Hidden nuggets of goldmining history in forgotten 'boom town'
Remnants of a gold rush hidden in the New South Wales mid-north coast hinterland could have the potential to be a major tourist attraction, according to a gold mine enthusiast.
Tom Chivers lives near the historic village of Coramba, in the Orara Valley about 15 kilometres north-west of Coffs Harbour.
The 22-year-old is keen to establish a 4-wheel drive adventure tour company focused on the gold mining history of the area.
Mr Chivers also wants to preserve the rich mining history, which is slowly being overtaken by the forest.
“It had one of the richest reefs in NSW, which produced more than 41,000 ounces of refined gold,” Mr Chivers said.
“Today that would be worth more than $50 million.”
Mr Chivers said there were up to 300 disused goldmines in the old Orara-Coramba area.
“Most of the local finds were alluvial gold panned from the creeks — there were not a lot of reefs and nuggets.
“Panning for gold in local creeks could one day be an extra tourist attraction for the region.”
Goldmine enthusiast, Tom Chivers, is fascinated by Orara-Coramba goldfield artefacts. (ABC: Helen Merkell)
A tourism opportunity
Mr Chivers said he and his friends often explored the bush to discover old mines, remnant rail tracks and tunnels.
He believes there is an opportunity for tourist expeditions to be run in the area.
“I’d like to see more marked walking trails and interpretive signage with information that shows a reconstruction [of the mines] … for people who want a different experience.
Mr Chivers said that while the Orara-Coramba goldfield would never rival Victoria’s Sovereign Hill as a tourist attraction, it was worth preserving its history.
The main street of the booming goldmining town of Coramba in 1908. (Supplied: Picture Coffs Harbour)
“Much of the old machinery, mine entrances, and sleeper tracks in the area are being swallowed by lantana,” he said.
Mr Chivers said he and his friends attempted to preserve the area by hacking weeds back with machetes and would like to see an organised effort to clear the lantana around a few of the many mine sites.
“Not necessarily to the point that it’s this magnificently restored thing, but just that it’s kept so it can last.
“There’s no way we can expect it to be cleared to as it was when there was a tent city and hundreds of miners around.
“But we should be able to have access to enjoy the pioneers’ hard work and the efforts they went to to survive.”
A group of seven miners are surrounded by rainforest at the Beacon Mine in 1898. (Supplied: Picture Coffs Harbour)
‘The history is gold’
Mr Chivers said that while some people enjoyed old goldmines for the chance to find gold, his vision was to make the history of the early settlement more accessible to people.
“I don’t have to find gold — the history is gold to me.”
The Beacon Hotel in 1898 catered for the workers on the Beacon Mine. (Supplied: Picture Coffs Harbour )
“In 1870, Coramba was a gold ‘boom town’.
“Beacon Village, which no longer exists, had the first powered lights on the NSW mid-north coast.
“Another village at the bottom of Mt Coramba had a school, a pub, library, mill, police station and doctor — it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Students at Upper Bucca Bucca Public School west of Coffs Harbour in 1898. (Supplied: Picture Coffs Harbour)
Part of Mr Chivers’ passionate vision to expose the area’s history is to restore the old Glenreagh to Dorrigo rail line, which he said was built with some of the steepest gradients and tightest curves on the system.
“It had high maintenance and running costs, and experienced repeated losses throughout its entire existence.
“It closed to passengers in the mid 1960s then ran freight up and down the mountain until around 1972.
“The Dorrigo end of the railway was in action for a short time in the late 1980s, but is currently mothballed.
“It would be great if it could one day open again to a tourist steam rail line. It might be tourism gold,” he said.
A decaying rail bridge remains as part of old Dorrigo-Glenreagh railway line. (ABC: Helen Merkell)
The State member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, said there were abandoned gold mines all along the mid-north coast and most people did not know they were there.
Mr Fraser applauded Mr Chivers’ enthusiasm and drive, saying his grand plans could have some merit.
“It is not out of the question for there to be safe walking trails and gold panning expeditions to add to the local tourism experience, but it would take someone with Mr Chivers’ passion to make it become a reality.”
A mine entrance and miner’s campsite at the Beacon Mine in 1898. (Supplied: Picture Coffs Harbour)
The land around Glenreagh and Coramba is privately owned or managed by the NSW Forestry Corporation or NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Forestry Corporation said it understood the appeal of the Orara-Coramba goldfield and rail lines and one day they could add to the Coffs Coast’s tourist potential.
A spokesperson said it was unlikely the corporation would invest in restoring the area as it spent its tourism budget in areas that could generate the best return.
The spokesperson said they were always interested in talking to people like Mr Chivers, who wanted to undertake tourism activities in state forests.
“We have a permit system designed to facilitate organised tours.
“Of course, a high level of safety and environmental protection is always the priority and any activities in state forests need to meet these standards.”