Old news from Armidale and New England

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May 1889: From Adelaide to Hillgrove and Back.

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Barrier Miner, Wednesday, May 1, 1889



I HAD heard much of the Baker’s Creek and other mines in the Hillgrove district of New South Wales. In Adelaide, when I was there, they talked of little else. It was the miners’ paradise, they said. So much of this nature did I hear, and so good reports did I read, that at last I made up my mind to see for myself whether it was such a place as was represented to me or not. When I determined to make the journey, I was not overburdened with sovereigns, or, for the matter of that, small change either; I made the journey like most other workingmen in search of something to do, in the cheapest way possible. This may account for the fact that things by the way did not have so roseate a hue as they seem to have had in the eyes of the reporters of some newspapers, who went up in the company of some South Australian directors of the Baker’s Creek. They saw a good many things through a tinted champagne glass, I fancy.

From Adelaide I booked early in April by the s.s. Barrabool, of Howard Smith’s line, to Sydney. The steerage fare is £2 10s., which includes maintenance while the vessel lies in Melbourne. The fare in those boats, as well as the general accommodation, is much superior to that of others, on the coast I very lately had experience of. Having a day and a half to spend in Melbourne, when we arrived, there, I had a look round ; and, being well acquainted in the city, I soon found out that, although the trades are a little slack just now, a laboring man who can do a fair day’s work can get it, as well as a fair day’s pay for it. But how different I found things in Sydney, where, arriving on a Thursday morning, I soon chanced to stumble across a large meeting of unemployed at the top end of King street ! There is no denying that a good many of the speakers (not the professional agitators) were bitterly in earnest, not alone about the scarcity of work, but also of the miserable day’s pay offered for it. Expecting to take the cheapest route from Sydney, I boarded the s.s. Roma to Newcastle, the steerage fare to which port is 4s., and the train fare from Newcastle to Armidale is £1 13s. 6d. ; while by rail from Sydney to Armidale the fare is £2 1s. 6d. But there is no saving ; for one arrives in Newcastle at 5 o’clock in the morning and has to wait there till half-past 11 o’clock at night. It looks very like the trains being timed to spite the steamboats. Therefore, for the present, I should advise anyone who has business in Newcastle to leave Sydney by the 4.30 p.m. train. Things in Newcastle seem to be pretty lively among the seafaring population. But the miners, a good many of whom I know, told me that with all the seeming bustle on the coal wharfs and shipping, they did not average more than 8s. per day at the outside. Leaving Newcastle, I did not see much of the country between there and Maitland and Tamworth, darkness having set in but, leaving the latter place, after day break, I was able to see and appreciate the splendid country we were traveling through. What a treat after the, dreary plains between Broken Hill and Adelaide ! The line winds through mountains and forest, with now and again a patch of maize in full growth, everything looking beautifully green. And yet the people are complaining about just having gone through a very heavy drought. They ought to come to South Australia or Broken Hill to know, what a proper drought is, it seemed to me.

We arrived at midday in Armidale. From here three coaches are running to Hillgrove, the township situate on the banks of Baker’s Creek. The fare between the two places is 7s 6d return. Armidale is a good size town of about 5000 inhabitants, and looks pretty busy on account of so many people going backward and forward to Hillgrove. The townspeople would make one believe that Baker’s Creek, is a very Golconda, although the Eleanora antimony and gold mine, worked by an Armidale company for some time, has never returned much to those people. The drive from Armidale to Hillgrove, 22 miles, occupies about three hours, and the coach arrives there at about’5 o’clock. Hillgrove is a small struggling township of one street, and a few miners’ tents and huts are in the background. There are three hotels there at present but I believe there are two or three more to be built at once. One of them is for Mr. James Gearin, late a publican of Broken Hill. Here there are also a bank, post office, and two or three stores, besides a few sharebrokers, among whom Mr. Mealin, another old Barrierite, is the leading one.

As I did not go to Baker’s Creek to report or say any thing about the mines, I would only describe them from the worker’s point of view. The Eleanora mine which is on the banks of the creek employs about 80 men ; Baker’s Creek mine, in the bottom of the creek, about 120 ; South Baker’s Creek, about 40; the Sunlight about the same. At the Golden Gate they are just about putting a few men on. Of course there are several small mines working, but engaging in the aggregate few hands. As this creek is 1500 feet deep from the top, and takes the men who are working there 15 minutes to go down and half an hour coming up, it is no joke for anyone unused to the mountains of New England to climb about them ; but at a rough guess I should say there are altogether between 400 and 500 men employed there. The average wage for miners is 8s. per day. Some who are working in shafts with rock drills get as much as 9s. It is very rough country on boots, and it is considered a good pair that stands three weeks. Any miner can draw his own conclusion from that. I can, however, say that there were not many idle miners about the township; yet, at the same time, there were no inquiries for any, nor was there any activity or life to be seen to show that the place was going ahead at such a rapid rate as is represented in other parts. The fact that three or four mines turn out rich stuff does not make Baker’s Creek a second Broken Hill in gold. The country about is pegged out for miles, but is in the wrong hands, being mostly held by small farmers in the district, who, by virtue of having pegged out a gold claim, expect large companies to step in and give them enormous sums for their claims. They are doing nothing themselves to open out their holdings. This leads to no end of jumping and the other attendant evils, including much litigation. As for the township, it has never been thrown open for pegging, and, according to what I was told, those who pegged out under false impressions about three months ago are to be prosecuted.

On my road to Hillgrove from Newcastle, and at the Creek, I conversed with all classes of people – storekeepers, tradesmen, and laborers ; and it was nothing else I heard but about bad times, and the low rate of wages in the whole of the New England district. What seemed very strange to me was that if those people living almost in the garden of Australia were complaining so bitterly about hard times and not being able to pay, how do these farmers in the north of South Australia live at all ! As for myself, I was satisfied that my prospects were not so good there as in my old haunts ; and while I still possessed the means to return, I came back by almost the same way that I went. My advice, therefore, to anyone going to Baker’s Creek in search of work is to be sure to have the means of taking you away from the district, when once you have arrived there. There are some who contemplate proceeding thitherto these I offer my experiences and convictions.

Written by macalba

January 15, 2021 at 6:04 pm

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