Head: Queenstown – St. Andrews and the Caledonia Goldfield

By Wayne Salt

When the name Queenstown is mentioned, most people think of Tasmania or New Zealand but in fact Victoria had its own Queenstown until 1923, when it was renamed St. Andrews. The name Queenstown lives on as a pioneer cemetery.  St. Andrews is a small country

township nestled north of Kangaroo Ground and Panton Hill and south of Kinglake National Park (one of the sites of the disastrous 2009 bush fires). Within the Shire of Nillumbik, St. Andrews has a population of around 1,138 (2011 census) and as the crow flies, it’s only is 35km north-east of Melbourne city. 

St. Andrews is located within the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people, whose name is derived from ‘Wurun’ (Manna gum tree) and ‘djeri’ (an edible grub found in the tree). The Wurundjeri and other Yarra Valley clans were part of a wider confederation known as the Kulin people who inhabited the Port Phillip area. 

As most readers of this magazine would be aware, gold had been located at a number of sites throughout Australia well before 1851 but the Colonial Government actively discouraged any promotion of prospecting in favour of keeping squatters’ employees and ticket-of-leave convicts working on the land. 

By 1851 however, that view had changed in Victoria and alluvial and quartz gold finds were being made along the twisting and turning Yarra River that runs 90km from Victoria’s alpine park to Melbourne city where it empties into Hobson’s bay and Port Phillip. The success of a few lucky prospectors encouraged others to try and locate gold-bearing sites. 

In 1854 an American (possibly an African American) named Boston and two Scottish companions located gold in Smyth’s Creek within walking distance of St. Andrews (then known as Queenstown). In no time up to 700 prospectors were trying their luck in and around Smyth’s Gully and Queenstown. 

Diggings and mines extended from Kinglake down to Warrandyte and from Kangaroo Ground across to Yarrambat. In time Smyth’s Gully became Smith’s Gully and the diggings there and in surrounding locations were collectively known as The Caledonia Diggings. In due course the field supported some 3,000 people, a third of whom were Chinese who continued alluvial mining through to the early 1900s. 

Although most gold was recovered through panning, sluicing and quartz crushing, some nuggets were found. In The Department of Primary Industry’s publication The Victorian Prospector’s Guide and Handbook, there is a summary of alluvial nuggets over 50oz found in the goldfields of Victoria and Queenstown gets a mention with one nugget weighing more than 100oz but less than 500oz, and a second nugget weighing more than 50oz but less than 100oz. 

In the 1860s quartz mining became dominant although the closest quartz crushing battery was located 13 miles away in Warrandyte. By the early 1900s most mining activity had ceased but after the First World War and during the Depression years, many unemployed men reworked the diggings. 

In 1919 the State Mines department installed a five-head stamper battery in Smith’s Gully. It was powered by a 5hp Johnstone Steam engine and a weir was constructed in a gully below the battery to provide water for the steam engine and the nearby cyanide leaching vats. By 1950 the lack of consistently flowing water in the creek during summer saw the battery converted to diesel power however a devastating bushfire in 1962 destroyed the wooden battery house and the machinery was moved elsewhere.   

Cyanide leaching was a simple and low cost process for extracting gold. It was popular throughout Victoria in the 1890s and at Smith’s Creek the process was still being used by a local resident during the 1940s and 1950s. The large galvanized tank he used is still there today. Tailings were placed in the tank for 60 to 70 hours and soaked in potassium or sodium cyanide. In the presence of oxygen the gold was dissolved into a liquid that was then removed and passed through zinc shavings. During this process the gold was converted to a black powder that could later be washed and smelted back to its yellow gold form. 

In due course a consecrated cemetery was required in the Smith’s Gully-Queenstown precinct. Although no longer in use, the Queenstown Cemetery and its marked and unmarked graves are cared for by the Trustees, Friends and Relations of Queenstown Cemetery. The local Landcare group and Historical Society also play a part in caring for the cemetery, the surrounding bush and the remaining relics. 

What little remains from the past and is open for exploring today is managed by Parks Victoria. The site is well signposted and a pleasant heritage walk of 3km return can be either started from Smith’s Gully Road at the southern Queenstown Cemetery end (Melway’s 264 H3) or from Proctor Street at the northern St Andrews end (Melway’s 394 G12). Either way, the iconic St Andrews hotel is well worth a visit. 

The Victorian Government’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment implemented a survey of the Queenstown Government Battery site in 1999 as part of its Victorian Goldfields project. The site gazetteer for the St Andrews Mining Division (Caledonia Goldfield) inspected Smith’s Gully and recorded as culturally significant were the history of the site, the remaining relics and landscape clues that provided a general impression of what took place, the value of the site as part of a precinct that includes alluvial workings, the quartz mines and the cemetery.  

REFERENCES  

Victorian Goldfields Project (St Andrews Mining Division) June 1999 (access via the internet)
Yarra by Kristin Otto, 2005. Text Publishing Melbourne Department of Primary Industries The Victorian Prospector’s Guide and Handbook 2004. Paoletti’s Maps & videos P/L Gold Prospecting by Douglas M. Stone. Outdoor Press

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