I’ve been here in coffs some 37 years and can probably call myself a local. As you know passions include exploring, camping and delving into local history. One of the deepest interests has been finding the history on local mines. There were literally hundreds in the Coffs area and finding the right or some cases any facts has been hard to say the least. I would say this because the ‘gold rush ‘ only lasted about 10 years. While gold was reportedly found in 1851 it did produce through to 1961, some mines worked in the depression years and today there are hunters out there prospecting, digging, sluicing and detecting finding dribs and drabs.
For those that don't know gold was found on some of the solitary islands, our headlands, local creeks and deep in our ruggered hinterland. Information has been relatively hard to find through all sources due to lack of actual documentation, old timers passing away, difficulty in accessing areas, some things just weren’t logged with departments to logging operations where mines were simply filled in ( some reports say these shafts were up to 30 metres deep !!! ).
Things go missing and not preserved to items in the bush that we have found like machinery, tools, boilers ( some intact ), bins to even a 5 head stamper with parts strewn across in the bush even a timber wheel ( now slowly decaying ). There was a reported 11 stampers at the peak of the rush from a hand driven 1 head to several massive 10 head stampers - sadly these have all bar disappeared never to be seen again to the general public.
We have found dozens of pits, collapsed shafts and drives, walk and crawled into many even used caving ladders to access some deep pristine shafts where hand made ladders ( possibly 50 + years old ) still can be seen. It has been great documenting and photographing these over the years.
One of the areas that I’ve spent time at has been at the old township of Beacon at the base of Mt Coramba. There is little information about this place and even less signs of any civilisation there. But get this for a fact - there used to be up to 4 times more people here than what there was in Coffs Harbour !. You go there now and the bush has taken over this once thriving place. There were stores, police station, a doctors house, dance-dance - rec hall, a pub, a playing field, market gardens and more.
Reports say that in 1895 the Taylor bros stopped at a local creek to boil the billy and found gold strewn across the ground like chicken feed starting another rush to the Mt Coramba area. Claims were sought and over the years mines were bought and sold a village was setup over the next two years. From this markets were established in the nearby valley growing to what we have today called the Orara Valley with its rich soil. Depending on what you read determines how much gold they found. I’ve read that in 1897 just on 9,000 ounces of gold was claimed after crushing some 6000 tonnes of rock ( they don't say how much gold was pocketed tho ! )…. They even diverted the creek to mine different sources where the gold was held.
It wasn’t long after this massive year that the source ran out and the government refused torrent any more money, people moved on to other parts of the fields and some up to the Mount Browne copper mine ( thats another story ).
One of the problems we have trying to find these historical places is that lantana has taken over after the loggers have been through and is so thick now that not even bushfires can get on top of this pest. Timber structures have simply rotted into the ground and some of the gear here at Beacon has been pushed over by a dozer. What I would like to see and would be happy to get out for either our local museum or other is the near intact boiler ( in pic ) that would make a centre piece as part of our history, even the 5 head stamper nearby would make an iconic piece for years to come. It gets me why Coffs doesn’t want to preserve or even know about this part of history that shaped our town to what we have today.
Over the years I’ve seen personally the demise of the mines through weathering and logging, thats why I am trying to share my little knowledge before l cant do it any more. It is so great for the kids to get out there and experience and discover our past. The kids ( and adults ) I’ve have taken out into the hills of Coffs ( literally hundreds ) love the day out and also cant understand why our history isn’t more available or presented. Finding the pieces of quartz, looking into the mines, trying to understand why there, touching some of the old gear - It’s all a great experience. After Mr Robb passed away from Georges Gold mine, it seem history lessons have just stopped. I mean you go into the local Coffs museum and there might be 50 words and 1 pic on the gold effort here. It is very sad. I know It’s not Ballarat or Bendigo but It’s our history. I was lucky enough to of taken some of the kids from Orara PS into the Beacon mine area some years ago. They were doing a project on the Ballarat goldfields because they ( and the teacher ) did not know about our stuff. The kids had a ball, looking at the mines, bit of panning and lots of learning too.
PS… Did you know the whole region was rich in minerals including gold, silver, copper tin, gas and even some mercury. These mines consisted of simple pits, major workings with long drives and some very deep shafts. The gold that was found here was embedded in quartz, so after the task of finding the right rock that housed the quartz, it was then a task to extract the quartz , then move the rock to a local stamper where the rock would be crushed and treated with chemicals to gather the gold. There were teams to cut the timber, there were the boiler stackers ( to feed timber in too the boilers ), miners, farmers and so on - big concerns with lots of workers.