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?
|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.
|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
|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.
|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.
|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
|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.