Mining and Fossicking
Mining and Fossicking
The discovery of gold in Victoria in the early 1850s sparked a series of gold rushes and a vast increase in population. The first discoveries and rushes were inland, north of the Ash Ranges. Later, diggers and fossickers gradually began prospecting in the ranges, and the Emerald Field opened in 1858. There were brief-lived rushes along the Little Yarra and Upper Yarra rivers, Hoddles Creek, Britannia Creek, the Nicholson and Darling goldfields in the Yarra Valley, and in the Donovans and Walshes Creek areas in the late 1850s and early 1860s.
The major goldfield in the Ash Range was further east, the Jordan Goldfield (called this because 'it being a very hard road to travel'.) This followed the quartz reefs from Jamieson in the north, through Woods Point and Matlock, to Walhalla in the south. Gold lured prospectors and adventurers beyond the geographical barriers which had daunted their predecessors. In May 1861, spectacular quartz reefs were discovered at Woods Point, and alluvial gold was found in the Jordan Valley in 1862. By the end of that year, there were 4000 miners on the Jordan. The main town in the valley was given the name of Jericho.
Roads were not easy to make. In 1859 surveyor Hodgkinson reported 'I found it necessary to force a passage through such tangled scrub that I was occasionally compelled to crawl on my hands and knees to advance at all.' Mines were established in dark valleys and many miners were 'too much daunted by the aspect of the scrub to plunge into it with the view of seeking new ground.'
The Government encouraged exploration and provided rewards for the opening up of the goldfields by tracks and roads. In 1862 the Yarra Track was opened from Melbourne to Woods Point, via Healesville, Fernshaw, Black's Spur, Marysville, and Matlock. Like several other tracks between and across the gold fields, it was cut through by individuals - miners, packers and storekeepers - trying to get access to the new finds. The tracks were steep and narrow, and it was a logistical achievement to transport the large pieces of mining equipment to the gold mines.
As alluvial mining finished, and mines went underground, the demand for timber grew. Miners were dependent on woodcutters to provide timber for steam power and to reinforce the tunnels underground, and the hills near the mines were soon denuded of trees.
The Jordan Goldfield was relatively shortlived. At Woods Point the boom had collapsed by the end of 1867, and the last gold was removed from Walhalla in 1915. Other minerals found within the range included tin, which was first found in 1876 and is still being mined; wolframite, an ore of tungsten, which was mined between 1901 and 1919; and copper, 1863 - 1881. Other gems sought by fossickers in the mountain streams include topaz, casseritite, tourmaline and quartz.
Material in these pages is largely drawn from the book by Tom Griffiths and Museum Victoria: Forests of Ash: An environmental history. Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2001
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