Page 112: More from the Alpine region
     
  Beauty . . .  
     
  Woolshed Falls near Beechworth, Victoria. The water was but dribbling when we visited. In full torrent it must be a sight to behold.

      These falls were once the centre of the richest goldfield in Victoria. More than 8000 gold miners worked along the banks of this stream.

      William Howitt, an English author wrote of Reids Creek in 1853:

      "... for nearly two miles, a wide valley is completely covered by tents and the soil turned upside down by diggers. A more rowdy and uninviting scene I never saw..... all the trees were cut down; the ground where it was not actually dug up was eaten perfectly bare by lean horses... More shabbiness and apparent wretchedness it would be difficult to conceive. Reids Creek has the character of being a disorderly and dangerous place. There have been no less than fifteen murders committed at it..."

      The pool below the falls was drained between 1918 and 1920 and nearly two thousand ounces of gold were recovered. Let me convert that to Aussie dollars using the gold price and exchange rate which apply today, 8th June 2010. One ounce of gold is worth US$1,240.25. Converted to Aussie dollars that is $1,530.47. Therefore two thousand ounces of gold would be worth $3,060,937. Phew! Not bad for two year's work, and probably tax free if they were smart.
 
     
  . . . and the beast  
     
   
  Does anybody recognise the ugly object in the picture? This the Eldorado Dredge and it is actually a ship!  
     
 

     The dredge was one of the largest ever built way back when. We found it in a place called Eldorado (or El Dorado, depending which sign or document you look at). It is one hundred metres long and weighs 2,142 tonnes. It floated on pontoons and was moved and steered by on-board winches attached to five cables anchored to trees or posts on the banks – two on each side and one at the front.

      The Beast was assembled in a large pool in a river or creek. Being afloat it requires water to move, but it didn't restrict itself to streams or rivers. It "ate" the land in front of it with the aid of a huge chain of circulating buckets. River water flowed into the hole as the earth was taken out so the Beast could float into the channel it had just cut. Insatiable, it again began eating the fresh land ahead of it, water flowing forward as the beast removed the earth. In effect, it was digging itself a canal as it moved.

      What was it for? It was a mobile factory, sifting and sorting the earth it was consuming at the front and pumping out its unwanted waste behind it, rather like an earthworm. And as an earthworm removes nutrients from the soil it swallows, so too does the dredge. In this case gold and tin were extracted from the earth as it passed through the bowels of the monster. The expelled waste was graded into coarse (rocks, etc.), medium (sand) and fine in the form of semi-liquid sludge. It was laid down in that order, the hope being that the fine sludge would dry out and provide good top soil for plant regrowth. The result was acceptable in those days but it wouldn't be today.

      How much gold did the Beast recover? In the item above, two thousand ounces were recovered from the pool below the Woolshed Falls in two years. At the start of its operation, this monster recovered nine thousand five hundred ounces in one year. To save you doing the maths, that would be worth $14.5 million today. Then there was the value of the tin recovered in addition to that. What's more, it was reworking degraded, previously mined land. It's profitability didn't remain this high but for its time it was immensely efficient and three shifts worked the Beast around the clock.

 
     
   
  Left:The front end with its snout sticking forward into the water. The empty buckets run forward beneath the water, scooping up the earth from deep down as they rise up over the end of the snout, then run back into the bowels of the beast as both pictures show.
(The 'snout' is really called the bucket ladder but I prefer snout, it fits with my 'beast' connotation.)

Right: Looking like chairs on a fairground ride, some of the 118 buckets on their way up from as deep as 90 feet below the water. They're empty now, of course, as the Beast has been idle for over half a century.
 
     
       The banks of cable pulleys on the front end provided reduction gearing so an electric motor was able to lift the snout clear of the water for maintenance, or lower it as far as 90 feet down for scouring the bottom. The hungry beast could eat over 12,000 tonnes of dirt per day.  
     
   
  Left: The back end of the dredge where the waste is expelled in three grades; course first, medium on that, fine on the top.
Right: A cable holding the dredge in position. One end goes to an on-board winch, the other was secured to a stout tree.
 
     
       The Eldorado Dredge began work in 1936 and retired in 1954 when the cost of gold processing increased sharply. The owners tried unsuccessfully to sell it and thirty years later it passed into government hands. It is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

      I'm going to leave the Eldorado Dredge here but if you'd like to look at pictures and diagrams that explain the workings of this monster far better than I, go to: http://www.parkweb.vic.gov.au/resources05/05_1355.pdf.