Life and death on the Gympie goldfield

RICH REEF: Above-ground workings of the Scottish Gympie Gold Mines Limited No. 1 mine.
RICH REEF: Above-ground workings of the Scottish Gympie Gold Mines Limited No. 1 mine. Gympie Regional Libraries

THE Gympie goldfields had many diggings. At one point they were so numerous there were claims of people jumping into dig sites if there was nobody present.

After James Nash discovered gold in 1867, miners flocked to the area.

Security quickly became a problem, with miners often burying their hoards locked in wooden chests.

In November 1867 James Nash along with a small party of men, were the first gold escort to arrive in Maryborough with their findings.

The Commercial Bank opened in the fledgling town but the manager paid poorly compared to prices outside of the region, so miners preferred to privately transport their cache.

Tailings dam and above ground workings of the Scottish Gympie.
Tailings dam and above ground workings of the Scottish Gympie. Gympie Regional Libraries

WHEN gold rich reefs were discovered under Gympie in November 1867, it became clear that the goldfield had a rich future and a coastal road built from Brisbane, opened in November 1868.

Part of the route is still in use to this day. In Brisbane it is called Gympie Rd, and in Gympie it is called Brisbane Rd.

On the Gympie goldfield, the word Phoenix was first used by the Leishman brothers, who applied for their prospector's claim on the Phoenix reef in July 1868.

A number of mines with the name Phoenix were successfully worked.

Today, Phoenix St, Phoenix Ln and the Phoenix Hotel preserve the name in the town.

During 1868 and early 1869, six armed hold-ups were reported near Gympie. Four of these were the work of a gang led by the bushranger George Palmer.

Cobb and Co and other coaches provided passenger and escort services between the goldfield and Maryborough until a railway line opened in 1881. Coaches also serviced the Gympie to Brisbane route until the rail link was completed in 1891.

The story then moves towards Gympie's most famous and productive mine. In 1889 a lease was taken up on Brisbane Rd, in the area now known as Monkland, as the "No.1 Eastern” mine.

Gympie Goldmines (Eastern Monkland) Company was formed. In 1895 the Scottish Gympie Gold Mines Limited, based in Glasgow, bought the mine which had originally been leased in 1889. Their No.1 mine quickly became the most productive in the Gympie area and accounted for nearly 14% of production at that time.

By 1896 the shaft was down 436m (1433ft) - the deepest in the region.

In 1901 Gympie's population was hovering at 12,000 and the gold production in that era was about 2.5 million ounces. It is believed the mine produced 608,279 oz of gold from 1,589,162 tons of ore between 1867 and 1923.

Crowds gather for the unveiling of the James Nash Memorial, 1915.
Crowds gather for the unveiling of the James Nash Memorial, 1915. Gympie Regional Council

By this time mounds of rock and waste material littered the town, known as "mullock heaps”. The origin of the word mullock allegedly comes from British immigrants, with the root of the word related to the Old English word "myl” meaning dust, and Old Norse "mylja” which meant "to crush”.

Two businessmen took over the mine and battery site in 1927 and established a cyaniding plant. The leases were held until taken over by the Coolola Shire, now the Gympie City Council, in 1986.

With the development of other goldfields around the state and the reduction in accessible gold supply, the town of Gympie began to decline. However, the town was well established and most residents stayed, while most of the mines had closed by the 1920s.

A brief resurgence of the gold mining industry in the 1980s gave a short-lived kick to the region. Extensive research was carried out in the viability of re-opening the Monkland mine and the development of the Lewis Mine.

The Gympie Gold company was formed with the support of the town. The mine operated until the company collapsed in 2004. A brief revival in the following years ended in 2008, with an overseas company buying the land.

Mining continues to this day, with pockets about the Gympie region. While regional economic boosts are attractive, there has been widespread public opposition with local communities taking a "mine free” stance.

The future of Gympie, however, has its roots in its history, with mining the backbone of the towns identity.

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