Digging for Gold at the Back of Beyond

By John Mack

It would be hard to find a more challenging and remote place to search for gold in the 1880s than Arltunga, in what is today the Northern Territory but back then was still South Australia. Arltunga is virtually dead centre of downunder and the neighbouring mines in the White Range, Claraville and Winneckie are testament to the tenacity and perseverance of our pioneering prospectors.

Early exploration of the region by Barclay, Lindsay and Winneckie took place from 1878 to 1886 and Winneckie noted what he thought were rubies. Publication of this information initiated the ‘ruby rush’ which resulted in the discovery of gold along the dry creek at Paddy’s Rockhole near Arltunga. Within a year, a visit from the Government Geologist found the fields almost deserted due to lack of water. He also certified that the ‘rubies’ were in fact garnets – pretty but relatively worthless.

Located some 90km north-east of Alice Springs as the crow flies does not sound too remote but in 1887, when gold was first discovered at Arltunga, there was no Alice Springs, just a telegraph station and the nearest railhead was at Oodnadatta some 600km to the south. The country was exceeding rugged with many steep ridges and huge areas of sand dunes to be negotiated and water scarcity was a constant concern. Subscribe now.

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