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Hillgrove and Metz Visitor Returns to Old Mining Centres

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The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser (NSW), Wednesday, 11 Jan, 1939


Hillgrove and Metz Visitor Returns to Old Mining Centres

“Hillgrove and Metz are now nothing but a sad memory of what they once were. It almost makes you wish you hadn’t gone back,” said Mr. John Lewis, who has returned to the Armidale district after an absence of 32 years in New Zealand.

Mr. Lewis, whose home is in Rotorua, returned this summer to visit his parents, Mr. and Mrs John Lewis, of Metz, as the latter had been seriously ill.

He remarked to-day on the amazing change that has taken place in the district with the decline of Hillgrove and the growth of Armidale.

Mr. Lewis recalled the “good old days” of the metal boom, when Hillgrove was a borough with several thousand citizens and Metz a thriving community with 1500 to 1600 in habitants, and spoke of the keen rivalry that existed between the two settlements, particularly in sport.

Football and cricket were given enthusiastic support, but it was in racing that the people found their greatest enjoyment. He could remember when footraces were held up the main street of Metz, from Crough’s Hotel to the Post Office, in the light of acetylene lamps.

In those days there were race-tracks on both sides of the gorge. The Metz track of over four furlongs was first located where the Anglican and Wesleyan churches afterwards stood, and a second course was later marked off in a paddock owned by O’Neil, the hotelkeeper.

The Hillgrove course was situated between the recreation ground and the springs. The actual tracks were marked by posts set up at intervals, without the afterthought of rails to keep horses outside the posts.

“Of course,” said Mr. Lewis, “The stakes were not very high—but the bets were.”

(His words evoked a picture of bearded miners taking the odds in handfuls of gold-dust. “I’ll lay a quartpotful to a tobacco-tinful,” yells a bookie, while his clerk pays out bets from a sackful of nuggets. Rich times!)

“Dangerous Times”

They were dangerous times, too, and horse or rider often met death on the rough tracks. At Metz, said Mr. Lewis, an Armidale horse, Cogwheel, was crowded to the inside of the course and staked on one of the posts marking the track. At Cooney Creek, where a four-furlong course ran parallel to the Armidale road, finishing near the old hotel, a jockey was killed when his horse ran him against a tree.

Horse teams travelled the road between Armidale and Hillgrove, with the slower-moving bullocks carting heavier loads. To the east was the wild bush. The road through Wollomombi to Kempsey had been made, but it was a difficult journey and took about a week to cover. Four or five days was considered a very fast trip.

Hillgrove and Metz at that time supported a great number of prospectors, as well as the men working for the big mines, such as the Sunlight and Baker’s Creek. There were practically no Chinese mining there, so that many of the troubles of other goldfields were avoided.

Tramways ran down each side of the gorge, and Metz was at that time known as West Hillgrove. Owing to confusion arising from the two names the western section was later renamed Metz.

Mr. Lewis remembered the celebrations that attended the “christening.” There was a grand procession and at night a fancy dress ball. Metz at that time boasted one of the best dance halls in the district. It had been built for a skating rink and later transformed.

“When I went back,” said Mr. Lewis, “I found it difficult to locate the place where it used to stand.”

When the Bands Played!

There were two bands at Hillgrove, and one at Metz. They were all of high standard, one of them, Hughie McMahon’s band, winning the championship of Australia, at South-street, Ballarat.

“It has altered so much now,” he said, “that you almost wish you hadn’t gone back.”

In New Zealand he had seen the same thing happen in a large mining centre, and he considered that nothing save a fresh discovery of gold could restore to such towns any of their former vitality.

“Country like Hillgrove is no good for farming,” commented Mr. Lewis, “although in New Zealand our mining country is similar to what is considered good pastoral country here. At Rotorua we seldom get temperatures above 80 degrees, and there is little variation during the year”.

Mr. Lewis added that besides its thermal wonderland, Rotorua boasted excellent trout-fishing, deer-stalking, pig-hunting, and duck, pheasant and quail shooting, besides the pursuit of the more humble hare and rabbit. It was recognised as a great sporting centre.

Written by macalba

August 18, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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