Fourth Hill. Part 4

growing through history to create a wedge of green
a contested space, the cities lungs
the forest breathes life and fire
glowing with the bright and blinding light of an Australian summer

Warrandyte’s landscape changes markedly from season to season. On windless days in autumn there is an eerie silence in the parched bushland after a long summer. The baked clay floor is covered in discarded leaves as the days become shorter and the nights become cooler and the land awaits the first signs of rain.

Spider webs strung across the tracks glisten with early morning dew above empty cicada shells and sun-bleached butterfly wings scattered on the ground. When the rain arrives the perfume of eucalyptus permeates the forest and there is a flurry of growth as the plants sigh relief that they survived the summer.

After the rains in late autumn and winter when maidenhair, mosses and lichens cling to damp shady areas under tall gums, a colorful display of fungi and toadstools appear scattered through the damp undergrowth. The fungi emerge on verges and cling to rotting logs and tree trunks. On cold winter mornings when the valleys are cloaked in a swirling mist I sometimes go foraging for the edible species.

The rains that swell the river and fill the dams attract an army frogs. My favorite is the pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerrilii) who’s call sounds like a banjo string being plucked. Flame robins and scarlet robins flit around whilst kangaroos graze in open paddocks or laze in the grass taking advantage of sunny days.

When the days start to lengthen, the bushland areas turn golden with the wattles bursting into bloom. Green hood orchids appear from amongst the native grasses, and purple and mauve colored flowers auger the coming of spring.

Spring erupts with early morning bird choruses and the frenzied activity of nesting, mating and raising young fledglings. Reptiles like blue-tongues and snakes start to emerge from their sleepy winter abodes.

Butterflies, bees and other insects take advantage of the bountiful nectar-rich flowers. Sugar gliders hunt the abundant insects while ringtails feast on the new growth of eucalyptus trees. The forest comes alive under the watchful gaze and rhythmic groans of the tawny frogmouth, and the double note of the boobook owl calling.

At this time of year tiny floral beauties burst forth to brighten up the landscapes harsh façade. The bush is ablaze with orange-yellow and red blooms of bush peas, prolific showy white petals of prickly tea-tree, sprays of pink bells and blue pincushions, and the chocolate and vanilla perfume of the chocolate lily. It becomes evident why Warrandyte has, and continues to be such an inspiration to artists.

When summer arrives the brilliance of spring fades and the bush becomes tinder dry. Plants start to set seed, their feathery plumes dispersed by the wind or carried away by insects and birds. The predominantly white Christmas bush and Burgan that flower during summer court butterflies to a background orchestra of cicadas, grasshoppers and crickets.

On warm days skinks and blue-tongues sun themselves on rocks. People flock to the river seeking a quiet corner to cool off, until the gusty north winds send them scurrying from the bush like ants in search of cooler, safer places, away from the threat of bushfire.

Fire has been an integral part of the landscape since the Wurundjeri used it as part of their hunting techniques. Since European settlement numerous fires have swept through the area including one on Black Thursday in 1851 that would have cleared much of the bush in which gold miners were searching for gold, leaving it black and scorched. Parts of Warrandyte were also devastated by fires in 1939, 1962, 1969 and 1991. On most of these occasions the river provided refuge from the smoke and flames for residents who fled there to escape the advancing fronts.

I watched the red orb over Kinglake from my balcony when the Kilmore fires burnt on the evening of 7 February 2009. The heat had been oppressive that day. The wind roared like a high-speed train driving heat from the depths of hell before it. The fire sucked oxygen from the air and ripped tree trunks from the earth. It melted paint from doors and flesh from bones without mercy or discrimination. Many perished that day, but Warrandyte was spared by a wind change that came through earlier than predicted.

Fourth Hill. Part 3

I see their ghosts running through the forest
that consumes the evidence of their passing
as mines and sheds and steel
succumb to natures endeavours

In the late 70’s, around fifteen year after the Monument mine closed, I used to ride my horse through the bushland around Fourth Hill and swim bareback in the Yarra at Warrandyte. I would often tether my horse at the front of a shop so I could go in and buy ice cream to eat sitting in the shade of the willows by the running waters of the river.

About twenty years ago I moved to Warrandyte. Now I go jogging through the forest on the trails I used to gallop along.

The earth’s wounds of the past have grown over with grasses, creepers, orchids and wildflowers that spread their carpet beneath the eucalypts and wattles. The kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas and lizards that scurry around are warned of my approach by the kookaburras, cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets squawking at my intrusion.

I pass abandoned mine shafts sprouting native grasses and the rusted corrugate dwellings falling back into natures embrace. The miners abandoned mullock heaps are cloaked in lichen and mosses and riddled with ant colonies.

I imagine the heart break of the Wurundjeri who cared for this country that sustained them, their culture and language, when their land was taken by those whose eyes only saw land as a commodity. An asset to profit from.

As my feet carry me through the bushland the only gold I see now are the golden wattles that brighten my winter run. Their yellow blooms under the stringybark trees dust the river’s surface with pollen.

Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of the ghosts of those who went before me on the shady banks of the river and around the the deserted mine shafts. I am enamored by how this ancient land has taken back its birthright under Bunjil’s watchful gaze.

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.