Central Goldfields

Heathcote July 31st 2021.

Text ML&ML, Photos ML, ML, TW

We had ruled out walking at Mt Disappointment as storms and off-roader damage had closed access and good walking. So on the first chance after Lockdown 5, Mick, Meri and Harvey checked alternative walking in the goldfields of Old McIvor (now Heathcote). The natural beauty, geology and relics of gold fever made this a good alternative, if only the weather would be kind. The forecast was actually pretty dreadful but still 25 turned up. True to our good fortune on MUAB walks, we were presented with a perfect day of blue skies and winter sunshine. 

First off we met together at Pink Cliffs to see the strangely beautiful lunarscape of bedrock pinnacles exposed  by the gold rush of the 1880’s. Nothing has grown since hydraulic mining scoured out creek deposits behind the town. By 1890 the government ‘Sludge Commission’s Enquiry’  had put a stop to the ruination of grazing land downstream and so probably substantial quantities of gold dust remain undisturbed. At Pink Cliffs we divided into two walking parties with a plan for coffee and cake by end of the day. 

The shorter walkers (9) enjoyed a beautiful bush circuit through the Heathcote-Graytown National Park. It was only about 9 km all up, but with a couple of long steady climbs it felt every bit of that. The more agile enjoyed a scramble out through the back of Devil Cave before morning tea. Walking in the open forest was lovely, so peaceful and so relaxing after recent lockdowns. We met a large flock of currawongs, all calling loudly in their local dialect. Lunch break was at Viewing Rock before a lively downhill back to the historic Powder Magazine building and our cars. Afternoon tea at Gaffney’s Bakery was pretty good too. 

While all that was going on, Mick led the longer walkers (16) into the earlier history of the 1860’s. Potholes and pick and shovel shafts dot the thinly treed landscape of Spring Plains Nature Conservation Reserve. At its peak 10,000 independent miners lived in the tented city of McIvor, chasing colour in quartz seams and turning over alluvial flats for nuggets. we entered at Campbell’s Lane and navigated by compass and watch through the maze of tracks off Mundy Lane. We were looking for mining relics and particularly the hand carved water sluice that winds along a sloping contour 60km from the ranges behind Tooborac to the Pink Cliffs. In this very dry country, water was the essential ingredient for washing for gold. We found several places where the miners had hand cut crawl-through passages to cross granite ridges and keep the gradient going to McIvor. The droughts, hard rock, fewer nuggets and deeper workings eventually defeated the miners and they turned to the land for a living. Hard times in the 1929 depression has left evidence of men reworking the tailings by leaching in settling tanks. We saw too more recent evidence of the surface scratchings by mine detector operators sweeping for nuggets in the 1980’s. We were saddened to see piles of their camp detritus dumped after they moved on. With newer equipment more is being found and gold fever is still tangible in the Victorian bush. 

Footnote: Victoria is estimated to have produced 90% of the world’s nuggets and has more near-surface gold than has been uncovered to date. In 2019 a girl kicked a 264 gram nugget by a path in Bendigo and a 2 kg nugget was found in Ballarat. Last year a two nuggets of 3.5 km were found in the Tarnagulla Bush Reserve, and in April this year a group of five nuggets were found near Castlemaine. So keep your eyes down when walking and check this link for ideas. https://www.racv.com.au/royalauto/travelling/victoria/find-gold-victoria.html