Saturday 4th March – Walhalla
We’d read about Walhalla and as it was kind-of on the way to 90 mile beach we decided that a trip inland and an insight into Victoria’s gold mining past was probably a good break from all the stunning beaches and turquoise waters..
Heading inland, through Gippsland on a proper wiggly country road, we finally found Victorias best preserved and, supposedly, most charming historic sight… it’s an old gold mining town from the late 1800’s where, once gold was discovered in 1862, grew to be one of the most productive gold producing areas in all of Australia with a population of over 5000, a school of 500 pupils and bars, hotels and thriving retail. Around 1915, the rush passed and now Walhalla has a population of 24 who only got mains electricity in 1998.
It’s really pretty, all period cottages, a band stand, the Star Hotel, and the brilliantly named Wally Pub. It’s also in a really pretty location in a deep, tree lined valley with a river running through the centre. We were only here for one night and had chosen to stay in the Star Hotel, and half expected to be given an 1800’s outfit to wear for our stay…
Wanting to understand the gold rush, we took a tour of the Long Tunnel Extended Goldmine which lets you 200m back into the first floor. Our guide was great, and talked about how in the 1800’s the progress was about 1.5m per week into the mountain towards the seam, but with the invention of steam powered drills and the introduction of the boilers in the mine that they started to really excavate the mountain at pace – and started to really kill off the staff! Gold is found in a particular seam but is mixed in with large amounts of arsenic, so number one way to die was arsenic poisoning.. then you add in the injuries, collapses, miss timing the explosions, flooding, the rock powder in the lungs, diseases got from the other miners and general madness – all in all – it made all of my previous work places look way more preferable.
The 200m we saw was well excavated, well lit and dry. The map of the mine layout, showed that below us was 30 something more levels where each miner would travel to each day to start their shift (sometimes taking up to 1 hour to get to their position) before lighting their shift candle and working until it burnt down. I didn’t particularly enjoy being in the big tunnel – I can’t imagine how it would have been to travel down to the hot tunnels below and stand, often knee deep in water with only a candle to light what you were doing…
The rest of the afternoon we walked the mountain trails before heading to the Wally Pub for tea. Evenings are an early event in Australia and country pubs and restaurants normally serve between 5.30 and 7.30 pm – which we’ve still not got used to, so if there was dancing on the tables at the Wally pub, it was after they kicked us out at 8pm.