STEP BACK INTO GOLDEN PAST

A hulk­ing con­struc­tion now sit­ting idle in a tran­quil pond in El­do­rado al­lows visi­tors to hark back to the re­gion’s gold-min­ing his­tory.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Si­mone Ker­win photos Marc Bongers

A hulk­ing con­struc­tion now sit­ting idle in a tran­quil pond in El­do­rado al­lows visi­tors to hark back to the re­gion’s gold- min­ing his­tory.

POP­U­LAR his­tory sug­gests El­do­rado orig­i­nally gained its name, not be­cause of its golden po­ten­tial, but be­cause early set­tler Wil­liam Baker was taken by the rich, fer­tile na­ture of the land.

Driv­ing to­wards the town­ship, it’s easy to see what he meant.

Even af­ter a siz­zling North East sum­mer that in­cluded strings of 40 de­gree days, the grad­ual shift from dry pad­docks to soft green landscape is strik­ing.

A full ap­pre­ci­a­tion of why the town’s moniker - taken from the South Amer­i­can leg­end about a lost city of gold – was widely adopted comes when you take a turn-off to one of the area’s main at­trac­tions, Cock’s El­do­rado Dredge.

The dredge, which last year cel­e­brated the 80th an­niver­sary of its open­ing, re­mains as a relic of the re­gion’s gold-min­ing past.

It opened in 1936, when the ris­ing price of gold spurred seek­ers to mine for some of the deeply buried treasure left from the lo­cal rush of the 1850s.

The dredge worked by dig­ging out the creek, and flush­ing what was cap­tured through a se­ries of large sieves, to hope­fully re­veal the gold.

Dur­ing the 18 years it op­er­ated in El­do­rado, the dredge’s revolving chain and 118 steel buck­ets cov­ered an area of about 10 acres, and drew 70,000 ounces of gold and 1383 tons of tin from the rich al­lu­vial plain of Reedy Creek.

Each bucket weighed 1.4 tonnes and car­ried a third of a cu­bic me­tre of earth.

The whole dredge weighed 1880 tonnes, and re­quired 900 horse­power to op­er­ate, us­ing 14 mo­tors of varying ca­pac­ity.

In the 1930s, it was the third largest user of power in Vic­to­ria, behind Mel­bourne and Gee­long.

Still sit­ting in the lake it cre­ated, the dredge is now still and silent, but it takes only a step onto the gang­plank and a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion to vi­su­alise what a hive of in­dus­try it would have been in its hey­day.

Ac­cord­ing to Sue Phillips, from the El­do­rado Mu­seum, the op­por­tu­nity to take that step back in time reg­u­larly draws bus­loads of visi­tors to the area from all over Aus­tralia.

“It’s the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing that huge ma­chine, es­pe­cially be­cause you can ac­tu­ally get onto it, and feel the sheer size of it,” she said.

Story boards lead­ing up to and on the dredge ex­plain its place and dom­i­nant pres­ence in the district’s his­tory.

Sue said the re­lent­less sound it emit­ted over not just El­do­rado but the sur­round­ing area (a long­time Wan­garatta res­i­dent con­firms its machi­na­tions could be clearly heard in the city, 22km

away, on a clear night), was one to which lo­cals be­came strangely ac­cus­tomed.

In fact, it was not un­til the noise stopped dur­ing main­te­nance ses­sions that the deathly si­lence il­lus­trated just how loud it had been.

Over the years, the dredge and its sur­rounds have be­come a unique back­drop to leisure ac­tiv­i­ties like swim­ming, fish­ing and pic­nic gath­er­ings.

A pic­turesque walk around the pond, which takes 15 to 20 min­utes, of­fers the chance to learn more about the lo­cal icon from in­for­ma­tion pan­els dot­ted around the area, while also en­joy­ing its sur­rounds.

“Peo­ple say it’s an amaz­ing thing to have here, a sig­nif­i­cant piece of Aus­tralian engineering his­tory,” Sue said.

A fam­ily his­tory buff, Sue par­tic­u­larly loves hear­ing from the fam­i­lies of for­mer dredge work­ers who seek to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing of what their fam­ily mem­bers felt while work­ing the dredge.

“We had the 80th an­niver­sary of the open­ing last year, and quite a few peo­ple came out of the wood­work to find out more,” she said.

“The mu­seum has items like pay cards and cheques, but see­ing the dredge it­self, I think it just sets the scene for peo­ple.”

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