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.
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.”