Saturday, March 3, 2012

Echunga Goldfields

Few people know that less than 10 kilometres from Hahndorf was the scene of South Australia’s own gold rush in the 1800’s.  The now sleepy town of Echunga was once home to thousands of people seeking their own piece of fortune.  The remnants of their searching still remain and the areas of Jupiter Creek and Chapel Hill, just out of Echunga, make for an interesting and exciting day.  Fossicking and panning are popular ways of adding some fun to a day in the bush and a great way to spend some time in the great outdoors.  There’s still gold in those hills and with a little patience and a lot of luck you might go home with more than a smile on your face!

The Chapel Hill Diggings are a few kilometres out of Echunga (about 30 kilometres from Adelaide via the freeway and Hahndorf).  In 1852, 600 miners were scattered through the scrub in this area, sinking shallow shafts in search of alluvial gold in buried ancient gravels.  On the Chapel Hill bushwalk you will find holes everywhere!  Some have collapsed, but others present a real danger - not much bigger than a car tyre at the top, they sometimes drop several metres.  Sticking to the walking trail will take you safely past these, but be careful if straying off the path - especially with kids.

A few minutes walk from the road are the ruins of an old engine house – built by the National Gold Mining Co. in the 1860's to service deeper shafts.  The nearby National Dam is fairly choked with reeds, but provides an idyllic spot and is perfect for trying your hand at gold panning (any good army disposal store will sell gold pans for less than $20). 

The better and more exciting site though is Jupiter Creek.  From the Hahndorf Road turn right at the entrance to Echunga (next to the golf course) and  a well signposted road takes you to the Jupiter Creek Goldfields.  The Heritage Trail here is very informative, with detailed signs, and makes for a great day of bushwalking and prospecting.  There is a very large carpark area on what was once the 1800’s mining camp, with a variety of traders catering to around 1200 miners. 

Amidst the eucalypts, stringbarks and wattles, are the tell-tale signs of mining, fossicking and tunneling – clay, gravel, mounds of mullock, and literally hundreds of mine shafts.  The trail leads past many significant sites, many of which are well signposted.  The majority of mineshafts in this area are well fenced.  Some people do ignore the fences, and tackle these shafts with ropes and torches but it is not recommended.

The Cornish-style round stone chimney built in 1868 by the Beatrice Mining Company is the most significant relic of the golden days of Jupiter Creek.  It stands on the side of a hill above the company shaft and Battery Creek.   

On the southern side of the diggings, are the remains of the Crystal Gold Mining Company.   In 1887, they did very well, taking $350,000 worth of gold at today's value out of the first 25 tonnes of ore.  The old horse puddles ditch is still in place – a round trough full of water into which miners would pour clay and ore mix.  A horse would then trudge endlessly around dragging rakes that broke up the clay, so it could be washed out and down the gully, leaving the gold and rock behind.  Nearby are some deep shafts and ruins of old structures.

During the Great Depression miners returned to Jupiter Creek to once again explore these fields.  It was during this time that the New Phoenix Shaft was dug - a tunnel cut horizontally into the side of the hill towards the old Phoenix mine.  The floor in this tunnel has been restored and the shaft declared safe by the Department of Primary Industries and it is open to all who wish to explore it – you will need a torch!  The tunnel runs eighty metres into the hillside and ends with a steel ladder to climb up to the top of the hill.  The tunnel does continue further beyond the ladder but is fenced off and not intended for further public exploration (not that that stops some people). 

The Jupiter Creek diggings trail can be a bit of a maze – some parts are very well signposted, and other parts aren’t.  It’s hard to get lost though and the exploring is part of the fun.  You’ll find yourself staring at the ground in hopes of kicking that elusive nugget as you head down towards Long Gully Creek and then back through the gullies.  The signs in the carpark contain a map of the trails.   You can explore the area in a couple of hours, but it’s more fun to take some goldpans, a small spade, the metal detector and a picnic lunch and spend the day in the bush.   It’s a great way to get the kids outside and makes for a unique Adelaide Hills experience.

Both sites are registered as State Heritage Items.  Fossicking is permitted at both sites but mechanical implements are not allowed and holes must be back-filled.  The Department of Primary Industries and Resources produce an excellent brochure on the area which contains the background history, details on trail points and a map.  Cost is $2 and is available here.

So, get the family together and do something different this weekend!

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