Page 142: the bright autumn festival ~ a day in harrietville
     
  A historical tour of harrietville  
 

About 30 kilometres east of 'Punkah and right at the base of Mount Hotham is the little town of Harrietville. One of the attractions advertised in the Bright Autumn Festival brochure was a historical tour of Harrietville so, being interested in the history of the region we rocked up. But wait, having passed through Bright on the Alpine Highway we were enthralled, yes, enthralled, as we drove through a tunnel of autumn foliage . . .

 
     
   
  What a shame it was garbage collection day - but what wonderful colours. And it went on and on.  
     
 

A weak sun shone on the leaves though a few moments later it was gone, obscured by an approaching rain storm. But we have this image for ever.

We found our destination, the Harrietville Museum, without too much difficulty and in good time. The history of Harrietville is largely about the discovery of gold in the area and the resulting mining. In fact, one of the largest dredges in the world, the Tronoh Gold Dredge, was built at Harrietville in 1940 and did untold damage to the environment. There's little left of that monster today though there's a smaller dredge, the Eldorado Dredge, not all that far away (pictured below). We visited the Eldorado Dredge earlier and described it on Page 112 of this web site. There is a link at the bottom of that page for anyone wishing to learn more.

 
     
   
  The smaller Eldorado Dredge; technically it's a ship.  
     
 

In fact, the gold mining proved the making of Harrietville, lifting the population from fifty into the thousands. The monster dredge also brought benefits in that it was electrically powered. Harrietville previously had no electricity but was connected when the electrically powered dredge was constructed. A large number of men were needed to operate the dredge so employment became available.

On the negative side, the beast was deafeningly noisy and operated twenty four hours a day. It chewed a deep channel wherever it went, sorted what it had swallowed and excreted the waste behind it. Unfortunately it didn't separate the fertile top soil from the rock so it left behind land fit for very little.

Eventually it was dismantled and shipped to Malaysia where it was rebuilt and operated for another twenty years.

At the museum we listened to a fascinating talk about the town, its beginnings, its characters and its history, conducted in a room with relevant photographs and documents all over the walls, we were invited to inspect the pool where the giant dredge had turned around. Our guide was a historian and the author of many books, Ian Stapleton. Ian is a well known local character and a very nice man.

 
     
Left: Outside the museum stands a four-stamp battery used for crushing gold-bearing rock . Right: The solid steel stamps were raised by these rotating
cams then released to descend under the force of gravity to pound - or batter - the rock being fed in below. It would be a very noisy operation.
     
 

On the right is a Pelton Water Wheel next to a transportable steam engine. These two often went together, the Pelton Wheel driving the battery when running water was plentiful, the steam engine taking over in the summer when creeks tend to dry up.

The Pelton Wheel was invented by Lester Allan Pelton in the 1870s. It is remarkably efficient when a high water pressure is available and transfers almost all the energy from the water to the wheel.

The early history of this particular 4 h.p. steam engine is unknown. It was built by Brown and May of Wiltshire, England, in the late 1880s according to its plaque. In later years it powered a chaff cutter in the Buckland Valley. It was donated to the museum by the Beveridge family in the 1960s.

Also on display in the grounds of the museum is a bucket formerly used by the dredge. There were over one hundred buckets linked together to form an endless loop and they constantly rotated down under the dredge where they scooped up earth and rocks before passing around a huge roller, rising out of the water up to the dredge where the contents were tipped for processing. Consequently, though the buckets were very substantial and made of cast iron, the steel blade section wore away very quickly.

 
     
   
  The picture shows the large rivets that had to be removed to replace the blade section of each bucket. The blade fits around the higher rim of the bucket and is very worn on this example. Under the rear of the bucket is the bearing which slots between the front lugs of the following bucket (like those either side of the plaque on this bucket) and a huge pivot shaft is inserted right through.  
     
 

It must have taken some electric motor to drive this chain of buckets around, and of course the power cable feeding it had to be moved as the dredge moved. The story is that the power bill amounted to £1,000 per month. One web site translates that to about $30,000 today, another to about $70,000; take your pick. As long as you don't have to pay it, who cares?

As I said earlier, Ian Stapleton guided us up to the pool that the dredger used to use to turn around. On the way up and on the way back we were pounced upon by several groups of schoolgirls on some sort of orienteering exercise. Each group needed to photograph (amongst other things) two local people and one must have a beard. Good-natured Ian posed for each group with some of our party though we were not local. Well, who was to know?

 
     
   
  Bearded Ian posing yet again with a group of orienteering schoolgirls and two of our group.  
     
   
  Tronoh Lake Dredge Hole, much used by the locals in the summer when the river is low.
Certainly not very inviting when we saw it. It's deep and very cold.
 
     
  On the way back from the pool we had to cross a footbridge over the Ovens River and down at the edge of the water was a young school teacher. He was in charge of a teenage group who were carrying rafts upstream until out of sight, then rafting back down. We didn't envy them, we were cold enough without getting wet.  
     
   
  Down in this last section the kids seemed to be stuck on the rocks most of the time but seemed to be enjoying themselves.  
     
   
  The pride of the Harrietville transport fleet?  
     
 

At the end of a very pleasant day Pam declared that it had, without a shadow of doubt, been a BLUE day.