22 June, 2014

Branching out - scratching the surface

In my last post I looked at a gold mine along the banks of Woodbourne Creek near Bamganie, however this was not the only gold prospecting which went on along the creek. A little further upstream of the mine, along a small spring-fed creek which runs into Woodbourne Creek there is clear evidence of surface working.
A gully leading to the creek showing signs of digging
A number of small gullies show signs of excavation (and subsequent erosion) and the remains of structures used in the extraction of gold can also be seen. The first thing to note however, are a number of shallow dips in the landscape adjacent to the little creek where prospectors have removed surface soil to a depth of only a few feet, looking for those tell-tale signs which would indicate the presence of gold.
A small hollow (centre and below the skyline) indicates test digging
If none were found, they would move on, trying their luck in another spot. Other signs of activity can be seen in some of the gullies where the remains of walls are evident, built as part of the digging process.

A worked gully with the remains of a wall just visible in the middle distance
Remains of a cement wall
Remains of wall
Another obvious construction is the remains of a shallow water channel which presumably ran from further up the creek, diverting water off to the various gullies being worked.
Water channel running beside the gullies
Another less obvious sign of the mining process was pointed out by our guide. Walking up a gully we arrived at a large, levelled off area which was circular and slightly raised with a hole in the centre. After explaining the that tailings from the local mining activities had been used in later years to form road base, he then suggested that this was not the case here and I could see what he meant.
The hole in the centre of the mound
Remains of a puddling machine
These surely were the remains of a puddling machine used to crush the rock which was brought up from the gullies below. The circular area would have formed the base whilst the central hole would have contained the shaft around which the wheel turned. There was no obvious depression in which the wheel which crushed the rock would have turned, but perhaps that had been filled in.
An excellent example of a puddling machine still in operation today is that at Sovereign Hill, however the general workings can be seen in this illustration from 1855 by Samuel Thomas Gill:
1855 depiction of a puddling machine by ST Gill, image held by the National
Library of Australia
The machine was used to break up lumps of clay and gravel, before it was transferred for washing to remove the gold from the soil. This could be done using a hand-operated cradle, by panning or by running the crushed dirt through a sluice which could be a small box similar to a cradle or a larger structure running down a creek or gully. I do not know which of the various processes were used at this site but perhaps the presence of the channel leading across the top of the gullies suggests sluicing was employed. This was certainly the most efficient means of washing the dirt, but was reliant upon a good supply of water.
What I do know is that the workings along Woodbourne and Cargerie Creeks were never rich fields like nearby Steiglitz and the work there was probably hard and often unrewarding. These were small alluvial claims worked by hand and using small machinery, not the deep leads and heavy equipment of Steiglitz.

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