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View across the Araluen Valley
 

Araluen
Historic gold ghost town in the heart of the Southern Tablelands
Located 318 km from Sydney via Goulburn and 364 km via the Princes Highway, Araluen is one of the most famous gold towns in New South Wales. Today it is little more than a few buildings in a beautiful valley noted for its orchards.

It is believed that 'Araluen', probably translated from the Aboriginal words 'Arr-a l-yin', might mean 'place of the water lilies'. The first Europeans into the area (Kearns, Packer and Marsh) arrived in 1822 and by the end of the decade the area had been accurately mapped. Andrew Badgery was grazing cattle in the area by the 1830s and by 1837 Henry Clay Burnell had purchased 1280 acres for 265. Inevitably the goldrushes of the late 1840s disrupted the area with labourers rushing to the Bathurst area hoping to find their fortune.

Two Moruya men, Alexander Waddell and Harry 'The Blacksmith' Hicken, had rushed to Ophir. It was there that they realised the terrain was remarkably similar to the area behind Moruya. They returned home and by 1851, having moved further and further up the Araluen valley, they had discovered gold.

The discovery of gold led to a rush. Within months there were 15,000 men in the Araluen Valley. They came to the port at Broulee and walked overland for 50 kilometres to the goldfields. After Ophir this was the most important goldfield in the state. During its life some $11 million worth of gold was taken from the field and in the first year an estimated 100,000 ozs (2830 kg) had been taken.

The town, and access to the town, grew quickly. A road between Araluen and Moruya was constructed between 1856-61. In 'Moruya: The First 150 Years' the authors explain: 'The Moruya River is a salt tidal river as far as the Kiora Bridge. From there it takes the name Deua River upstream to its source. Several freshwater creeks, including the Wamban, flow into it through heavily timbered country. This combination proved ideal for the miners, especially as rich wash dirt was found only a foot or two below the surface.

 

A deserted house in the Araluen Valley
 

'This, however, was worked out quickly, as the high water table beat the men who attempted deep sinking. Capital was then put into installing pumping machinery to drain the workings to sixty feet where the big gold was in the valley area ...

'Of the gold fields "Thorpes", "The Big and Little Fenians", "The Good Enough", "All Nations", "Beardys", "Perseverance", "Blatchfords" and "Picketts" were known rich producers, and hundreds of smaller holdings were enough to give a livelihood to thirty-two hotels. Most of these had their own dance hall, and every month there was a fresh importation from Sydney of dancing partners ... The dancing girls' pay was three pounds per week with board and residence, and for this they contracted to dance three times per week ... During the brief bushranging era of the district's history, the Clarke Brothers, Tom and John, were frequent visitors to the dance halls in the boom days and were quite popular with the locals (and especially the girls).'

In 1860, with many of the valleys stripped by overzealous goldminers, the area was hit by a devastating flood. The creek grew to over 1000 metres wide and, as reported in 'Moruya - The First 150 Years': 'The loss of life was heavy. In one case a hotel and all its occupants were swept away, and the bodies of several of those in the building at the time were found afterwards on the beach at Moruya. Much later that year the workings were reopened but they never returned to their former glory or excitement.'

Gold inevitably brought with it bushrangers. The Clarke brothers, who quickly established a frightening reputation in the district, resisted the temptation to rob the coaches leaving Araluen. However the arrival of Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert was a different matter. On 13 March, 1865, on the road from Araluen to Majors Creek (it is now impossible to determine the exact location but if you take the road it is about 500 metres from the top of the the mountain) and with the assistance of Tom Clarke, they tried to hold up a gold escort. They shot at a Constable Kelly but they were outflanked and were forced to flee from the scene.

Gold continued to be mined until the end of the century but, after the removal of the alluvial gold, dredges moved in and the gold fossicking miners moved on. The first dredge arrived in 1899 and it was eventually followed by 11 other dredges. They continued to work the valley until 1939. A detailed booklet The History of Araluen by Lindsay and Roger Thwaites is published by the Braidwood and District Historical Society.

Things to see:   [Top of page]

Panning for Gold
Don't be too optimistic. If you take the turn towards Majors Creek from the Braidwood-Araluen Road there is a pleasant picnic location beside the Araluen River which allows fossickers the opportunity to try their luck in this famous alluvial gold river. Unfortunately the area was dredged for many years and there is not a lot of joy to be had. The picnic ground is pleasant.

 

Cemeteries
Further along the Majors Creek road, and clearly signposted, are the Anglican and Roman Catholic historic cemeteries. They are both worth visiting. It is hard to imagine, given the small population now living in the valley, that so many people could have once lived (and died) in the valley.

 

The Mullock Heaps
If you look across to the river from the road which runs along the valley towards the Hotel you will notice strange mounds. They are now commonly green and grassy. These were once the mullock, waste heaps left by the dredging of the valley.

 

The Roads
The easiest access is the 25 km route from Braidwood which is sealed and uncomplicated. The prettiest, and also most precipitous, is the 12 km dirt track (to call it a road is to overstate its importance - hope you don't meet any oncoming traffic) from Majors Creek which drops spectacularly into the valley and offers the best entry through rich orchards and past both the cemeteries before joining the Braidwood road. The road through to Moruya is mostly a dirt road which is quite accessible although it is probably quicker to return to Braidwood and drive to the coast via the Kings Highway to Batemans Bay.

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Araluen