BUCK­LAND VAL­LEY, VIC

Most of the gold has been ripped out of the Buck­land Val­ley, but there are still a few trea­sures to be found.

4 x 4 Australia - - Front Page - WORDS AND PHO­TOS RON AND VIV MOON

THE TRACK dipped and climbed along the ridgeline, ris­ing steeply to a trig point be­fore de­scend­ing in a rush to a sad­dle, where you could grab a breath be­fore an­other long climb be­gan. For most of the time the Cruiser coped eas­ily in third low. The track was in pretty good con­di­tion, with a firm and even sur­face, though it was bloody steep and nar­row in places. Per­haps not as ex­posed or dra­matic as Billy Goat Bluff or the Blue Rag Range tracks, but still chal­leng­ing, with im­pres­sive views all around. Only on the short scram­ble to the crest of Mt Sel­wyn did I slap the gear­box into sec­ond and floor the ac­cel­er­a­tor. The V8 re­sponded, the Cooper STT Pros scrab­bled for grip on the pot-holed, shaly rock, and the sus­pen­sion bucked and jos­tled the wagon to the top.

The view from the crest of Mt Sel­wyn was daz­zling. To the north the in­dented sky­line of The Horn on the plateau of Mt Buf­falo could be seen, while to the west were the jagged out­lines of Mt Cob­bler and Mt Spec­u­la­tion. To the south Mt

We were look­ing for new 4WD routes that hadn’t been ‘dis­cov­ered’ and would in­spire trav­ellers to leave home. We found that in spades

Howitt stood proud, while to the east were the high snow plains of Hotham Heights and Falls Creek. In be­tween and all around the ridges, peaks and val­leys of the Aus­tralian Alps and the Vic­to­rian High Coun­try filled the scene from hori­zon to hori­zon. It was a grand view.

We had been com­ing to this area of north-east Vic­to­ria for more years than I care to re­count, but we had never taken the Yarrabuck Track that joins the Buf­falo Range Track along the high ridge that bor­ders the Buck­land Val­ley to the west. That was a crazy over­sight.

On this trip we were map­ping the next edi­tion of Hema Maps’ The High Coun­try At­las & Guide, so we were look­ing for new 4WD routes that hadn’t been ‘dis­cov­ered’ and would in­spire trav­ellers to leave home, get away from the norm and breathe some clear moun­tain air. On this route we found all that in spades.

From Mt Sel­wyn, our route dropped down the nar­row Great Di­vide Track through a for­est of dead giants that tower over­head un­til Sel­wyn Creek Road meets the Twins Jeep Track. From here you can fol­low the high ridges and cut across to Mt Mur­ray and Mt St Bernard on the Great Alpine Road, just be­low the glitz and glam­our of Mt Hotham Re­sort.

We opted for less fancy fare and headed north, wind­ing down­hill and meet­ing with the east branch of the Buck­land River be­fore ar­riv­ing at the large clear­ing of Bev­eridges Sta­tion.

The sta­tion is named af­ter the first pi­o­neers here, the Bev­eridge brothers. In the mid-1800s the brothers had some large parcels of land in the High Coun­try, in­clud­ing this long de­light­ful clear­ing

The val­ley is quiet, peace­ful and sur­pris­ingly green, with grassy flats be­tween the dense stands of na­tive for­est

be­side the river. To­day, a sec­tion of the cleared land is in the Alpine Na­tional Park, while down­stream the area is still pri­vate graz­ing land and is marked by the ru­ins of an old shack that’s slowly suc­cumb­ing to the el­e­ments.

The Buck­land Val­ley is more fa­mous for be­ing one of the rich­est al­lu­vial gold­fields in Vic­to­ria. The fields were dis­cov­ered in the win­ter of 1853 when a small party of men led by Henry Par­doe ob­tained 360oz of gold in just a cou­ple of days. By spring of that year, 3000 dig­gers were in the val­ley, with an­other 3000 ar­riv­ing by Jan­uary 1854. How­ever, dis­as­ter soon struck as ty­phoid disease swept through the rough camps and the Buck­land gained the rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing the high­est mor­tal­ity rate of any Vic­to­rian gold­field. It was said by those who were there that the val­ley was so thickly dot­ted with graves the river seemed to wind through a church­yard.

In July 1857 the in­fa­mous Buck­land ri­ots oc­curred. Euro­pean dig­gers vi­o­lently at­tacked and ex­pelled the Chi­nese gold-seek­ers who had ar­rived there in the thou­sands. Many were killed be­fore the po­lice, led by Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert O’hara Burke, ar­rived from Beech­worth. Burke was to later find last­ing fame by dy­ing on the banks of a dis­tant Cooper Creek, lead­ing what be­came known as the Burke and Wills ex­pe­di­tion.

By the early 1900s hy­draulic sluic­ing and bucket dredges had turned the worn and torn river flats along the val­ley into seem­ingly one big gravel pit. The dredges worked the com­plete length of the river, in­clud­ing both branches of the Buck­land

Peo­ple come to the Buck­land for the tran­quil­lity of the val­ley, to catch trout, to find a fleck of gold, or just to en­joy a 4WD track

up­stream from Buck­land Junc­tion. Mean­while on the steep ridges, hard rock min­ers sorted the gold-bear­ing quartz reefs, with dozens of mines, in­clud­ing the Band of Hope, Comet, and the Rip and Tear, ex­tract­ing the wealth that lay be­neath the rocky soil.

To­day the val­ley is quiet, peace­ful and sur­pris­ingly green, with grassy flats be­tween the dense stands of na­tive for­est. All the ef­fort and toil of the past can still be seen, though. There are piles of rocks along the river, there are the low cliffs formed by the hy­draulic sluices, and there are chan­nels and races that cut across the land­scape.

At the old ceme­tery be­side the main road, poignant head­stones tes­tify to the tough past. While nearby is a mon­u­ment to the Chi­nese who died dur­ing and af­ter the ri­ots. Lit­tle re­mains of the ma­chin­ery that helped work these mines, apart from some scat­tered and torn metal frag­ments of boil­ers and fur­naces. Flecks of gold can still be re­cov­ered from the river, and oc­ca­sion­ally a rich pocket of al­lu­vium missed by those early min­ers can be dis­cov­ered by the lucky fos­sicker.

Most peo­ple come to the Buck­land these days for the tran­quil­lity of the val­ley, as well as the chance of catch­ing trout, find­ing a fleck of gold, hunt­ing a deer, or en­joy­ing a 4WD track. We en­joyed our sur­vey trip so much we went back again a few weeks later with friends, to camp on the Buck­land and to drive Buf­falo Range once more. It was even bet­ter the sec­ond time around!

GOLDEN WA­TERS

If you’re lucky, gold can still be found in the Buck­land Val­ley! Cat­tle graze the for­est ar­eas dur­ing sum­mer.

One ex­am­ple of the great views along Buf­falo Range Track.

Tall, dead trees along Great Di­vide.

The Buck­land River flows through this small gorge.

Some sec­tions of Buf­falo Range Track can be steep.

The graves at Buck­land Ceme­tery date back to the gold-rush era.

This mon­u­ment (left) is ded­i­cated to the Chi­nese peo­ple who lost their lives in the Buck­land Val­ley.

The ru­ins of old Bev­eridges Sta­tion.

En­joy­ing the camp­fire in the Buck­land.

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