Gold mine tour leader, Scott
Walhalla is a town steeped in history and relics from a bygone era. It's a place that takes you back in time, and unlike a museum, you can imagine how hard life would have been here in the 1800's, you can see it, touch it and feel it. A place that uses all your senses and carries you away from everyday life to leave you with a real sense of the township and life for the early settlers working in the gold mines.
Looking down over Walhalla
I have been to Walhalla on several occasions but it wasn't until I recently visited the Long Tunnel Extension Gold Mine that I could really appreciate the hardship these people went through in the seemingly never ending search for gold.
An old cottage near the mine
The town is so well preserved that it could have been a booming mining town only yesterday. The feel is carried through to the gold mine tour with leader Scott looking as if he could be stepping out of any currently operating working mine in Australia.
On arrival to the gold mine we purchased our tickets from the shed that also doubles as the gold mining museum before heading to the next building to get hard hats to wear through the tunnels in the gold mine.
The first tools used to mine
What I found extremely interesting about the mine is that it was over one kilometre deep and had 31 levels, which doesn't sound like much when you talk about today's methods of mining but during the time when they started they only got 1 metre's worth of tunnel digging per week with the tools being a hammer and chisel.
Steam operated drilling tool in the corner
Of course as time went on the methods slowly got better but the conditions for the workers deteriorated with the use of the drill. The life span for the workers shortened dramatically with the average age of boys starting work at 15 and dying by 22. This was the result of breathing in the silica dust from the drill and dying of silicosis.
Picture of Cornish boilers
Again as time passed machinery was becoming more prevalent and space was needed inside the mine for a machinery chamber. It's an extremely large room considering it's carved out of solid rock and held 3 large Cornish boilers, ventilation shafts and flumes.
Inside the machinery chamber where the Cornish boilers were
With more machinery the mine extended rapidly and so did the need for more workers. The down side to this was that the further they went down, the more water there was and the pumps couldn't keep up with draining the water so they were working knee deep in water, no toilets and poor sanitary, which lead to tuberculosis spreading quickly.
Inside the machinery chamber
Further into the mine along a different path, Scott stops the small group to explain what type of rock gold is found in (quartz) and how small fragments of gold (alluvial gold) slowly work their way out of the rock into streams, which in turn was the sign that gold must be nearby.
Quartz rock in which gold is found
Over the lifetime of the Long Tunnel Mine they removed just under 14 tonnes of gold, although not all mine lease holders found gold and that was the unfortunate reality.
The Long Tunnel Extended mine was the second most profitable in Walhalla and the 5th largest gold mine during the colonial era. The mine ceased operation in 1911 due to the costs of firewood amongst other things.
Since then there was an attempt to reopen the shaft of the Long Tunnel Extended for exploratory gold mining by Walhalla Resources. In 1986 the roof collapsed into the shaft killing mine manager Paul Stienbecker. It took 6 months and cost $3 million to retrieve his body.
Graffiti from 1899
The last attempt to see if the mine was viable for reopening came ten years ago, where they drilled holes into the rock and sent it off to laboratories for testing. They did find gold but it wasn't enough
to reopen the mine.
Another mine entrance
Today the mine is only accessible for 300 metres into the mine. The lower levels have all flooded but you can still get a great sense of life in the mines.
Tours are run everyday, Mon - Fri at 1:30 pm, Sat - Sun at 12pm 1:30 and 3pm and for school and public holidays.
Entry is $19.50 adult, $13.50 concession and $49.50 family.
Whilst you're there have a look around the museum. Entry is free.
In the museum