A Day at the Races

By Marc Busch

A day at the races in 2011 could mean a great day at the Melbourne Cup with your mates to cheer the winner across the line or, maybe, a country meet without all the fashion and fanfare, having a bet, a beer or two and, with a little luck, a win on the day.

However, a day at the races in the Central Victorian goldfields in the 1850s and 60s meant something very different. In many cases it meant backache, blisters and sunburn with teams of young men digging their way through clay, rock and even quartz. These were the goldfields water races and many hundreds of miles of them were dug to deliver water to the thirsty gold mines and miners.

Gold could not be won without the use of water. When Victoria’s gold rush started in the early 1850s and the first of thousands of hopeful prospectors headed north-west out of Melbourne, they travelled through pristine countryside, open grasslands and then into the heavily wooded hills and gullies. They had to cross many small creeks and rivers on their journey, all of which would have been crystal clear and untouched. But within a few years this avalanche of people created catastrophic environmental damage to the waterways. They were panned, sluiced, puddled and dredged; few were spared and the legacy was muddy, silted water mixed with human waste and rubbish.

The full article can be found in the February 2011 issue of Gold Gem and Treasure. Subscribe now.

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