It had been a successful day walk with the “Barrier Rangers”, Broken Hill’s long established bushwalking club. We were hosting dinner at our home after the walk.
Walks in the Barrier Ranges are always fascinating. Often there is at least one field geologist along and maybe a mining engineer. One of the regular walkers, a field geologist, delighted in using geological maps to walk to. He often expressed mock astonishment when us less enlightened souls couldn’t determine our location by relating surface features to the map. If you keep quiet and listen, you can learn a lot!
On this occasion we had a recently arrived Barrier Ranger who was working as a mine safety officer. Through conversation over dinner, we found that he had previously worked in gold mines in an area with geology similar to that found in the Kiandra Lead.
Hearing this provided me with an opportunity to channel my late father, Jack, and talk about the Kiandra lead and the Elaine Mining Company in which my grandfather had been a major shareholder. My father worked at the Elaine in his late teens and early twenties. Through that experience he developed a life-long love of the Kiandra area, its history, and the Snowies generally. He knew many locals well, including the Hughes family. He held Bob Hughes Jnr in the highest regard.
Our dinner guest (let’s call him Clancy) appeared more interested in my monologue than politeness required, so I seized the opportunity to show the survey plans for the Elaine and some contemporary Department of Mines reports. Clancy studied them in silence while the conversation – and wine – flowed around him.
Eventually Clancy looked up and asked: “Is this mine being worked? Why not? What’s become of it?” It was Clancy’s view, based on what he had read, that the Elaine looked very promising.
I replied along the lines of: “Difficult tunneling through very hard rock. Lack of capital, then a World War, and in any case it’s now in the Kosciuszko National Park.”
And that – quite properly – put an end to the matter.
It did occur to me that my family and perhaps descendants of other Kiandra mining families could mount an argument that mining is ‘our Heritage’ and that we are ‘entitled’ to lodge, once again, the claims our grandfathers made. We could even argue that our ancestral mining ventures be excised from the park. A few letters to politicians from connected people like us should be able to change a National Park Plan of Management, surely?
Were such a proposal put forward I would, however, be the first to argue against it. My siblings would be close behind, and I believe my father and grandfather would share my view. In earlier times society valued the high country of Australia – its pastures, forests, and minerals – as resources to be harvested. But many of the “old timers” also saw value in the unique animals and plants they encountered, and from that basis developed the recognition of the need for these fragile ecosystems, unique within Australia let alone the world, to be protected. As the principal source of the major river systems of Southeastern Australia, the Alpine landscape with its sponge-like bogs and fens must be protected from further degradation. Water is more important than gold.
By all means let us remember and celebrate our high country heritage whether pastoral, forestry or mining. Let us also respect and acknowledge the land’s traditional custodians, who managed it sustainably for thousands of years. But as a firm foundation for this heritage, we must ensure that the voiceless – the unique plants, the native animals, the land itself – are granted protection from the threats now facing the alpine national parks. Those threats are many. They include feral horses, deer and other animals, and inappropriate development.
I like to imagine a dinner at which my grandfather and father joined in the discussion with Clancy and my walking friends. It would be a lively evening! With so many generations present, the long-term perspective would be clear. Family memories and old plans and documents like the ones I showed Clancy are an important record of the past. But arguments that quote ‘heritage’ as a justification for the continuation or reintroduction of practices that threaten the high-country landscape, flora and fauna have no place in a contemporary understanding of this unique part of our country.
For more images and plans, please visit our Kiandra Mining Heritage’s Dropbox folder.
Cross section annotations prob. by E. Barnett
One of the Huts Elaine Mine [March 1932] credit Robert Barclay
Portable steam engine, Elaine Mine, KNP, 2016. Image Peter Conroy