Back in 1870 major deposits of Tin were discovered on the northern tablelands of NSW, predominately at the settlement of Tingha that was settled in 1841 by Mr Sydney Darby looking for pastoral land. Within 12 months over 8,000 people merged towards Tingha including hundreds of Chinese.
It wasn’t long before the mines became a commercial affair due to the huge amount of tin that was found and as the majority of the Tin was on the surface little machinery was needed allowing the miners to make good money.
The boom gave the town a school and a general store with a Post Office, but as soon as the boom came it was over by 1900. The amount of Tin that was mined is pretty staggering, reports say over 70,000 tonnes were mined within a 5 mile radius of the centre of town.
At the peak of the boom Tingha was the largest tin-producing district in NSW and was originally established as a private town to service the mines in 1885. New dredges were brought in to rework the old ground in the 20th century with little success, today little remains of the old mines except for rusting relics and massive pits that were dug for extracting the tin.
For a fascinating insight in the history of Tingha, the Wing Hing Museum in the main street is a must do when open. An early 19th Century store that was owned by the same Chinese family for over 80 years where the building and fittings have remained intact from the early 1900s, and is one of the few buildings left in Tingha from the tin-mining boom era.
The interior of the store still remains as it used to be like, containing items from Tingha’s Chinese and tin mining history. Today its a quiet place, very quiet with under 1000 people living in the district, yet the town still supports a school, several shops and a caravan park that caters for visitors that want some time away.
Most people who come to Tingha are here to fossick for gems and crystals that have ‘grown’ in the sandy surface soil over millions of years that have been dug up when the miners were looking for the Tin. Most fossickers head out to the Tingha plateau reserve which is an area around the small settlement of Stannifer, about 10kms from Tingha.
This area was also mined for tin many years ago which has left some interesting scars through the landscape with massive deep trenching with huge piles of sand piled beside the pits. Some of these pits extend for hundreds of metres long, 50 metres wide and very deep. Most these days are full of water but there’s still plenty around where you can crawl down just to sense the vastness of what the miners did.
Areas where they had mined is also thick with quartz and one of the great things about these areas is the predominance of whats known as Jelly Bean Quartz. Jelly beans are quartz crystals that have been rolled and tumbled in waterways until their original sharp angular crystal shape becomes rounded and smooth, looking like a jelly bean.
In reality they look almost like any other water worn rounded smooth pebble you may find in a waterway, except for the fact that they are quartz, yet can be beautiful and clear like a glass bead.
Around the masses of old mullock heaps its pretty easy digging looking for Crystals, Jelly Beans, Smokey and clear Quartz and others. Deep in the forests at Tingha there are relics of an old stone bakers oven and baking pits.
Even better still the site and unground wine cellar of the Mannix Hotel nearby. The story goes that the pub burnt down and then shortly after the owners young daughter fell down a mine shaft and died.
Unfortunately the owners had enough bad luck in this area and decided not to rebuild the pub and moved away never to be seen again leaving only a stark reminder where their little girl was buried.
Another attraction nearby is Copeton Dam which has some pretty impressive stats - 3 times the size of Sydney Harbour when full, some of the best freshwater Cod fishing around ( monsters over a metre are caught regularly ), over 100 metres deep and offers an array of water sports on the dam. But to be honest this place is amazing with some of the best water front camping you'll find and with history abound in the area.
In 1930 a proposal was planned to dam the valley for irrigation for nearby towns and agriculture growth but WW11 came around and funds dried up, but by 1966 money was sourced and the current location was approved with work commencing in 1968. The project took 5 years to complete plus over the years the dam size has increased with a higher wall and 9 flood gates.
Before the valley was flooded, two small towns were abandoned - Boggy Camp and Dasey Town that suppling workers to nearby mines. Stockyards, a cemetery and buildings now lay deep underwater. A little morbid, but it’s not until the dam suffers severe droughts that the relics rise from the deep. In 1994 the dam registered an extremely low 2% water level, it was possible to see some of the many cemetery headstones, the mine tower and old fence lines.
Most people head to Copeton for the stunning camping spots and water sports where you can fish, sail, or just swim in this vast waterway, and with around 45 square kilometres of water to explore it’s not hard to find a quiet cove. Choices for camping are pretty darn good too with kilometres of free camping through to paid sites if you stay at the Inland Water Holiday Park, located on the northern side of the dam along Auburn Vale Road from Inverell. With waterfront sites, fires and dogs permitted, showers and toilets, plenty of boat launching spots with total serenity you'll fall in love here. Free camping can be found on the Eastern side coming in from Howell, but there’s no facilities so you’ll need to be totally self sufficient as it’s a long way back into town.
On the road through Howell, the Conrad Mine began operation back in 1898 with nearly 17,800 ton of concentrate silver, lead, copper and arsenic being extracted. Some of the original shafts that were all dug by hand are nearly 250 feet deep.
Eventually the good fortune ran out and the mine was shut in the mid 1950’s. Currently safety procedures are in place to clean the site up and to preserve it for historical reasons. While the Conrad mine was operational other areas were explored within the region and smaller mines were opened with some degree of luck with a host of other gems and minerals found.
Sapphires were found in the area and by 1970 there were over 100 mining operations in the district all searching for this shiny stone. Inverell is now known as the Sapphire City. Halfway between Copeton Dam and Inverell on the Copeton Dam Road, the local shire has put aside a large lump of land where you can fossick for free. Sign posted at Staggy Creek it’s only a short drive through several paddocks to the digging fields.
Staggy Creek Reserve is part of an ancient creek bed where it’s been eroded down to what it is today. Even though the ground has been dug over for the past 20 years it’s still pretty exciting to scratch around for an alluvial Diamond, black Tourmaline, Tin or clear Quartz.
The best way to explore here is just to walk around and check out the amount of holes that others have dug. Either dry sieve or if there is any water in the small dam let the water wash the dirt away and hopefully to expose a surprise or two.