Old news from Armidale and New England

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Hillgrove. Passing of the Golden Days (1921).

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The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW), Tuesday 7 June 1921




The city and country journalists who attended the recent New State Convention at Armidale were given opportunity by the Mayor of that city (Alderman Purkiss) of visiting the old mining township of Hillgrove. The 20 mlle journey across the undulating New England tableland was an invigorating experience. It is pastoral country along this eastward road, and there was ample evidence that the rabbits, disappearing for a time, have multiplied exceedingly. The road is lonely, with gum trees most of the way, and the evidences of civilisation that occur are not calculated to cheer. These are a burnt-out “pub” and a deserted house half hidden amidst a grove of dark-hued pines, which was a silent witness of an unsolved murder last year. A turn of the road discloses a deep gorge surmounted by rocky crags, and beyond are seen the shining iron roofs of Hillgrove. The town has seen better days. One does not need to be told that. It strikes the visitor immediately he scans the jumble of houses, humpies, and relics of departed masonry which make up so large a part of Hillgrove.

All is not lost, though, for the old Baker’s Creek mine is still being worked on tribute. The post-office and police station seem to be permanent reminders that Hillgrove was once a town throbbing with life and commercial activity, and that the pendulum may swing that way again. There are still two hotels in business, each on a corner facing one another across a nearly deserted street, and the other corner holds substantial foundations of a fellow-inn that has disappeared. There is a main store, of course, and another shop or two, while along the street are standards bearing electric wires for lighting. Children run about the streets happy in the knowledge that traffic interruptions are few. An old-timer and his wife sit in a little garden fronting a miner’s hut. One’s mind travelled to those of the old-timers weaving again the rich romance of the past. There is a single guardian of the law there where once worked and dwelt a clerk of petty sessions, warden sergeant, and two police. The single constable acts as warden’s clerk, warden’s bailiff, acting c.p.s., registrar of births, marriages, and deaths, and of the Small Debts Court, besides performing other occasional duties. Hillgrove once had a population of about three thousand, but to-day it would not exceed that many hundred. Everywhere in the town area there are brick fireplaces and chimneys standing curiously alone in vacant allotments.

Where are the houses they belonged to? Pulled down and re-erected in Armidale, say local inhabitants. Strangely enough, there is hardly a vacant house in the town, as they have all gone to supply the demand in Armidale.

But one cannot know Hillgrove without seeing the gorge and what remains of the mines half a mile beyond the town. The car drew up on the edge of this gigantic cleft in the mountains. There at one’s feet was this great chasm, its rocky, scrub-covered sides dropping almost sheer to a depth of nearly two thousand feet. The two sides of this gorge meet sharply at the bottom and form the basin of the creek below which are mining shafts. It was decided to descend to the creek level by a mine truck, which was filled by the 12 visitors. The truck is attached to an endless rope, and the descent at an angle of 43 degrees was not without its thrills. There was a bracing of the nerves and the tightening of footholds when the signal was given. It was as if one was being lowered over the edge of the world, and one hardly dared to think of what would happen if there was a weak strand in the wire rope. Once on solid ground an inspection of the stamp battery and other parts of tho gold-winning plant followed.

The Baker’s Creek mine is about 30 years old, and it is said to have paid nearly £300,000 in dividends. The shaft descends nearly 2000 feet below the bottom of the gorge, but there is difficulty with the inrush of water. It is worked by tributers, and there is said to be plenty of gold, but working costs are too great yet to allow of full development. No doubt when these can be reduced there will be a recrudescence of activity along the bed of Baker’s Creek. Hillgrove waits for that day for its rejuvenation. Unlike Wyalong and other old mining towns, it has no golden grain upon which to reconstruct its former prestige. The residents of Hillgrove, however, still treasure the thought that its golden day has not yet passed for ever.

Written by macalba

June 13, 2013 at 8:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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