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Remnants of old mines and diggings out in the bush

Posted 05/06/2020 in Gold
Hydraulic sluicing site at Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve, near Heathcote VIC


The Victorian Goldfields are filled with ruins and remnants of the area's rich mining history, ranging from small alluvial diggings to the remains of huge mining companies. If you spend time in the local bush, you've probably come across some residual features of old mining operations.

This page provides examples and images of these historical features as they appear across the Victorian Goldfields, which I hope will help others to recognise them along their own travels through the region.

Continue reading to learn more about the remains of mine shafts, mine adits, open cut mines, hydraulic sluicing sites, surfacing areas, gold puddlers, stamp batteries, boilers, water wheels, gold dredges, whims, water races, and cyanide vats.

Mine shafts

Open mine shaft at Bulldog Reef, Moliagul VIC

A mine shaft is a vertical access passageway to an underground mine. A shaft allows miners to enter the mine and ore to be hauled out using lifting technology such as a poppet heads, whims or windlasses.

View from the grate covering the top of a large mine shaft at the Red, White and Blue Recreation Area, Muckleford VIC

Perhaps the most well known and obvious remnant of the region's mining operations, mine shafts can be found almost everywhere throughout the Victorian Goldfields, with many dating back to the 1850s gold rush. Some remain open, some have been capped off (either in modern times or long ago), and others have developed dangerous 'false bottoms'.

Mine shaft in Moliagul developing an unstable false bottom.

It is important to always be wary of the dangers of mine shafts while exploring the bushland of the Victorian Goldfields, as there are open mine shafts very close to many walking tracks and visitor areas, and countless more scattered throughout the bush.

Open mine shaft at the Union Jack Mine, Percydale VIC

You may come across both rectangular and circular mine shafts out in the bush. The circular mine shafts were dug by Chinese miners, as they believed evil spirits lurked in corners.

Some examples of mine shafts in the Victorian Goldfields:
Mine adits

Mine adit at the Tunnel Hill Mine, Talbot VIC

A mine adit is a horizontal (or nearly horizontal) passage into an underground mine, which allows miners to enter the mine and ore to be hauled out by rail. 

Mine adit at Eureka Reef, Chewton VIC

Do not enter any adits you come across out in the bush. It is important to remember that although adits may appear safer than vertical shafts, they often have shafts hiding inside them which are either hard to see in the dark or have been unsafely covered by a false bottom or deteriorating cap. There are also risks of unstable ground and unsafe air levels.

Mine adit at the Union Jack Mine, Percydale VIC

If you're interested in seeing what's inside Victoria's abandoned underground gold mines, check out The Victorian Historical Mine Shaft Chasers Inc on Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. They are a team of experienced professionals who abseil down into Victoria's forgotten underground and document their discoveries. They post lots of fascinating photos and videos of their explorations on social media, so definitely go check them out!

Mine adit at Hard Hill Tourist Reserve, Wedderburn VIC

Some examples of mine adits in the Victorian Goldfields:

Open cut mines

Image showing an open cut mine at Black Hill, Ballarat VIC, 1863. Source: State Library Victoria

Open cut today at Black Hill Reserve, Ballarat VIC

Open cut mining is where minerals located above or close to the surface are extracted by excavation, leaving an open pit in the ground. These can be narrow cuttings in the ground which follow small reefs, or massive excavations which remove huge quantities of ore. 

Small open cut at Dunn's Reef, Muckleford VIC

A remarkable and rare example of a large quartz outcropping, which were typically extracted by open cut, remains intact at Quartz Mountain Geological Reserve. This particular outcropping yielded little profit, which is the only reason it's still there for us to see today. 

The largest remaining pure quartz outcrop in Victoria, Amherst Reef protrudes from the ground at Quartz Mountain Geological Reserve, Lillicur VIC

Some examples of open cut mines in the Victorian Goldfields:
  • Dunns Reef, Muckleford VIC (open cut, excavated an exposed quartz outcropping)
  • Black Hill Reserve, Ballarat VIC (open cut and shaft mining)
  • Union Jack Mine, Percydale VIC (open cut with adits and shafts)
  • Miners Hut Ruins and Gold Diggings, Craigie VIC (small, narrow excavations along with mine shafts)
  • There are lots of examples of small open cut excavations throughout the Craigie State Forest near Maryborough VIC

Hydraulic sluicing

Hydraulic sluicing, Victorian Collections. Image was included in book "Victoria: Gold and Minerals" issued by Mines Department Victoria, 1935

Hydraulic sluicing is a mining method which employs high pressure jets of water to blast away large areas of earth, and wash it down to be run through a sluice box. Gold gets caught in the sluice and the remaining slurry is washed away. This method of mining is extremely effective, but causes significant environmental damage and impacts waterways along with agricultural operations. 

Hydraulic sluicing site at Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve, Heathcote VIC

There's a beautiful example of a hydraulic sluicing site in Heathcote at the Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve (see image above), where the landscape has been strikingly transformed by the historical mining operations. Another fantastic example is in Castlemaine at the Forest Creek Historic Gold Diggings, where lots of historical relics, information signs and photographs help explain the process.

Information sign at the Forest Creek Historic Gold Diggings hydraulic sluicing site, Castlemaine VIC

An information sign at the Forest Creek Historic Gold Diggings provides the following text:

Water cannons were especially constructed for the purpose with several articulated joints to allow the jet of water to be directed to where it was required. On this site, Alf Cox used the water cannon in the following way:
  1. A jet of water from the cannon was directed on to the top of the cliff. The cliff was kept soaked for several days.

  2. The base of the cliff was then undercut with a very hard jet of water until it fell onto the bedrock shattering the falling rock.

  3. The nozzle was then directed onto the collapsed mass, washing the gravel to the pump or jet elevator which lifted gold, fine gravel and muddy water up to the sluice box.
The jet of water was sufficiently powerful to cut away the hardest soil. The force of the water was such that its roar could be heard three kilometres away and when it was working at night the quartz rocks would create great sparks of light as they violently smashed against each other.

Hydraulic sluicing site at Red Knob, Vaughan VIC

Some examples of hydraulic sluicing sites in the Victorian Goldfields:

Surfacing

This area has been "surfaced".

During the gold rush, miners stripped large areas of shallow gold-rich ground down to the bedrock and processed the earth they removed using equipment such as tubs, cradles, puddling machines and sluices. This method of mining is known as "surfacing" and evidence of it can be found in abundance throughout the Victorian Goldfields. 

These areas were excavated by hand, a remarkable testament to the sheer determination of the diggers. Due to the labour involved in removing and washing such large quantities of earth, the ground here had to be rich enough in gold to make the effort and processing costs worth while. Surfaced areas are of interest to modern day gold prospectors for this reason - there was gold here, and lots of it!

Surfacing, S.T. Gill, 1852. Source: National Gallery of Australia.

Modern day prospectors may pick up gold using detectors in the shallow ground surrounding the surfacing, or if you feel like putting some work in with a shovel there is usually plenty of fine gold to be recovered through sluicing. Many surfaced areas will have a dam and old puddling site close by, so water for highbankers may be available. The old timers used puddlers in these areas for a reason though - you will need to break the clay up before running it through a sluice or a lot of gold will remain trapped in clumps of clay and be washed away. You could slurry it up in a tub of water before running it through your sluice, or use a trommel with angle iron attached inside the barrel to help break up the clay as it washes through.

The distinct edge where the surfacing work stopped.

Surfacing can be easily spotted from above. A search around Victoria's Golden Triangle using Google Maps' satellite view can reveal some large surfaced areas. Look for the conspicuous red/orange colour of stripped bedrock, usually barren areas which contain sparse vegetation. 

Famous surfaced area in Moliagul VIC, Google Maps satellite image.

We've got a whole page about surface mining which you may be interested in reading. 

Some examples of surfacing in the Victorian Goldfields:

Gold puddlers

Reconstruction of an original gold puddler at Whroo, Victoria (image source: Victorian Heritage Database)

Puddling machines, or "puddlers" were pioneered on the Victorian goldfields in 1854. This technology was developed as an affordable way of processing gold-bearing clay on a large scale. Puddling machines are a very significant development in the history of Victorian gold mining, as they are the only technology or method developed entirely on the Victorian Goldfields.

Mining Model - Surfacing & Puddling, Shallow Alluvial Workings, Victoria, circa 1857. Image source: Museums Victoria.

The characteristic clay earth of the goldfields region posed a problem to the 19th century miners - gold was trapped within the hard lumps of clay and in order to retrieve it, these lumps needed to be effectively broken up. 

A circular trough in the ground, lined with wood or bark, was filled with clay and water. A horse circled the trough and dragged a harrow through the clay mixture, breaking up the lumps and turning it into a runny sludge. The gold released from the clay would sink to the bottom, and the watery clay would be drained off from the top. The residue at the bottom of the trough would then be cleaned up with a pan or cradle to collect the gold.

Gold puddler in Daisy Hill, a good example of how puddlers generally look throughout the bush today.

Most puddling machines that can be found throughout the bushland of the Victorian Goldfields are now little more than ring-shaped depressions in the ground, and are easily overlooked. Once you know how to recognise them, you will see them all the time out in the bush. These puddlers are an important part of Victoria's heritage, and must not be disturbed.

Gold puddler at Louisa Dam, Daisy Hill VIC

We've got a whole page about gold puddlers which you may be interested in reading.

Some examples of puddling machines in the Victorian Goldfields:

Stamp batteries

Stamp battery at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat VIC

A stamp battery is a machine which crushes gold-bearing rock using a pounding action. A battery consists of a set of heavy stamps which are held vertically within a frame. The individual stamps are lifted by cams on a rotating horizontal shaft, then released as the cam rotates out from under them, causing the stamps to fall and crush the rock below. This is repeated continually to crush large amounts of gold-bearing rock. Stamp batteries were widely used during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries before being replaced by more efficient crushing methods.

Stamp battery on display in Blackwood VIC

Although stamp batteries were once commonplace on the goldfields, most of them were abandoned and dismantled long ago. There are still some around though, and you can check them out at a number of sites throughout the Victorian Goldfields. A small number of well preserved Victorian Government/State Batteries remain (located in CreswickMaldon, Wedderburn, Rutherglen, Bright and Egerton), some disused batteries have been put on display (like the ones in Heathcote and Blackwood), and there are lots of abandoned incomplete battery sites throughout the bush of the Victorian Goldfields (not much usually remains of the battery, but sometimes boilers and foundations are still present).


There's a remarkable stamp battery site at the Wallaby Mine in Beechworth. This battery was built in 1912 to replace an older one which was destroyed by bushfire, and was more recently restored by Parks VIC after a 2003 bushfire. It is amazing how much machinery has remained here over the years without being scavenged.

Abandoned battery at the Wallaby Mine, restored, Beechworth VIC

Sovereign Hill in Ballarat has a working stamp battery on display, where they run demonstrations. Sovereign Hill is a great place to visit, where you can get a close look at a range of mining machinery including the working stamp battery, Chilean mill, gold puddler, whim, windlass, and much more.

Site where a stamp battery once stood at Battery Dam and Distillery, Daisy Hill VIC

Some examples of gold batteries in the Victorian Goldfields:

Boilers

Discarded boiler at the Battery Dam and Distillery Site, Daisy Hill VIC

Boilers can be found discarded all over the Victorian Goldfields. A Cornish boiler has a horizontal cylindrical design constructed of steel plates. A furnace is located at the front and a single internal flue tube passes through the boiler. Once used to provide steam for steam-powered machinery, these enormous relics lie abandoned at many old mining and distillery sites throughout the region.

Boiler used to provide steam power. Phoenix (or Blight's) Battery, illustration by Robert Kaufman. Image displayed on an information sign at Eureka Reef, Chewton VIC.

Boilers at the Duke Mine, Timor VIC. Source: State Library Victoria.


Boilers used at gold processing sites were sometimes adapted for use in distilleries once mining operations ceased. A good example of this is the boiler at Battery Dam and Distillery (Daisy Hill VIC), which provided steam to power a stamp battery before being adapted for use in a eucalyptus distillery plant at the same site. 

Once used to power a stamp battery, this boiler was later used for a eucalyptus distillery at the same site. Battery Dam and Distillery, Daisy Hill.

Boiler at the Ginger Adams Eucalyptus Distillery, Clunes VIC

Some examples of discarded boilers in the Victorian Goldfields:

Water wheel

Garfield Gold Mine, Chewton Victoria, 1985. Elevated view of weatherboard salt box design building, large water wheel and conveyor. Image source: State Library Victoria.

A water wheel is a machine that uses the energy of falling or flowing water to turn a wheel. The wheel's turning axle is then used to power other machines. Water wheels were used in the Victorian Goldfields to drive mining machinery in areas where sufficient water was available.

Stone abutments of the Garfield Water Wheel, Chewton VIC

The remains of stone abutments which once supported water wheels are a fascinating relic to come across in the bushland of the Victorian Goldfields. 

Stone abutments of the Mopoke Gully Water Wheel, Campbells Creek VIC

Some examples of water wheel sites in the Victorian Goldfields:

Dredging


Gold dredges are large floating machines which use steel buckets on a rotating 'bucket line' to excavate material such as sands and gravels from river beds. The buckets lift the material on board and dump it into a hopper, leading into a trommel which screens the gravels, sending fine material to be cleaned up for gold. Larger material is sent out the back to be discarded in tailings piles.

Eldorado Dredge, 1948, Eldorado VIC. Source: State Library VIC

Bucket dredges were developed in New Zealand, then were introduced to the Victorian Goldfields in the 1890s. Machinery on the dredge was initially driven by steam, then electricity from the 1930s. 

Eldorado Dredge, 1948, Eldorado VIC. Source: State Library VIC

The following text is an extract from The environmental history of bucket dredging in Victoria, Journal of Australasian Mining History, Vol. 16, October 2018:

Operations began with the excavation of a basin in which a flat-bottomed barge or pontoon was built with a deck to support the dredge plant. Alternatively, the dredge could be launched from a river bank to operate directly in the stream. Machinery on deck was usually enclosed within a shed of galvanised iron, with a wood-fired boiler and steam engine powering machinery. Water was diverted or pumped from the river into the pondage to float the dredge, which consisted of an endless chain of large iron or steel buckets mounted on a long inclined frame or ladder fitted with rollers. The ladder was hinged at the rear end and supported by cables from a gantry above the deck of the pontoon at the front end, which allowed it to be raised or lowered to control the depth of the excavation face. The moving chain of buckets excavated and lifted alluvial material, with positioning of the pontoon controlled by winches and haulage lines anchored to land at the front and sides. In the early 1900s buckets varied from 4 to 6 cubic feet in capacity, lifting on average around 7400 cubic yards per week from a depth of up to 30 feet. Dredges of this scale could work about one acre per month.40 By 1910 steam-powered dredges ranged in cost from £3,000 to £8,000, the price increasing in proportion to their size and power.

Alluvial material from the buckets was tipped into a hopper and then passed through a perforated cylindrical rotating screen or trommel. Screens ranged from 18.5 to 33 feet in length and 6 to 12 feet in diameter, set at an incline or fall towards the stern. Perforations consisted of thousands of small holes up to 1/2 inch in diameter. The finer material (and gold) was washed by water from high pressure jets through the holes and onto sluice tables below. The larger, coarse material was delivered out of the lower end of the screen to a tailings elevator and stacked at the stern of the dredge as overburden. Gold saving tables used a variety of surfaces, including calico riffles, coconut fibre matting and wooden or iron slats on a wide, gently inclined table, to trap the gold. The riffles that created turbulence, winnowed the less dense waste mineral particles, separating them from the denser gold. Mercury was also employed at times to improve the rate of gold amalgamation, although the full extent of its use is uncertain.


Some examples of dredging sites in the Victorian Goldfields:
  • Porcupine Flat Gold Dredge, Porcupine Flat VIC (dredge and dragline remain)
  • Eldorado Dredge, Eldorado VIC (massive dredge remains)

Whims

Horse-powered whim working at Tribute Duke Mine. Source: State Library Victoria

whim is a device used to haul ore up a shaft, similar in concept to the man-powered windlass and the horse-powered whip, but more complex, capable of lifting more efficiently and from deeper shafts. A rope is wound around a vertically mounted wooden drum, with both ends passed over pulleys and then run down the shaft. A horse is harnessed to the device and led around a circular track, winding the drum, which will lower one end of the rope (carrying an empty bucket down the shaft) while raising the other (carrying a full load up). 

Whim at Clarke's battery, located just south of present Sovereign Hill, circa 1880. Source: Museums Victoria

Whim sites, as they are found in the bush today, typically present as circular platforms of earth located alongside the remains of a mine shaft and mullock heap. Unlike the circular remains of gold puddling machines, which can be found in abundance all over the Victorian Goldfields, intact whim platforms are fairly uncommon and are easily overlooked. 

Remains of a circular whim platform beneath Mount Tarrengower, Maldon VIC

If you're interested in seeing one of these machines for yourself there's a complete whim located at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, along with lots more fantastic examples of mining methods and machinery.


Water race

Water race at Wilsons Hill Nature Conservation Reserve, near Marong VIC

A water race is a channel designed to carry water from a water source to where it was needed, often used during the gold rush to transport water to diggings where it was in short supply. You will regularly come across these channels out in the bush throughout the Victorian Goldfields. 

Water race at Eureka Reef, Chewton VIC

Some examples of water races in the Victorian Goldfields:

Cyanide vats

Eaglehawk Consolidated Mine cyanide plant, 1903, Maldon VIC. Source: State Library Victoria.

Cyanidation in gold mining is a hydrometallurgical technique for extracting gold from ore. A brief summary of the cyanide process is offered by the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Cyanide process, also called Macarthur-forrest Process, method of extracting silver and gold from their ores by dissolving them in a dilute solution of sodium cyanide or potassium cyanide. The process was invented in 1887 by the Scottish chemists John S. MacArthur, Robert W. Forrest, and William Forrest. The method includes three steps: contacting the finely ground ore with the cyanide solution, separating the solids from the clear solution, and recovering the precious metals from the solution by precipitation with zinc dust (source).

Cyanide vats at Wilsons Hill Cyanide Works, near Marong VIC

Cyanide plants were popping up all over the place in the Victorian Goldfields in the early 20th century, and old mine tailings were often gone over and re-processed using this more efficient technique. 

Cyanide vat at the Jubilee Mine, Staffordshire Reef VIC

The remains of cyanide vats can still be found throughout the Victorian Goldfields today. They present as actual remaining tanks, deep circular pits in the ground where tanks once stood, or faint outlines which are sometimes only visible from above. 

Cyanide vat at the Alma Lead Cyanide Works, Bowenvale VIC

Google's satellite view will often reveal the remains of historical cyanide workings, as can be seen in the image below. This is an aerial view of a field in Majorca VIC.

Aerial view of the Majorca Cyanide Works, Majorca VIC. Source: Google Maps.

Some examples of cyanide vats in the Victorian Goldfields: 

SEE ALSO

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