20 December, 2014

Pure speculation

By the 1860s, deep lead gold mining was well under way along the Leigh River. In 1863, it came to the Leigh Grand Junction in the form of the Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company who set up operations only a few hundred metres upriver from the site at which the bridge of the same name would be built in 1873 - see this post.
[I have not seen an explanation for the origins of this name, however as the mine precedes the bridge, I am guessing the bridge took its name from the mine or from an earlier, unknown source. Perhaps the name reflects the proximity of the area to the boundaries of the Shires (earlier known as Road Districts) of Leigh, Buninyong and Meredith. A grand junction of the shires!]
The Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company was registered, according to the Victorian Government Gazette of 27th March, 1863 under that name. It was located on the "Durham Lead, adjoining the City of Manchester (mine) and Mr Bell's private property". It launched with limited liability and nominal capital of £10,000 - of which £100 had been paid. The mine manager was Joseph Frederick Bowes.
Mullock heap remaining in the vicinity of the Leigh Grand Junction Mine
A different view
Initially, six hundred shares, each valued at £16/10/4 were issued. Throughout the year there were "calls" for shareholders to pay part of the capital owing on those shares - the means by which mining companies financed their operations. The calls however were regularly followed by threats of legal action if payment dates weren't met. Things began to progress for the Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company in January, 1864 when tenders were called for carpenters, masons and foundry men to erect a 20.5 inch cylinder, horizontal steam engine with pumping and winding gear included.
Remains of a boiler at the site of a gold mine on Woodbourne Creek, similar
in size to that ordered by the Leigh Grand Junction mine
The company continued to make calls upon its shareholders throughout the year and in October - presumably in a bid to raise more funds - a new deed of partnership was drawn up, the old shares revoked and 4,200 new shares issued, each valued at £9. The mood seems to have been optimistic throughout 1865 and by June a break through to the auriferous "gutter" was expected at any moment. As the year progressed however, the calls upon shareholders continued, as did the drilling.
By September, the shaft had reached a depth of 246 feet (75m) below surface level and it was decided to continue to a depth of 267 feet which it was felt would be adequate to reach the wash dirt.
Funds however, were still an issue. In August, 1865 just a month before the decision to drill deeper, the 31st call was made and notice was given of an Extraordinary General Meeting to be held the following January whose purpose was to "empower the directors to borrow money on mortgage of the plant and claim of the company". William Auld was now acting as manager pro tem.
Shaft entrance and diggings at or near the sight of the Leigh Grand Junction Mine
By November they claimed to be mere feet away from the gutter, however success was still not forthcoming. The outcome of the January meeting does not appear to be mentioned in the media however, in February, 1866 the company was temporarily forced to stop work due to lack of capital.
Throughout 1866, the company continued trading - a statement of their financial position appeared in the Victorian Government Gazette of July 31st - and another meeting of investors was held on 15th September at which the company's directors were given the power to take out a larger mortgage to the value of  £2,000. The general mood was one of optimism and it was noted that nearby surface claims being worked were paying well, so there was an expectation that the Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company would soon turn a profit too. The mortgage, along with money owing from "unpaid calls" it was felt, would soon allow mining to recommence and when it did, there was only 50 foot of rock to be drilled through to reach the gutter, at which point, washing of the dirt could immediately commence as the puddling machinery to do the job was already in place.
In fact, by 18th December, 1866 this seems to have been the case. A general meeting of shareholders held (as usual) at the North Grant Hotel in Ballarat, was informed that the mine's equipment had been completely overhauled and that the engine which had previously operated at 50lb pressure was now working at 25lb, meaning a significant saving in the amount of wood required to fire it. Their finances were in good order and they expected to be in the gutter in six weeks, contractors having already removed 10 feet of "reef" during the earlier part of the month. Things were looking up.

19th century sketch of the North Grant Hotel. Image held by the
Gold Museum, Ballarat
Progress continued into 1867 with a "reef drive" being extended by 20 feet. More bores were also sunk to drain the workings which were reportedly producing water at a rate of about 800 gallons/hour. Finally in March, 1867 a breakthrough occurred and the Australasian reported "The upper-drive workings of the Leigh Grand Junction Company have broken into three feet of washdirt. The reef is nearly level and gold is just visible."
Any optimism following the breakthrough was short-lived as the gold extracted from the claim was still not enough to keep the operation afloat, let alone return a dividend to shareholders. By late September, the works were again on hold "for want of calls" and the company's liabilities were approaching £900.
And so the cycle continued into 1868. Works were continuing in the first months of the year with the manager listed as J McQuie, who had held that position since 1866, but by April things had reached breaking point. A meeting was called for 2nd May, to decide whether to continue operations or to pay off the company's liabilities and wind it up.
A gold mine from the Northern Territory which may have been similar in scale
to the Leigh Grand Junction mine, image held by the Northern Territory Library
By May it was all over. A mortgagee sale was to be held at the end of the month to sell off, the claim and its associated equipment. This was followed by a second auction on the site of the claim in July. At the same time, the trustees of the company were summonsed to defend a claim by Robert Allan of Buninyong who asserted that claim number 917 (known as the Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company) was abandoned and that by virtue of miner's right he was entitled to take possession and occupy the claim.
Finally, in February 1869, tenders were called for the removal and re-erection of a large pumping plant which had recently been purchased from the Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company. The venture had come to an end.
Throughout the ensuing decade, there was little activity recorded in the area. It was noted some years later that "The yields from the Leigh Grand Junction claim, though poor, were not of so utterly discouraging a nature as to prohibit further enterprise, and an increase is not less probable than a diminution of yield as the lead travels south."
A report in 1874 indicated that although the claim was idle, good gold could still be obtained. It was stated that previous operations at the site had been abandoned due to a lack of funds before the deepest part of the gutter was reached.
This was not quite the end of the gold mining history of this site however and it may have been reports such as these which in 1887 led to resumption of mining operations on the site.
The Victorian Government Gazette of 28th October, 1887 records the registration two days earlier of the Madame Bent Extended Gold Mining Company, with Benjamin Doughty Smith as manager, issuing 24,000 shares valued at £2 each.
This company is not to be confused with the similarly-named (and possibly more successful) Madame Bent Mining Company which was first registered a year earlier in October, 1886. According to the prospectus for the latter company (published in the Argus 27th September, 1886), this mine operated from what had previously been the City of Manchester Mine, the neighbouring claim located a short distance upriver from the old Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company claim.
Section of map showing the relative positions of the Leigh Grand Junction
and the City of Manchester mines as indicated by the letter X. Full image
held by the State Library of Victoria

There have been various sources over the years, some of which indicate - accurately - that the Madame Bent Mining Company was formerly the City of Manchester mine, however there are just as many indicating that it was previously the Leigh Grand Junction Mining Company. I suspect that the two companies were not unrelated as it seems likely that BD Smith, auditor for the Madame Bent Mining Company in 1886 was the same person as Benjamin Doughty Smith, manager of the more-recently established Madame Bent Extended Mining Company, which was launched the following year - perhaps on the back of the projected success of the earlier mine.
Regardless, the mine at the Leigh Junction is mentioned only three times in the government gazettes from this later period and there is no online reference I can find later than mid-1888 which might indicate the success or otherwise of this mine. I can only speculate that perhaps it was wound up at the same time as the original Madame Bent claim.


04 December, 2014

Launching from Inverleigh

Last weekend I had the opportunity to paddle a short section of the Barwon and Leigh Rivers at Inverleigh. I have walked part of the distance on the track along the western bank from the Hamilton Highway to the Inverleigh-Winchelsea Road. This time I was able to see it from a different angle and to access short sections of the Barwon which I haven't seen before, so I thought I'd share a few of the photos.
I put in at a campsite a couple of hundred metres down the track from the bridge on the Inverleigh-Winchelsea Road (easy 2WD access in dry weather) where the bank is quite flat. From there, I paddled down to the confluence of the two rivers.

Launch point
Just downstream of my entry point
View of the eastern bank

Looking back to the south

The confluence from the south. The Leigh River enters to the left of the viewing
platform and the Barwon flows to the right (east) towards Geelong.
From the confluence, I paddled the 1km section up the Leigh River to the bridge on the Hamilton Highway however, rather than drag the kayak through the shallows under the bridge, I headed back to the confluence.
The Leigh River, looking north
The rail bridge over the Leigh, looking north

The rail bridge over the Leigh

The Hamilton Highway bridge from below
Looking downriver (south) 
From there, I hung a left and headed downstream. This is a part of the river I haven't seen in a very long time, however I have been here once before. In the 1980s, my brother, father and a friend of mine paddled the Barwon from Inverleigh down to Pollocksford - a journey I am hoping to repeat soon. I don't remember much of the event, except that there were several sections of rapids and that the trip took much longer than any of us expected.

A bunch of less-than-impressed bovines
On this occasion, I headed off with the intention of seeing how far I could get before things got tricky. For over 1km, the river was relatively wide and unobstructed.
Heading east

Farmland to either side
 However, a little more than 1.2km downstream, I was confronted by a small weir, below which was a stretch through which the flow of the river passed around reeds and rocks which would have been tricky to paddle through heading downstream, let alone coming back upstream, so I had reached the end of my journey in that direction.
Approaching the weir
At the weir
Consequently, I paddled back upstream to the confluence and then back beyond my starting point, this time with the intention of seeing how far upstream I could make it.
Inverleigh-Winchelsea Road bridge over the Barwon
 Beyond the Inverleigh-Winchelsea Road bridge, things became a little more tricky. The river narrowed somewhat and became littered with fallen trees and branches.

Upstream a short distance towards Winchelsea
Surprisingly, I was still able to navigate over 1.5 km upstream before I came to a fallen tree which would have required me to disembark and undertake some haulage. Again, not insurmountable if I was undertaking a one way trip, but not today.
I headed back to my starting point to arrange a pick up. With any luck I will be back sooner rather than later.



22 November, 2014

Branching out - a river of gold

Millions of years ago (somewhere between 443 - 419 of them to be specific) in the Silurian period of the Paleozoic era, as the first plant life began to appear on Earth, rocks were laid down - sandstone, mudstone, shale, quartzite. These became the bedrock which underlies the Ballarat goldfields and the surrounding districts. Through this rock ran the auriferous quartz reefs which provided such fabulous wealth for the mining companies like those at Steiglitz - big companies with big machines which could sink a shaft hundreds of metres down and then follow the lead, extracting all the precious gold.
Today, this ancient Silurian rock can still be seen, exposed to the elements at points along the various watercourses of the region such as the Leigh River and its tributaries including Cargerie, Williamson's, Reid's and Coolabaghurk Creeks. It can also be seen in rather dramatic form in the steep rock walls which make up the narrow gorge through which the Leigh flows at the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge.
Silurian rock formation at the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge
In sections of the river like this, the underlying rock is exposed, however most of it lies deep underground, covered by the products of subsequent geological events - events which also helped shape the countryside we see today and the rich goldmining industry which flourished during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
As I discussed in my previous post, from the 1860s onwards as the shallow alluvial gold supplies began to dry up, the large mining companies moved in, working large claims around the Ballarat region and extending south onto the Sebastopol Plateau and beyond. These companies were all working "deep leads" - deposits of alluvial gold buried deep underground along the courses of ancient riverbeds. One such lead to the south of Ballarat was known as the Durham Lead. It was buried up to 100m below the surface, under layers of basalt laid down during volcanic events more than 3 million years ago.
This of course raises an interesting question: exactly which ancient riverbed does the Durham Lead follow?
In geological terms, the answer lies back in the Paleozoic era when the Silurian bedrock of the area was first laid down and in the millions of intervening years up to the present. During this time (over 400 million years), the forces of nature exerted their influence. The rocks were subject to weathering and erosion. Gradually, watercourses formed. These were wide, shallow streams cutting their way through the ancient bedrock, forming new rivers and creeks.
Diagram showing the relative geological timeframe of the events along the Leigh River
from 541 million years ago (the beginning of the Paleozoic era) to the present day.
NOTE: the divisions are NOT to scale
* Scale in millions of years before the present day
One of these ancient rivers carved out a path which was not dissimilar to the current course of the Leigh River as we know it today. This ancient ancestor of the modern Leigh River cut through not only the Silurian rocks described above, but also through the quartz reefs contained within them. In doing so, any gold contained with these reefs was freed from the bedrock but collected within the river channel. Being heavy, much of the gold sank and became trapped in the riverbed and according to early geological reports from the 1860s, did not move far from its original source.
Over time, temperatures changed, sea levels rose and coastlines retreated. Rivers, along with the countryside were inundated and their beds filled with the remains of marine organisms by a huge Miocene sea stretching inland as far as the township of Meredith. These calcium-rich deposits would eventually form limestone, tracts of which can still be found scattered across the region at places such as Fyansford where limestone has long been quarried. In the case of the ancient Leigh River, the Miocene deposits extend a,lmost up to the Bamganie area, covering the ancient riverbed and the "drift" which had collected along its course from earlier erosion.
Once again however, with the passing of many more millennia, the region entered a stage of deposition. Sea levels began to recede and more material was laid down during what is termed the Pliocene era. This was followed by a period of erosion where the bed of the ancient Leigh was carved deeper into the bedrock, its channel becoming steeper and the flow of the river, more powerful. These early Pliocene deposits were worn away, surviving as caps on higher outcrops in areas such as the rising ground between the modern Leigh River and Native Hut Creek or the Leigh and Williamson's Creek.
Depiction of geological events affecting the ancient Leigh River. Diagram adapted from the following
Victorian parliamentary paper, 1874: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1874No64.pdf
New deposits, a combination of the old Pliocene material, the bedrock and of course, alluvial gold once again settled on the riverbed. It was this material which would one day form the "wash dirt" of the Durham Lead, the mud, clay and rocks from which the prized gold had to be extracted, but that was still several million years in the future. At this time (later in the Pliocene era) the region entered a phase of volcanic activity. During this period several distinct volcanic events affected the course of the old river. The earliest, flowed down the course of the river from the north, trapping the sediment deposited on the riverbed under a thick layer of basalt which in turn was covered by another layer of drift material. A second eruption covered the three previous layers, almost filling the bed of the old river before a third eruption (possibly flowing south from Mt Mercer and Mt Lawaluk on the west and Green Hills - aka Mt Collier - to the east) overtopped the channel and spread across the plains below Mt Mercer. In this area, the course of the old Leigh River and any gold it contained was now completely buried beneath the basalt plains.
Aerial view of the Mt Mercer volcano cone. Click to enlarge
Further down, below Bamganie, all trace of the lead was thought to have been obliterated by the encroachment of the Miocene sea. From this point, the ancient riverbed was lined not with Silurian bedrock, but with Miocene limestone.
Of course, with the filling of the old channel, the water which flowed from the higher ground above Ballarat needed to go somewhere, so over time a new channel formed, wearing its way through the recently formed upper layer of basalt. Often it flowed along the line where the hard basalt met the softer Silurian rock. In its upper reaches, the new river for the most part followed a similar course to the old, cutting back and forth across the old riverbed until it reached the Mt Mercer flow.
At this point, the lava flow was so great that the course of the old river disappeared entirely beneath the basalt and it became all but impossible for the mining companies to trace the lead. As a consequence, there was little large-scale mining activity below the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge.
For the newly formed Leigh River, it became necessary at this point to forge its own path through the basalt, which it did, winding its way towards Shelford and Inverleigh, forming what we recognise today as the course of the modern Leigh River.
The Leigh River at Shelford 

12 November, 2014

Branching out - a drain on resources

Whilst researching my previous posts on the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge, I came across an interesting plan, dating back almost to the Gold Rush, to drain unwanted water from the gold mining operations which had spread from Ballarat all the way down to Mount Mercer and beyond. This rather long post looks at those plans.
By the 1850s, gold was all the rage across the newly-declared colony of Victoria and nowhere more so than in Ballarat and surrounds. Prospectors flocked to the goldfields, hopeful of making their fortune working the shallow deposits of alluvial gold which seemed to exist in such abundance.
By the 1870s however, most of the shallow leads had been worked out and gold was becoming harder to find and more expensive to mine. As a result, this decade saw the arrival of the big mining companies chasing deep leads and quartz reefs. On the low lands to the south of Ballarat, this was especially true. Alluvial gold was there to be found, but much of it lay deep in the ground under a layer of hard basalt, which had flowed from surrounding volcanoes, filling ancient creeks and riverbeds where equally ancient alluvial deposits had formed millions of years earlier. Also beneath the basalt lay the quartz reefs, the products of even earlier volcanic events.
 As the mining companies moved in, they brought with them their blasting equipment, crushing batteries, water pumps and the steam engines required to power them all.
Looking across the Sebastopol workings
The pumps, whilst expensive to run, were vital to the safe operation of the mines and the deeper the mine, the more of a problem water became. Not only did it make removal of auriferous material difficult, if a shaft became suddenly inundated, it could be fatal for the miners below the surface. Whilst buckets could be used to manually remove water from shallower mineshafts with minimal seepage, deeper shafts - often with lateral tunnels known as drives extending at an angle from the main shaft - also suffered seepage and were prone to catastrophic flooding if water were to break through from the more porous layers above the bedrock and enter the mine.
Steam-driven pumps were often used to drain shafts however they were expensive to operate, requiring a constant supply of fuel to keep the engines running. As a general rule, it was only the big mining companies which could afford such equipment and this was true of the area to the south of Ballarat where even today, the names of the towns reflect those of the mines which operated in the area - names such as Napoleons, Durham Lead, Enfield, Grenville and Scotchman's Lead.

Illustration and cross-section view of the Pioneer Gold Mining Company's
mine a little to the south of today's Durham Lead township and the same
distance east of the Leigh. Image held by the State Library of Victoria.
Click to enlarge
So much of an issue was drainage, that in 1877 the Department of Mines requested a report into the feasibility of draining not just a single mine, but the entire Sebastopol Plateau and the area below that known as the Durham Lead - an area extending south from Ballarat towards Mount Mercer and covering an area of around 120 square miles (311 square kilometres) - of which at least 40 square miles (104 square kilometres) was thought to be auriferous. It was felt that draining the plateau would not only open up access to new leads, but also allow for the cheap reworking of earlier claims which either had not been efficiently mined or which had been abandoned due to flooding.
The report was produced by the geological surveyor Reginald A. F. Murray who noted that the watershed of the Leigh River above the Perseverance Mine (previously the Chryseis mine situated near the Leigh about 2km north east of the modern township of Grenville) covered an area of around 200 square miles (518 square kilometres) which he claimed equated to a daily subterranean "percolation" of around 95 million gallons (approximately 360 megalitres) of water through the plateau. But how to drain it?
Map showing Ballarat and Sebastopol mining claims on the upper
section of the plateau. Image held by the State Library of Victoria.
Click to enlarge
Murray proposed a two-part process to effect the required drainage. The first and most detailed stage involved the construction of an adit: a horizontal (or almost horizontal) tunnel providing access to a mine, which could be used for ventilation, removal of minerals or drainage. He stated that the adit should run from the Perseverance Mine on the Leigh, more than 6 miles to one of two feasible points about a mile and a half below the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge and should be funded by the government at a cost of £38,000. It could be constructed in two and a half years by tunnelling from both ends and from eight shafts sunk at intervals in between. Costs would be kept low as the tunnel would not require drilling through basalt, only "Silurian rocks of the ordinary character" and where this was the case, timbering or brick lining to support the tunnel would not be required, offsetting the extra cost of blasting through the stone.

Map which accompanied Murray's report, showing the proposed line of the first section of the adit.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria. Click to enlarge.
The second stage involved extending the adit - using private finance - further north "through or along the old workings of the Durham Lead as far as may be requisite". The report seems a little vague as to exactly how much of the Plateau and Durham Lead would be effectively drained, but an article in the Bendigo Advertiser of 17th December, 1877 suggests that it would drain mining claims from the Durham Company's mine up to Ballarat. In the event, a drainage bill was introduced to parliament in October, 1878. It was withdrawn a month or so later, only to be reintroduced the following year, this time with two suggested alternatives: Murray's plan, or a scheme which involved the use of steam pumps to do the work of the adit. It would seem that nothing was resolved as the issue of draining the plateau was also in the newspapers in 1881, 1882 and again in 1886 when the Mines Department called for expressions of opinions as to how best to drain the plateau. The following year, the issue was put before a Parliamentary select committee where three proposals were tabled: 1) to drain the plateau entirely by pump 2) to extend the adit all the way up to Sebastopol or 3) to drain the lower Durham Lead area using the initial adit suggested by Murray, with pumps then being used to drain the upper section.
Many opinions were put forward for and against each option. There were those who felt that whilst cheaper, the pumps would not provide adequate drainage, whilst others suggested that Murray's estimates fell far short of what would be the true cost of constructing the adit. It was also suggested that to use only a system of adits would require around 19 miles, 10 chains of tunnel with a further 15 miles of tributary adits requiring the sinking of 38 shafts - quite a different story to Murray's proposal and significantly more expensive! Even then, the financial returns suggested by Murray were by no means guaranteed and nor was the drainage itself, it was claimed.
By November, 1889, the issue formed part of a broader royal commission into gold mining in Victoria with the same claims and counter claims about the efficacy of the suggested processes being put forward and some witnesses even claiming that there was little gold left in the area anyway.
Once again it seems no decision was reached and in 1901, 1902, 1903 and in 1905 attempts were still being made to secure government funding for some form of drainage, this time however with the added twist that "by his [the mining engineer's] scheme the adit would serve as a main sewer for the deep drainage of Ballarat and also allow for increasing the water supply."
Again, no definite action was taken although government grants were provided in some cases for private companies.
Then, finally in 1935, the media was abuzz with the news that the plan to construct a "20 mile" adit to drain the plateau had once again been proposed. This time a London company was prepared to spend what was now estimated as being the £1,000,000 required to complete the work which, the papers noted, had lapsed for the last 70 years owing to the expense. However, despite media declarations that drainage was imminent, there is no further mention of such a scheme past this time.
The plateau, it seems, was not drained, the adit was not constructed and the flow of water into the Leigh River was not changed as a consequence of such action, although it is interesting to speculate what the environmental effect of such a plan might have been.

05 November, 2014

Branching out - a grand old bridge

The Leigh Grand Junction Bridge which today crosses the Leigh River east of Mount Mercer, is the second bridge to stand on this site. The 40 year history of the first bridge is described in my two previous posts here and here. The second bridge will be the focus of this post.
By 1908 it had become clear that the first bridge - built in 1873 - was in desperate need of replacement. In November that year, Buninyong Shire got the ball rolling when they approached the Leigh Shire to discuss the issue. The following month, the Leigh Shire engineer (presumably CAC Wilson) reported to council that the bridge was in bad repair and should be replaced by an iron girder bridge.
Over the next year and more, decisions were made, costs determined and most importantly, plans were drawn up. The end result however was not the iron girder structure recommended, but rather a revolutionary, steel-reinforced prestressed-concrete bridge. The technology was relatively new to Victoria as the first concrete bridge had been completed just over a decade earlier in 1899.

Charles Corbett Powell Wilson, civil engineer. Image held
by the State Library of Victoria
This revolutionary design was the brainchild of Charles Corbett Powell Wilson, shire engineer from 1908 for both Meredith and Buninyong, and then, from 1910 upon the retirement of his father CAC Wilson, for Leigh Shire also. CAC was a pioneer in the use of concrete to build bridges and no doubt passed this interest on to his eldest son.
 Between them, these two men were responsible for the design and construction of scores of bridges and a vast array of community facilities across the three shires. For over 90 years from 1864 to 1938 they served as engineers in one shire or another and amongst their contributions were a number of bridges which spanned the Barwon, Moorabool, and Leigh Rivers and their tributaries (post to follow). Few however, were as impressive as the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge.

Leigh Grand Junction Bridge looking downstream, photograph taken
by Colin O'Connor, Copyright Department of the Environment
By the time the bridge was completed in the first months of 1911, the total cost had been reckoned at £1,118 of which the government agreed to pay £150. The remainder of the cost was to be divided between the three shires, with Buninyong paying half and the other two shires one quarter each. As per my previous post, after significant debate, this was the eventual outcome.
As to the bridge itself, the end result was a concrete structure with a carrying capacity of 30 tons. Coming in at 165 feet in length, it was however only 8 feet wide - a single lane. Unusually for bridges in the area, it stood some 35 feet above the river below (or by today's measurements: about 50.3m long, marginally less than 2.5m wide and over 10.5m high). The significant elevation was a necessary requirement due to the Leigh River having quite a steep, narrow channel at this point.
Today, the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge is one of the oldest surviving examples of a true concrete-reinforced girder bridge in Australia and not surprisingly, is heritage listed.

Looking upstream from the picnic area
Structurally, the bridge has four spans, each 38 feet 6 inches in length, which are supported by three slender piers and at its northern end, by a bluestone abutment, with concrete serving at the southern end. The columns of these piers are reinforced with "mild" or low-carbon steel (suitable for many purposes, including bridge-building) and are further strengthened by interconnecting diaphragms (concrete panels) at two levels.
In a clever move of both economic efficiency and structural enhancement, the steel used to reinforce the four T-section, concrete girders which span the bridge was recycled cable from the Melbourne tramways. The girders are connected to the piers below by distinctive triangular fillets and the whole is topped by a concrete slab sealed with bitumen, flanked by metal guard rails.
Protection during times of flooding is provided by cut-waters - triangular projections on the upriver face of the outermost column of each pier, which reduce pressure on the bridge during times of high water flow.
Bridge detail. Click to enlarge
As a further measure of economy, the mortar used in the construction process was made onsite by local council workers using sand taken from the river, with outside contract labour used only to construct the temporary timberwork required during construction. In total, completion of the bridge took about four months.
Aesthetically, the Grand Junction Bridge was described by the media of the day as "light and graceful". It was noted that the site had been a popular picnic spot in previous years and it was felt that the new bridge would increase the natural beauty of the area - already known for its impressive rock formations and lush growth -  and would encourage picnickers to return once again.
Rock face and picnic area downstream of the bridge today
Of course, an event such as the building of a new bridge - especially one which was so crucial to movement between three shires - could not go unremarked. Naturally, there was an official opening. This took place on 6th May, 1911 in the presence of such dignitaries as the Mayor of Buninyong, the presidents of each of the three shires and a large contingent of locals, all of whom were in imminent danger of losing their hats  to the roaring gale which was, in the words of The Ballarat Star, "howling furiously about the high wall of rock, and stirring the sluggish waters below into unwonted activity".
So, under less than ideal conditions, the Acting Commissioner of Public Works declared the bridge open. A ribbon - placed with some difficulty by Mr Wilson - was then cut by Mrs Edgar, wife of the acting commissioner before the company enjoyed a luncheon served by the ladies. Naturally this was accompanied by the expected round of toasting and mutual back-slapping which seem to be traditional on such occasions.
Thereafter, with the exception of some discussion of the bridge with respect to the necessary adjustments to shire boundaries, the media appears to make no further mention of its existence. After the trials and tribulations over the 40 year lifespan of the previous bridge, this speaks volumes for the quality and the endurance of this revolutionary bridge which over 103 years later still survives as a tribute to the engineering skill and vision of CCP Wilson, shire engineer.

30 October, 2014

Branching out - pushing the boundaries

...and so the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge was built. It was a joint effort - as described in my previous post - by the shires of Leigh, Meredith and Buninyong, however as with all infrastructure, it required maintenance...and that was where things became a little tricky.
As I outlined, after contributing its allocated share to build the bridge, the Shire of Meredith declined to make any further contribution towards its upkeep - a state of affairs which continued until 1911 when the time came to replace the original bridge.
But on what basis did the shire argue that the responsibility was not theirs?
There were two arguments. The first relates to the vexed issue of shire boundaries and will be the primary focus of this post. According to the media of the day, the bridge was built a little north of the point at which the three shires met; Buninyong to the north and Leigh and Meredith Shires to the south, the latter two divided by the Leigh River.
Complications arose however, as the boundaries between the three shires moved over time. This was not an uncommon occurrence and the Victorian Government Gazette records regular boundary changes over the years - including some changes to the area in question.


The site of all the debate
But to go right back, it is perhaps most useful to establish some original boundaries, beginning with the Buninyong Road District (predecessor of Buninyong Shire) which was proclaimed in 1858. At that time it was noted in describing the extent of the new District that part of its southern boundary (which extended either side of the Leigh River for over 18 miles) included the northern boundary of the Mount Mercer Pre-emptive Right.
Later survey maps indicate that this part of the line became the eastern end of the Dereel-Mt Mercer Road. Further entries in the Victorian Government Gazette indicate that this remained the southern boundary of the Buninyong Shire until at least 1869. The line crosses the Leigh River about 700m south of the eventual site of the Grand Junction Bridge.
Next, the Meredith Road District was proclaimed in 1863. The description of its northern most extent on the Leigh River is somewhat unhelpfully indicated as the southern boundary of the Buninyong Road District. So far so good, however in November 1870, things got a little more complicated when it was recommended by the government that a part of Buninyong Shire be detached and instead added to the Meredith Road District.
Why? Well, one possible reason arises from confusion over rates. Land owners within a given shire or road district paid rates to that entity, however land allotments were originally surveyed and titles issued within civil parishes grouped into counties. Since shire boundaries did not necessarily follow parish borders, this meant that in some cases the property of a given land owner, whilst inside a single parish, could fall under the jurisdiction of two shires.
According to the Geelong Advertiser of 10th December, 1869 this was exactly the case for one particular landowner who had received rates notices for the full extent of his land holdings from both the Buninyong Shire and the Meredith Road District - and he wasn't happy! So the suggested boundary change may have been an attempt to resolve such issues.


Small weir below the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge
The section of land (relevant to this post) which was to be ceded to the Meredith Road District was described as extending from Williamson's Creek down to the "current boundary" which presumably was the southern border of Buninyong Shire as described above. This course of action was recommended by the government. I did not find official evidence of its having been enacted, however anecdotal evidence suggests it was.
For the purposes of the Grand Junction Bridge however, it meant that rather than lying entirely within the Shire of Buninyong, by the time the bridge was built, it was now partly within the Meredith Road District. Simple!
Well, no, not really because (as Meredith Shire would later claim), at the time of construction, some or all of the land gained in 1870 was returned to the Shire of Buninyong with the opening of the bridge in 1873. The reason for this was not mentioned as far as I can see and there seemed to be some doubt as to how much land it was. Regardless, by 1881 when the bridge was in need of repair, Meredith Shire claimed it was not liable for the cost as the bridge did not fall within its boundaries (and indeed claimed it never had). Notably at this time, Leigh Shire whose land never extended as far as the bridge at any stage, agreed to pay one quarter of the cost and felt that Meredith Shire should do likewise.
A vain hope. Meredith did not contribute. The wrangling may however have drawn the attention of the state government for in 1882 the two shires (Buninyong and Meredith) were told to sort out their boundaries. They were asked to come to an agreement on a common boundary which followed a survey line, thereby avoiding the original issue of allotments divided between shires. The problem by this time however, was that Buninyong were now opposed to "any severance of their shire" and would only agree to return the territory up to the original boundary. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but didn't that involve shire boundaries dividing allotments?

Survey map showing a section of Cargerie Parish and the most southerly
portion of the Buninyong Shire boundary as established in 1882.
Click to enlarge
Well, it would seem that in the end, Buninyong more than got their way. The new boundary heading east from the river was clearly defined as following the southern border of those allotments which had originally been divided between the two shires. So, from having had a foot in each camp, to belonging to the Meredith Road District these once divided allotments (and a number of properties to the north) now found themselves officially confirmed as part of Buninyong Shire.
Not surprisingly, when the bridge once again required repairs in 1890, Meredith Shire continued to maintain that it was not their responsibility, as the bridge was not within the shire. Likewise, Leigh Shire again argued that Meredith should bear part of the financial responsibility and were quick to express their disappointment at the minister's failure to arbitrate in the matter. None-the-less, Meredith made no contribution to the bridge's maintenance on this occasion or in 1902 when further works were carried out.
Finally, by 1908 the situation had reached crisis point. A new bridge was needed; the old one could no longer be repaired. Buninyong approached Leigh Shire citing a replacement cost of £800 for the new bridge.
Almost two years later by October, 1910 that estimate had risen to £1,000 and Buninyong was requesting that the Meredith Shire contribute one quarter of that cost. As usual, Meredith claimed that they were not responsible and added the rider that due to a fire in the shire hall in 1895 in which all their records were lost, they were unable to prove any liability in the matter.
This time however, representatives of the other shires were not so easily deterred and a "conference" - attended by representatives of all three shires - was held in order to settle the matter once and for all. As expected, the Meredith councillors cited the land handed back to Buninyong at the time the bridge was built and claimed that this exonerated them from any ongoing obligation regarding maintenance. They also pointed out the absence of records due to the fire, but insisted that "all they wanted was to see documentary evidence that Meredith Shire was a party to the agreement [to continue to maintain the bridge] before they took any steps in the matter".
Probably expecting this response, the councillors from the other two shires had turned to their own records from 1869 when plans for the bridge were originally outlined. The minutes from these proceedings some 40 years earlier clearly showed that the then Meredith Road District had undertaken to contribute to the ongoing maintenance of the bridge. Perhaps a little confusingly, they also indicated that the bridge had been built on the common boundary of the three shires (when in fact it would seem that it was built entirely on Buninyong land). Various councillors also claimed that the route of the road had been altered (perhaps to reflect some of the boundary changes), although no documentary evidence of the latter could be found.
Undaunted, the Meredith councillors argued that they had received no correspondence over the duration and that no approach had been made to them for maintenance costs.
On the contrary, claimed Councillor Eason for Buninyong, Meredith had been asked to contribute, but had declined to pay as they did not accept any liability in the matter. Eventually however, after all the arguments had been put forward, including the input of Councillor Vernon, the Leigh Shire President, who had been present forty years earlier at the initial negotiations,  the Meredith Shire representatives accepted their shire's responsibility and agreed to put the matter to council at their next meeting. 
Then (perhaps as a sweetener to ensure the deal to pay the £237/10/- was approved by council), councillor Eason for Buninyong made the following offer:
"owing to the friendly spirit which the Meredith Shire council had received the various delegates [at the conference], it would give him great pleasure to bring before his council the question of giving back to Meredith the land which was conceded to Buninyong 40 years ago".
And that finally, was almost that. After much discussion and despite dire warnings from some Meredith councillors that the east riding of the shire would secede to Corio Shire if forced to pay its portion of the £237/10/-, the council agreed at its meeting on 12th April, 1911 to pay up.
Mark up showing my interpretation of each boundary change. Click to Enlarge

All that remained was to build the bridge and once again establish shire boundaries. These were formally declared and described in the Victorian Government Gazette of 27th September, 1911. In brief, the southern-most section of Buninyong Shire's boundary approaching the Leigh River from the east would henceforth follow the line of the Elaine-Mt Mercer Road from its intersection with the Meredith-Mt Mercer Road up to the bridge whilst on the Leigh Shire side of the bridge, the boundary would continue to follow the road to the Mount Mercer intersection and beyond.
This latter stipulation as far as I can tell, also moved the boundary of the Leigh Shire to the north, ensuring for the first time that the bridge did indeed lie at the junction of all three shires, presumably scotching any further argument over responsibility. Today, the entire area lies firmly within the Golden Plains Shire, formed in 1994 from the amalgamation of the shires of Bannockburn, Leigh, Grenville and part of Buninyong Shire. The shire of Meredith had amalgamated with that of Bannockburn in 1915, only a few years after the new Leigh Grand Junction Bridge was opened.

Branching out - a bridge of contention

The Leigh Grand Junction Bridge which crosses the Leigh River at Mount Mercer comes with quite a bit of history attached. A little research has shown me that more than the single post I had initially intended will be required to untangle the threads of its past. This first post looks at the original bridge built on the site.
Note: I can find no photos of the original bridge so have settled for photos of the relevant shire halls in which decisions about its future were made.
By the late 1860s, there was mounting pressure from local farmers for the erection of a bridge across the Leigh River near Mt Mercer, to expedite the transport of goods and stock through the district. A petition submitted to the Leigh Shire Council in 1869 requested that the engineers of the Leigh, Buninyong and Meredith Shires look in to building a bridge at the point where the three shires met, the intention being that the cost of construction and on-going maintenance would be shared between them. Buninyong Shire were keen to proceed and, it is stated, initiated the project.
Original Buninyong Shire Offices 1837-1874, photograph held by the Victorian State Library
A simple enough arrangement, right? Perhaps.
Things started moving and in 1870, the Meredith Road District (which was not proclaimed a shire until 28th April, 1871) received correspondence from the Buninyong Shire asking that it contribute to the cost of building the bridge which was estimated at about £2,000. The bridge would be located "near" the boundary of the three shires but not at the exact point at which they met as this was deemed impractical. Instead, a site a few hundred metres to the north was selected, presumably placing the bridge entirely within the Shire of Buninyong.
By early 1871 however, progress stalled when the three shires decided that a timber bridge costing not more than £1,000 was all they could afford. Things hit a further stumbling block when Buninyong Shire elected to delay construction for a further six months for financial reasons.By 1872 however, construction was finally underway and the Victorian Government Gazette of 12th December, 1872 records that a payment of £533/6/- was made to Buninyong Shire for that purpose. The work seems to have progressed without further delay and the bridge was finally completed in 1873. In the end, the total cost of the project was in the order of £1,068 - about twice the amount contributed by the Victorian government. The additional cost was covered by the shires with Buninyong paying half and Meredith and Leigh a quarter each.
Only a few years later, disaster was narrowly averted when in January, 1875 bushfires threatened the new bridge which is said to have caught alight on several occasions, however it survived and that is where things stood - at least until 1881 when the bridge required repair. Recognising their responsibility under the original agreement, the Leigh Shire agreed to contribute one quarter of the cost of the £30 spent on repairs by Buninyong Shire and felt that Meredith Shire should do likewise. Upon receiving a request from Buninyong for a conference to discuss the issue, the Meredith Shire chose to take no action and as far as I can tell, did not make a financial contribution.
Meredith Shire Hall 1968, photo by John T. Colliins, held by the State Library of Victoria
It seems however that the measures were only temporary and by 1883 a Leigh Shire council meeting heard that the bridge was in such poor condition as to be almost impassable and was a danger to life. What measures were taken to solve the problem, I could not see. Things reached a head however in August 1889 when it was reported that the western approach had given way, taking part of the bridge with it. An engineering report reiterated an earlier recommendation that this section of roadway should be further dug out and a new section added to the existing bridge.
Once again engineers' reports were sought, along with financial assistance from the government. The cost of repairs was estimated at £568 of which the government initially offered to pay £100. This did not sit well with the shires of Leigh and Buninyong who felt that the government should pay one third of the cost, with each shire contributing the same. It was also demanded by the Leigh Shire that the liability of Meredith Shire to contribute should be tested. The sticking point according to Buninyong Shire was that Meredith had surrendered land to Buninyong at the original time of construction, and therefore Meredith Shire felt it was no longer responsible for the ongoing cost of the bridge. Approached on the issue, Meredith councilors indicated that the bridge was not within shire boundaries, never had been and was "now" even further away (more of which later). Leigh Shire - whose borders did not include the bridge either - wanted ministerial intervention to resolve the matter and were less than impressed when it was slow to arrive.
Leigh Shire Hall, taken March 2014
Eventually after several months' delay, it was decreed that the government would pay £200 on the proviso that Leigh and Buninyong each contributed £200 and sorted out their boundary differences (no mention of Meredith).
Plans for the repairs were drawn up by the Leigh Shire engineer - Charles Anthony Corbett Wilson and the work was overseen by Mr Hale, acting engineer for the Buninyong Shire. In June, 1890 Buninyong accepted a tender to repair the bridge and construct a bluestone abutment to stabilise the site. The eventual result was that the bridge was repaired using much of the original timber to cut costs, with a view to replacing it ad hoc down the track. At this time, it consisted of five spans (each 25 foot in length) with a masonry (presumably bluestone) abutment on the west side.
Whilst there does not seem to have been an official opening of the original bridge, there was - on the 17th September, 1890 - an official re-opening, attended by politicians, councilors and members of the public who were treated to a luncheon and speeches (with suitable toasts) before those present walked in procession across the bridge, sang "God Save the Queen" and "Auld Lang Syne" and the bridge was declared open.
And so things remained for a few more years. In 1898 however, the timbers in the bridge were yet again declared to be rotting and in 1902, the passage of a traction engine across the bridge, caused its southern end to drop by around 18 inches. A rubble wall was suggested by the Buninyong engineer to shore up the structure. The works were completed by September, 1902 with Leigh Shire again contributing financially. Further repairs were necessary when a bushfire damaged the timbers of the bridge in 1906.
Finally however, by 1908, it was clear to all concerned, that a new bridge was necessary.



19 October, 2014

Turtle tales

A Google search on the topic of turtles in the Barwon River does not prove particularly revealing, however there are definitely turtles to be found. In an earlier post I looked at the Eastern Snake-necked turtle which is found on Native Hut Creek and which is highlighted at the Turtle Bend community facility in Teesdale.

Eastern Snake-necked turtle. Image taken from :
http://www.australianfreshwaterturtles.com.au/
That being said, I am yet to spot an Eastern Snake-necked turtle in the wild and have not found specific mention of them occurring in the Barwon itself. For that matter, after spending quite a bit of time over a years on and around the river, I had never seen a turtle of any description - until this year when I saw two in a matter of a couple of weeks.
The first I spotted whilst paddling from Fyansford down to Breakwater during September. It was sitting on a log sunbaking and was quite happy to sit and watch while I snapped some photos:
Turtle on the Barwon at Fyansford
 It was clearly not an Eastern Snake-necked, so what was it? A little research suggested it was in fact a Murray River turtle (also known as a Macquarie turtle or Murray Short-necked turtle) and a fairly large one at that. So what was it doing in the Barwon? Well, these turtles live happily in captivity and I spotted this guy close to a reasonably populous part of the river. Perhaps it was an escaped pet - a one off.
Murray River turtle on the Barwon at Fyansford

A different view
But then, a couple of weeks later as I was paddling upstream above Merrawarp Road, some eight to nine kilometres from the place I spotted the previous turtle, I came across a second Murray River turtle. Like the first, this one was sunning itself on a branch, however it was smaller than the first and quite shy, disappearing back into the river before I had time to grab more than a couple of shots.
A second Murray River turtle on the Barwon
Another difference was that, this turtle was in a very rural part of the river and between this and the previous turtle is a stretch of river including the two weirs and Buckley Falls.
As with my search for information about Snake-neck turtles in the Barwon, I can find nothing which mentions a population of Murray River turtles being present either. In fact, one of the few references I found to turtles and the Barwon River did not really relate to turtles at all, rather it was a suggestion put forward that one explanation for the bunyip myth may have been a cultural memory of the extinct Meiolania platyceps or Meiolania prisca. The former being a large, horned turtle with a club tail which could measure up to 2.5 metres in length and the latter, a similarly large lizard.

Extinct giant turtle. Image taken from:
http://dinosaurs.wikia.com/wiki/File:Meiolania_platyceps.png
 All of which is interesting, however I am still none-the-wiser as to the presence of turtles of any description in the Barwon River.