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Dangers of mine shafts in the Victorian Goldfields

Posted 29/08/2018 in Gold

Unexpected open mine shafts are a fairly common sight throughout the bush of the Victorian Goldfields. 

The 19th/20th century gold mines which once dominated the region now lie abandoned. Some mines have been capped, but many are still open. 

It is astonishing how much history remains beneath our feet in Victoria's forgotten underground.

Mine shafts are just one of the many fascinating remnants of our region's rich gold mining history, along with machinery foundations, discarded boilers, the remnants of gold puddling machines, cyanide vats, mullock heaps and more. 

Mine shafts most commonly present as shallow, leaf covered dips in the bush. 

Although these holes look shallow and solid, it is important that you do not walk in them, and definitely do not allow children to jump in them. (Toddlers see a shallow hole while out bushwalking, the first reaction they have is to jump into it for fun).

False bottoms in mine shafts

A deep open mine shaft developing an unstable 'false bottom'.

The above image shows how 'false bottoms' can develop in open mine shafts. 

Branches, rubbish, or other debris falls (or gets dumped!) into open shafts. If anything gets stuck at the opening, over time more and more leaves, sticks and dirt will accumulate at the top of the shaft. 

The mine shaft pictured below is very deep and you can see it is already starting to fill in at the top. If a fallen branch gets stuck in that open corner, it will be completely covered over before long. 

It will look like a shallow dip in the ground but it will definitely not be very stable. If a person puts their weight on a 'false bottom' mine shaft it could easily fall through. 

These shafts can be hundreds of feet deep! Many mine shafts have been abandoned for well over a century, allowing plenty of time for them to cover over.

Capped mine shafts

Many mine shafts have been capped in modern times, with large steel grates covering them for safety. 

Others have absolutely no cover, no safety fence, and no warning. 

The following image shows a great example of a capped mine shaft at the Red, White and Blue Mine in Muckleford. 

Safety grate covering the open shaft at the Red, White and Blue Mine, Muckleford. 

Many mine shafts were capped a very long time ago using inferior materials such as wood or corrugated iron, and the caps are now deteriorating and falling in. 

Some of the more modern safety grates which have been installed are now deteriorating as well. 

The following image shows a damaged safety grate covering a shaft at Quartz Mountain in Lillicur.

Damaged safety grate at Quartz Mountain, Lillicur.

You never know what is beneath your feet in the Victorian Goldfields. The following image shows the entrance to an old mine adit, almost completely filled in. 

Entrance to a mine adit, almost completely filled in.

But beyond the entrance, it opens up into this:

One of the many abandoned mines in the Victorian Goldfields.

Accidents and mishaps

In a recent incident in October 2018, local fire brigades responded to a report of someone possibly trapped in a vehicle in the bush beneath Maldon's Mt Tarrengower. 

A woman was driving through the bush, exploring off the track, when she suddenly drove straight into an open mine shaft! Fortunately she escaped the vehicle unharmed. 

You can read more about the incident in this article on the CFA website.

A woman was lucky to escape unharmed when she accidentally drove her vehicle into an open mine shaft in the bush outside Maldon. Image source: CFA News, Oct 2018

There have been several cases in the last few years of long-forgotten mine shafts unexpectedly opening back up. 

The Macedon Ranges Shire Council recently uncovered an air/ventilation shaft while operating a grader for maintenance works in Kyneton VIC. 

The shaft had apparently been covered many years ago with a sheet of corrugated iron, which now lay about a metre beneath the road surface and had been long forgotten. Read more...

A few years ago a mine shaft over 250 metres deep unexpectedly opened up in Sebastapol VIC when its 100 year old timber cap deteriorated. 

The Council immediately fenced and excavated the area in preparation for installing a new cap. Read more...

Mine shaft in Sebastapol VIC which opened unexpectedly. Image source: The Courier

Always be aware of the dangers of open mine shafts when in the bushland of the Victorian Goldfields. As a region with a rich mining history, you just never know what lies right beneath your feet!

Mine shaft exploration on YouTube

If you're interested in learning more about the fascinating abandoned mines of the Victorian Goldfields then there are two excellent YouTube channels that you should definitely subscribe to. These two groups record and publish their explorations in Victoria's abandoned underground mines:



Established in 1980, the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria is a voluntary body created to protect the rights and opportunities of those who wish to prospect, fossick or mine in the State of Victoria, Australia.

You can support the PMAV in their fight to uphold these rights by becoming a member. You'll also gain access to exclusive publications, field days, prospecting tips, discounts and competitions.

Check out the PMAV website for more information.




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Whilst attending Bendigo 'College' back in '78-'80 myself and couple of colleagues would locate old shafts and tunnels in the Bendigo/Maldon area and then explore. The largest was at Maldon where we pumped out a tunnel entrance overnight before venturing inside. T-shape tunnels off the main tunnel, extending into an upper level who's shaft we'd previosly found. It took a good 2 hours to fully explore. :: Stupid thing to do!