part 1

I often go jogging or cycling through the state parks scattered around the area where I live and encounter remnants of history in one form or another. A year or so ago I did a research project to discover more about the local history and ended up writing an essay. I used a poem I wrote a few years earlier after one of my soujourns as inspiration. Over the next six weeks I am going to share this piece with you through my blog. I have divided up using the verse called Fourth Hill. Here is part 1.

Bunjil created this dreaming.

A crash of thunder and a hurling star

threw a landscape of beauty and plenty

that would stand for millions of years

Bunjil, the all-powerful great eagle hawk carved images of people out of bark and breathed life into the Wurundjeri. He shaped the surface of the land and the waterways that run through it and made it bountiful with animals, birds, and trees. Bunjil gave the people a code for living and he gave them tools, fishing sticks and spears, and taught them how to hunt and gather.

The spirits of the dreamtime have dwelt in this place since the earth began. The name Wurundjeri comes from the Woiwurrung language. ‘Wurun’ means manna gum, the Eucalyptus viminalis, which grows along the Yarra River, and ‘djeri’, the grub found in or near the tree. The Wurundjeri are the ‘Witchetty Grub People’.

I am a mere speck in the passing of time.

The river has always been beautiful to me, but when I step onto the land at Pound Bend, a peninsular created where the Yarra River turns back on itself at Warrandyte, I am on country steeped in the rich culture and spirits of the Wurundjeri. They held ceremonies there and welcomed visitors through smoke made by smothering a fire with young manna gum leaves. The river of mist, the Birrarung, now the Yarra River, was the centre of Wurundjeri Country and fell along the Yarra Valley songline route.

I close my eyes and try to imagine their sounds as they hunted and danced and cared for this place before Europeans came. The river was wider then and prone to flood after heavy rain. The Wurundjeri’s interaction with it ebbed and flowed with its rhythms. Children cascaded through the scrub beneath the manna gums to drink directly from the river. Bush tucker and medicine were abundant in the orchids, lilies, shrubs ferns and trees, and the Wurundjeri’s scars on the trees were fresh, before the scars on their culture were made.

Europeans arrived with seductive food and artefacts, invisible viruses and bacteria, and a lust for land and settled in Victoria in the 1830’s. As settlers claimed large tracts of land around Melbourne, Aboriginal people must have struggled to explain the intensifying changes. Soon, despite efforts at resistance, traditional Aboriginal culture was forced into decline.

Now a million people have stomped on this ground. Soils have been turned, waters churned, and the landscape changed to bend to our will.

Men re-shaped Bunjil’s creation with fences, roads and buildings. They bought animals that trampled the Wurundjeri’s native plant foods and guns that stripped the forests of wildlife.

I wonder how many tears must have fallen as the first people’s lives were changed irrevocably by the white ghosts who spoke in tongues they did not understand. I imagine the sadness that must have lingered when the last inter-clan Gayip (corroboree) lasting fourteen days and nights was held by the Wurundjeri in Warrandyte in 1851.

Soon after, those who did not succumb to disease were driven from this place.

In 1839, James Anderson was the first white settler with hungry eyes to come to Warrandyte . He erected a hut and stockyard near where Andersons Creek joins the Yarra river and established a cattle station just west of the current township. The name Andersons Creek was given to the district in his honour. James Dawson soon followed in 1841 and set up east of where the township now stands. In the same year the area south of the river was surveyed and divided up into parcels and named the ‘Parish of Warran-Dyte, County of Bourke’.

It is thought that the name Warrandyte translates into ‘that which is thrown.’ One dreamtime story says that a long time ago Bunjil gazed down upon his people from the bright star Altair and saw that they neglected his creations and were in conflict. For their misdeeds, with a crash of thunder, Bunjil hurled down a star to destroy them. The star struck the earth and created the gorge which was later called Warrandyte.