Page 111: The Valley of the shadow of death
  the buckland riot  
       While staying in Porepunkah we have heard occasional references to "the Buckland Riot". While the history of the area, including the story of Mount Buffalo, the Chalet, the early settlers, the gold finds, the Rail Trail and the development of the snow fields are proudly presented, we had to dig a little deeper to learn of a tragic and shameful episode in the region's past - the Buckland Riot.  
  The valley of the shadow of death  

     If I told you that there's a valley just around the corner from our caravan where thousands of bodies are buried in unmarked graves scattered across the valley floor, would you believe me? Some are murder victims, others are accident victims, yet more were infants; the foremost authority on the valley's history believes as many as three thousand died of typhoid. Is it any wonder that the place was known as the Valley of the Shadow of Death?

      Until 1850 the Buckland Valley was a beautiful, peaceful patch of God's earth. Located in the lee of mighty Mount Buffalo, the tree-covered slopes were steep, and sparkling mountain streams joined the fast flowing Buckland River as it tumbled downwards. It was an idyllic home for wildlife.

      Sadly for the animals, the granite rock that formed the mountains above the valley contained gold. As the creeks wore away the rocks above, they liberated some of the gold and washed it down into the valley over millions of years. Being heavy, the gold particles settled to the creek beds and were covered by silt. Over time the streams and river had changed course as they eroded away their banks.Thus the gold was not only in the stream beds, but distributed beneath the surface of the soil across the alluvial flats in the lower valley, wherever a stream had once flowed. In 1853 men discovered that gold and everything in the valley changed.

      Miners came from all over Australia in the hope of striking it rich. Unbelievably quickly word spread around the world and the Buckland Valley - the Buckland, as it was known - became home to about six thousand miners from all over Europe. Miners even came from the California goldfields. They packed into the valley, staking their claims. Some brought their wives with them, several brought children. Most people lived in crude tents, others in bark huts. There was no sanitation, the only water was from the creeks which quickly became polluted. There were no schools or shops and certainly no hospital.

      In the summer the steep sides of the valley trapped the heat and the surrounding mountains excluded the breeze. The burning sun blazed straight down and baked everything below. Conversely, in the winter the cold was bitter. In those days snow lay on the ground for long periods as the steep valley sides blocked the rays from the low winter sun. A crude tent provided little protection from the freezing cold and when the ground wasn't frozen hard it turned to mud.

  From a fertile valley to a barren waste.  

     Soon the miners' need for timber for firewood, huts and pit props denuded the valley's slopes. They cut down the trees, hacked off the useful branches and left the trunks to rot on what soon became bare hillsides.

      Each Sunday the miners rested and took part in any relaxation that found their favour. Very often they would take to the countryside with their guns, for few miners were without. Anything that moved was fair game and slow moving creatures like wombats and koalas were easy targets. The koala population was soon wiped out, never to return. Thus a few short years saw both fauna and flora destroyed, as were the creek beds and banks, not to mention the alluvial flatlands.

      In the summer heat the lack of sanitation resulted in an inevitable epidemic of typhoid which spread with terrifying swiftness. People died by the hundred and were buried wherever there was a suitable space. These areas became unofficial cemeteries and often the deaths were never recorded. Most of those not yet affected fled the valley. The population rapidly fell from thousands to a few dozen.

      As winter approached, the incidence of new typhoid cases diminished and the miners began returning, however winter brought its own perils, not the least being bitter cold. For those living under canvas, as most were, there must have seemed no respite. Some miners spent long hours up to their waists in cold water panning for gold, then they returned to a tent for the night. Pneumonia and other illnesses took their toll.

      Summer or winter, young women gave birth with little or no medical assistance and a high percentage of their babies died, if not at birth, within weeks. It was far from unusual for mothers to die in childbirth. Conflict amongst the men, and earth collapses in the mines also resulted in many deaths. Bodies might be buried where they fell, especially those of murder victims. A convenient abandoned mine shaft was a favourite hiding place. Often the authorities were not notified of either births, deaths or the occasional marriage.

      The Buckland was no place for young children. It was littered with unfenced mine shafts. The river and creeks were death traps as youngsters in those days were not taught to swim at an early age. River crossings were usually just tree trunks or planks spanning the racing current. There were no inoculations to protect the young from the usual childhood diseases and there was seldom a doctor available when they succumbed to them.

  Left: Two victims of the Buckland. Little Thomas Goldie died a week before his first Christmas in 1868, aged six moths.
Eight years later his older brother, John, followed him to the grave aged ten years.
Right: William Ba??, one of many to be killed by an earth fall. He died eight days before Christmas, 1898.
       As the typhoid retreated and the 'European' miners (as they became known) returned, swarms of Chinese miners began arriving too. Unlike some European miners, the Chinese did not bring their wives; they were left in China to await their menfolk's return. Before long the Chinese miners heavily outnumbered the Europeans.  
  a common foe  
       The disparate factions and nationalities amongst the Europeans now united to oppose the Chinese who became seen as a common enemy. This occurred against a background of depleting gold finds as the most lucrative discoveries had been worked out. The Chinese were industrious and, unlike the Europeans, supported one another and worked efficiently in teams. Europeans claimed that they verbally abused the European women but this was almost certainly untrue and just an excuse for violence. Occasionally a Chinaman would take a European wife who would then be shunned by other Europeans.

      The Chinese were accused of claiming promising sites that the Europeans "had intended to work next". There were several known European agitators who stirred up unrest against the Chinese, who for the most part were peaceful, hard workers, though not averse to stealing food or gold if the opportunity arose.

      The Chinese built ornate temples and worshipped regularly, putting the Christians to shame. Guilt possibly contributed to the resentment felt by the Europeans. As attitudes hardened against the Chinese, the one or two local police officers stationed in the Buckland were powerless to prevent what followed.
  A Night of hatred, greed, alcohol and death  

     One night the European community's resentment boiled over and a mob, doubtless fuelled by alcohol, marched on the Chinese settlements with guns and clubs. As the Chinese fled before them, their tents, huts and temples were looted and burned. Trying to escape across the river via a plank bridge, many Chinese fell into the water and drowned. The Europeans drove them from the valley in fear for their lives. Deprived of shelter, food, and sometimes even the gold for which they had worked so hard, many were injured and some died along the road.

      The police summoned reinforcements from Beechworth, some sixty miles distant. Before the extra police arrived there was a frantic rush to bury Chinese bodies. Many of the agitators responsible for the riot vanished into the bush. When a few arrests were made, the standard of justice was a farce. The word of a Chinese witness was worth little and the culprits walked free in nearly all cases. Where sentences were passed, they were so lenient as to be no deterrent at all. Such was the lot of a Chinese miner in the Buckland at that time.

      After a few months, the warrants issued for the arrests of those who had escaped were cancelled. What was the point in chasing them all over the country if the judiciary would merely release them if they were brought to trial?

  In 2007 this memorial was dedicated to the Chinese who died in the Buckland Valley. We visited the nearby
Chinese Cemetry and found that all the Chinese headstones had been illegally removed by persons unknown.
  After the riot  
       Many Chinese did filter back to the Buckland, others returned to China. Most would have incurred large debts to afford the trip to Australia in the hope of returning wealthy men. Indeed, some did return wealthy. Others were ashamed to return, unable to repay their debts. Many more still lie in the Buckland soil; their loved ones never to hear of them again.

      As time passed the situation settled down. Schools were built, a doctor became available, better roads and dwellings were constructed and mining techniques improved. Though the days of making your fortune from gold within a week were over, the new technology made it profitable to process lower yield substrates and re-work old sites. Examples are sluicing and dredging; fine for making a profit from lower yield sites but terribly destructive to the landscape.
  Back to the present  
       So intrigued were we to read the history of the Buckland that we enquired whether there were tours available. There were none. As I mentioned earlier, this particular part of local history is not something that is promoted. However Helen, a very helpful lady in the Alpine Visitor Information Centre in Bright, went to the trouble of phoning Diann Talbot, the author of "The Buckland Valley Goldfield", the definitive work on the history of the Buckland which we were reading. Diann doesn't normally conduct tours but she very kindly made an exception for us!  
  Diann and Pam in the Buckland Valley.  

     The following Saturday morning, Diann guided us around the site where the goldfield had been and the riot had taken place. How different the valley is now, one hundred and fifty years on. The bare mountain slopes are again densely covered in trees and bush, so much so that much is impenetrable. The evidence of those days is mostly hidden and without Diann we wouldn't have known that there had been anything there.

      Savage bush fires a few years ago had cleared all the undergrowth from the valley, revealing much that had hitherto been hidden. Though the bush has since grown back with a vengeance, the location of many remains are now documented.

  Exploring the Buckland with Diann was fun.  
  A water wheel driven gold stamp battery in the Buckland, 1880-1890. Water was delivered via a 'flume' from higher up the hill
to turn the water wheel. The water wheel drove a camshaft which lifted large steel stamps and released
them to crash down on quartz rock, crushing it to powder to enable gold to be extracted from it.
Picture from Diann's book.
  Diann showed us the site where the gold battery (above) had operated. Apart from some rock walls there was little left to be seen.  
  Many thanks to Diann for the immense amount of painstaking research that she put into the preparation for her book and which I shamelessly filched. The book is called . . .
“The Buckland Valley Goldfield”
by Diann Talbot

  Copies can be obtained from Diann at:-  
P.O. Box 374
Victoria, 3741

  Without Diann, within a generation or two this story would surely have been lost for ever. Thanks also, Di, for taking Pam and I over the actual goldfield site; you made it come alive again for us.

Any errors in the condensed version of the story on this page are mine.
Just one last story of the Buckland that made us laugh, though it really isn't funny.
       In 1893, an eleven year old boy was staying overnight with his grandmother in the building that had previously been the 'Hit and Miss Hotel'. During the night a fire started and despite frantic efforts by neighbours, the wooden building burned to the ground. It fell to a constable to search the ashes for bodies. He first recovered the boy and then his grandmother. An inquest was held on the remains followed by a well attended funeral at the Buckland Cemetery for them both.

      Several days after the funeral a Chinese man was sifting through the ruins of the burned building. On lifting a sheet of iron he discovered the remains of the eleven year old boy. The inquest and funeral had been held for an old lady and a side of pork.