History in the high country
23 February 1986 The Canberra Times
By Matthew Higgins
Kosciusko National Park, approximately 675,000 hectares in area, is one of the world's great national parks.
It is a special place, containing the highest land masses in Australia, extensive winter snowfields and a diverse range of high country flora and fauna.
It is also an area that abounds in history. Aborigines, stockmen, gold miners, scientists, ski tourers, hydro-scheme workers and others all occupy a place in that history.
To the bushwalker, Kosciusko offers unlimited opportunities, and one is able to plan walks that take in both the natural grandeur of the area and something of its history.
Walkers may visit many of the old stockmen's huts still preserved within the park (preserved mainly through the efforts of the Canberra-based Kosciusko Huts Association); around Kiandra numerous reminders of the days of gold can still be found.
Just before Christmas a party of friends and I were able to experience some of the scenery, old huts and gold diggings just south of Kiandra.
In April 1860, only five months after the discovery of payable gold at Kiandra (known to the Aborigines as Giandarra), the goldfield had a population of at least 10,000.
Yet, while the escort carried 67,687 ounces (1,950kilograms) of gold away during that first year, the rush died as quickly as it had boomed. Mining did continue, though, for many years and some of the major earthworks seen by the motorist today date from the 1880s.
The goldfield included several digging areas away from Kiandra itself, including the Nine Mile and Four Mile diggings.
It was to these diggings that we recently trekked.
The walk began from what is now called the Rest House, Sawyers Hill (formerly a coach stop during the early 1900s).
From here the Four Mile Hill Fire Trail winds its way down to the Eucumbene River.
The Eucumbene; following recent rains, was full and flowing swiftly, making crossing a rather a humorous event – the current and smooth rocky riverbed conspiring against our sense of balance (mine in particular).
The party then began the climb up Four Mile Hill.
The trail here takes one up though extensive stands of snow gum and sub-alpine scrub, which together make up a large proportion of the vegetation in the park.
Some of the (lowering plant species were full of colour as we passed.
A few kilometres beyond the hilltop lies Broken Dam Hut, where we would stay for the night.
As Klaus Huencke's researches have shown, this weatherboard hut was moved to its present site during the 1930s, and was the home of summer stockmen until the late 1950s when grazing was curtailed in this area.
On entering the hut, one immediately senses the aroma of wood smoke which seems to have impregnated the wooden walls, floor and inner shingle roof, and which creates a unique atmosphere.
Many old utensils are found about the hut (as is common with many huts). A very poignant reminder of the past is the bullock dray axle placed across the fireplace from which visitors may hang their billies.
The broken dam from which the hut takes its name is situated a short distance away.
The dam, built by gold miners, was used to hold water for sluicing purposes - though it holds water no more, owing to the breach in its northern end.
Water was conveyed from holding dams such as this by way of races, or large trenches, which wound for many kilometres to the sluicing claim.
During the afternoon we followed one race for some distance before leaving it to ascend Tabletop Mountain.
Tabletop (Tackingal to the Aborigines), a flat-topped basalt plug, is nearly 1,800 metres high and right on the Great Dividing Range.
Over its rocky, exposed summit runs the remains of a decaying fence, a further reminder of the days of the stockman. From the top the panoramic views are superb.
Patches of snow were still visible over on the main range and a small drift lay on nearer Mount Jagungal (at 2,061 metres the Mecca for walkers and ski-tourers in this part of the park).
The ever-deepening gorge of the Tumut River is clearly seen while to the cast the waters of Lake Eucumbene are also visible. During a previous visit two years ago, a pair of falcons had soared overhead, giving due warning of the proximity of their nest, though on this day they were not to be seen.
As dusk fell, so did the rain, making the hut truly welcome.
Raindrops pattering on an iron roof, creates for me at least, a very soothing sound.
The rain ceascd after an hour or so and descendcd, casting an eerie mantle over the surrounding gums.
One source of entertainment in these mountain huts is found in reading the visitors' book.
On nearly every page reference is made to the huts' permanent nocturnal inhabitants - rats.
Bush rats are common in the huts and while they can assume giant proportions in the imagination, they are generally harmless, though one is well advised to hang the food bag out of their reach (hence the presence of pieces of wire hanging from the roof joists of almost every hut).
While noisy, they were not troublesome during our stay.
Of much more real concern are the feral pigs in the park. Judging by the extent of damage they are causing to the vegetation, their numbers are obviously high.
Next morning the fog cleared and we left Broken Dam Hut for the Nine Mile diggings, situated about two kilometres away.
Possibly the richest diggings away from Kiandra itself,
Nine Mile had a population of 1,000 during the rush there in January, 1860.
About 400 endured the 1860 winter and in September, gold commissioner Peter Cloete reported that quite a village existed, consisting of four pubs, six stores, three butchers, two bakers and a blacksmith.
The diggers had followed the gold up Scotts (now Scotch) Gully and Nine Mile Creek to where it went in under the basalt overlay.
The gold trapped beneath the basalt formed the 'Kiandra Lead' which runs for several kilometres through the goldfield.
Digging at Nine Mile continued intermittently up until 1882 when the Kiandra Gold Mining Company introduced hydraulic sluicing to work the lead in Scotch Gully, by which the ground was blasted by high pressure water fed by races through pipes and large metal nozzles.
When the basalt and overburden became too thick, tunnelling was resorted to.
Standing at the top of Scotch Gully today, one looks straight down into the sluicing hole.
It is a most striking feature, visible from Jagungal, 20 kilometres away.
Bands of white clay jut out from the sides of the excavation and numerous rock piles are seen at its base and further down the creek.
The amount of work done here by the power of water is remarkable.
But one cannot help also thinking of the impact these workings had on the local environment and the resultant silting of local streams and rivers.
Water races seem to be everywhere now reclaimed by the bush. As the trail is followed along to Nine Mile Creek, more rock piles come into view along the creek, and just above the crossing another small dam is found.
Old mining tools and other relics of the days of gold are scattered among the rock piles and in the bush at Nine Mile, though the men who left them are long gone.
Four Mile Hut, and the diggings and creek of the same name, are located off the fire trail.
Bob Hughes (formerly manager of the nearby Elaine mine) built this hut in about 1937 and it is, as Hueneke states, "the only intact miner's dwelling on the Kiandra goldfields".
That it is a miner's hut becomes readily apparent as one enters the closed-in verandah, for lying on the ground is a sturdy wooden box marked "gelatine dynamite".
Inside, hessian is nailed to the timber walls to keep out the draughts.
This small hut, with its split board and kerosene tin-clad northern wall and single window has a lot of character, though it also felt rather lonely, situated in the open valley of Four Mile Creek.
The creek bed and banks have been turned over by many miners.
In January, 1860, the Four Mile diggings had as many miners as Nine Mile and in his report eight months later, with snow thick on the ground, Commissioner Cloete reported 200 persons still at work.
The North and South Bloomfield sluicing claims form the rest of the Four Mile dig- gings and they witnessed extensive hydraulic sluicing during the 1880s.
After lunch at the hut, we walked to the Elaine mine, up near the head of Bloomfield Creek.
There is no track, and walkers depend on map and compass to reach it.
This mine, begun by the Hughes brothers and some others in the mid-1920s, had the same intention as the Nine Mile workings - to get at the gold of the Kiandra Lead locked beneath the basalt.
The NSW Department of Mines annual reports reveal, however, that the Elaine did not reach that legendary gold deposit.
By 1936 the operation had folded.
Today, a large mullock heap extends out into Bloomfield Creek from the tunnel.
The old boiler lies near the tunnel entrance and air compressor machinery is found nearby.
Stacks of split timber -tunnel supports - remain at the site as do the remnants of several mine buildings.
A mobile steam engine lies on the hillside above.
It is a truly rich historic site.
We returned to Four Mile Hut, again shouldered our packs and climbed out to the Mount Selwyn ski area, the last few kilometres being along what is, in winter, a cross country ski trail, marked by orange poles.
At Selwyn we had a final glance out to Jagungal and back to Tabletop before leaving the mountains, the huts and the diggings.