Settled back in the late 1800’s when gold was found in the area, Pine Creek is now a town full of history with a treasure trove of heritage, mining sites and railway buildings.
Pine Creek, a good two hours south of Darwin is now just a little stop over off the main highway, but there’s heaps to see and do, plus drive the Northern Goldfields Loop that heads back north towards Adelaide River.
Today at Pine Creek its just a small community where travellers stop overnight but back in the day this place was booming. Gold was found by construction workers in 1870 when a drilling crew for the Overland Telegraph Line found alluvial gold near Yam Creek.
Over the next few years it was one of the most frantic gold rushes that the north had ever seen where in just 3 years major goldfields were declared. As the town grew it became a repeater station for the Telegraph Line and by 1889 a rail line was built from Darwin down to Pine Creek.
This was to be the start of the Transcontinental Railway down through the centre to Adelaide. The first train arrived at the Creek in 1889 after 310 bridges and flood openings were built down from Darwin.
From the turn of the century the town and indeed the railway was significant to the mining industry where apart from gold other minerals like Iron Ore, Silver, Lead, Zinc and Uranium were found and transported back to Darwin. During WW11 Pine Creek was used as a staging camp and many mines re-opened to support the war effort.
Since gold was found back in 1870 there was a reported 2000 Chinese miners working the mines and other areas through the 15 registered mines that were dug. One of the biggest mines was the Enterprise. It started off as a simple shaft but soon grew to a massive open pit where over 23,000 kg of gold was extracted from over 10 years.
The mine can be viewed near the centre of town up the end of Moule Street, where now its water filled and apparently the deepest point is 135 m deep. Also at the viewing area are several Chinese mines that you can look down through the grated safety fences. As the gold fields grew the towns infrastructure did too with a police camp, hotels, bakery and a school.
But as recent as 1995 the major gold fields in the area ceased as they were unviable. Today local prospectors still scratch around for a little colour. Over time big amounts of Ore, Tin and Uranium have been pulled out from around the area.
Pine Creek is pretty unique as they have gathered a lot of the old mining gear and put it on display in the miners park at the northern end of town.
To be honest this is one of the best displays that I have ever seen with everything from a huge 120 head stamper, rail carts, steam winders, mine heads, steam engines, shakers, pulleys, wheels and so much more.
Every displayed piece has an info board attached with so much information on the piece, its use and the time frame when it was used, there’s so much here its hard to take it all in.
When the idea of a rail line was to be built in 1883 it was the South Australian government who raised the idea and in 1886 and the contract went to a Melbourne company who used ‘Coolie’ labour.
This entailed using Indian and Singhalese doing the earthwork, followed by the Chinese laying the rail plates and line, accomplishing up to 1200 metres a day. But unfortunately for Pine Creek, years after it opened, only two trains a week came from Darwin, and then in 1917 the line extended south to Katherine, making Pine Creek an unimportant stop. But then during WW11 an airstrip was built and a dispersal base for the troops, incredibly 147 rail services a week ran through Pine Creek to Darwin.
Today the rail museum in town is pretty impressive with buildings chocked with memorabilia, train engines and carriages. Incidentally the Pine Creek museum is the oldest pre-fabed corrugated building in Australia, and listed by the National Trust.
Back in its hey day it was the home for the mining warden across in the goldfields at Burrundie, and was moved to its present location in 1913. It’s had a checkered history where it's been a clinic, military hospital, post office and a phone exchange.
Wandering around the streets of Pine Creek you can see the old buildings including the Ah Toy bakery which was used as a butcher shop then a bakery - used till 1945 when bread was trucked down from Darwin.
Other tin buildings around town include the old station masters house, Maysie’s House that’s complete with 1950 decor and miners cottages, which incredibly are lined with corrugated iron, summer time temps inside must of been insane.
NORTHERN GOLDFIELD LOOP HERITAGE TRAIL
After spending time around town, you can do a loop trail that heads north towards Adelaide River passing the abandoned town ( now ruins ) of Burrundie and its goldfields.
The loop ( all of 79km ) starts off on the bypass road around Pine Creek, it’s well sign posted with both distances and a symbol of a Chinese person carrying buckets across his shoulders.
The Chinese played a huge role not only here but across the country with their hard work in the mines and also market garden. Theres nothing hard about the drive but it is all dirt through spectacular ranges following the Pine Creek Geosynclines where huge mineral rich seams are left after millions of years of weathering.
Heading out from Pine Creek there’s warning on the road regarding mine trucks that use the road as there are still huge open cut and active mines in the area. It wasn’t long before a roadside sign my eye along the way, this was Esmeralda Station. The sign describes the life of Tom Cole back at the turn of the century and his association with the area.
He was 17 when he arrived in Australia from England, and after a multitude of jobs across the top end he stumbled across Esmeralda Station and bought it in 1940. But he soon realised that it was tough country and soon sold off his bullocks to the Vestey clan who gave him near nothing to what they were worth.
Just two years later he sold in dispear and moved on. Since then this huge station has still run beef but also as a plant nursery since the war. Nearby, Ban Ban Station is another huge pastoral lease covering nearly 1,900 square kilometres running huge amounts of beef cattle.
Both these stations were established in the 1880’s when gold was found. Also listed on the direction signs are several mines, Francis and Brock Creek mines. These are still active and off limits to the general public.
It's about halfway on the heritage trail that the road crosses a rail line and its here that the township of Burrundie once stood. Now an area of complete ruins, Burrundie and the surrounding goldfields were a bustling town back in the late 1880’s.
There was nearly a dozen huge goldfield scattered around Burrundie, making it the perfect place for hotels, court house, wardens office and police quarters. In fact Burrundie only lasted for a few years while the boom was on and at one stage housed the 3,000 Chinese railway workers.
Slowly they moved on and the gold dried up by 1900, then by 1912 most of the buildings had either just collapsed or been moved to nearby Pine Creek to be recycled. Burrundie was the second largest town outside or Darwin and was planned to be the hub of the adjoining gold-fields in 1884.
The name comes from the Aboriginal meaning of nearby Mount Wells. Wandering around the area there’s really not much left apart from a few stone chimneys, rough concrete slabs and a few old car wrecks. The info board is an interesting read describing the area from the goldfields, china town, cattle stations and bogus company shenanigans. All this happening from 1885 till 1900.
Another 20 km along is the Grove Hill Heritage Hotel. It's closed now but established in 1934 it was a popular drinking spot for the local miners and tourists alike, they also built a museum dedicated to the areas history. Now while you can’t go inside, around the hotel there’s plenty to see and read about.
The Heritage loop trail passes by open cut mines that have been rehabilitated where you can see massive tailing mounds and open cut holes now filled with mineral rich water. Its an interesting yet easy drive seeing in-sites into this harsh area, but its hard to comprehend just how hard it would of been 150 years ago when people were just trying to survive through either gold mining or working on the railway. Pine Creek is definatly a must do for any history buff exploring in the NT.