09 March, 2011

Letter from Col Ribaux, miner, geologist, conservationist and keeper of the Airly Mountain, Airly State Conservation Area

click on images to enlarge

End of an era
For 50 years I have carried a mountain.
With the gazetting of the Charlie Riley State Conservation Area (Mugii Murum-ban) last week this weight was lifted from my shoulders to my complete elation. January 1961 a young bloke from Lithgow climbed a wild beautiful almost inaccessible mountain near Capertee, and picked up a lovely gem diamond. Thence joined by two brothers and a great father we started to mine this house of treasures, with weekend help from many young Lithgowites we carried mining supplies, sheet iron, beds, ladders, drinking water, picks and shovels, water tanks- enough to start the mining adventure.
Over the non financial years that followed we hand hauled up 800 metres of steel cable to construct a flying fox, no more pack person parades.
About 1965 a broken down bulldozer was purchased from that great guy Basil Genders for 75 pounds, this was rebuilt by the family. Two years later the famous Airly Mountain road was completed and was opened up to visitors. By this time some 200 feet of tunnels had been hand dug all the time learning. This road was the hinge of success, as money was always scarce, our old partner Arthur purpose built a 4x4 tractor truck ,”The Gadget” to solve the transport problem of all our gear. Magic! It still goes. Having completed about 800 feet of tunnels with no big returns, money was very short. The cost of leases etc became a problem. So this now not so young guy, joined the world’s biggest diamond company and travelled the outback of New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia on diamond search for 5 years, with father becoming guardian of the mountain while he was away.
On my return in 1975 we continued on tunnelling and the gold price started to rise, taking a big chance, a lot of money was spent to buy a truck and a loader, and then construction of a complete mechanical washing plant and water catchment dam followed. We then commenced serious mining and treatment to recover diamonds and gold, with spectacular results. We also recovered countless sapphires, zircons, topaz, gem tourmaline and occasional rubies.
 Definitely the jewel of the Capertee Valley.
I had borrowed 5 thousand dollars, (today’s value around $30 000), and in just 6 days working alone sorting out our home made washing plant recovered $5800 ($35 000) worth of gold and diamonds. We then went onto sell a major share of the mine to a public company for about $900 000 in today’s value, which was shared amongst our mob. It was good to be rich.
We had by now constructed ladders, catwalks and handrails for access to some of the mountains most beautiful places, including the now famous living green cathedral “The Grotto”.  We also extended the road past the beautiful “300 sisters” into and through “Jurassic Park”, past the “Oasis Spring” up “Stringy Bark Valley”, through the “Garage Cave” up over the “Bread Knife”  over looking “The Lost City” and onto the primitive isolated mesa of whipstick Mallee leading to the alien moor-like dwarf heather covered  plateau finally ending at the best lookout in New South Wales and home to the endangered Pultenaea Genowlan Point Shrub - Genowlan Point. This road has welcomed people of all ages and physical ability to enjoy its incredible unique beauty.
There has always has been the constant worry of saving the timber and bush rock, so on the advice of a Lands Department officer we have left the incredibly tight switchback at “Pappy’s Pass” to baulk any  long truck.
Over the last twenty years with a constant stream of visitors we have been amazed at the reverence and respect the 4wd people have shown to this outer world place and I have championed their rights to access, but now the young guy is in his 74th year, the hills have grown steeper, the pick and shovel too heavy.
My hope is that the National Park Service will honour their public pledge for no road closures. Even though I think a lot of greenies are raving ratbags at least they will protect this special place which we as a family consider our sacred land, where our beloved family and friends ashes are scattered and where I want to be- LATER.
The complete relief at not having to worry any longer about weeds, fires, accidents, bush rock theft, road maintenance plus a host of other concerns is wonderful. I did not realise how heavy the load was.
I would like to thank the wonderful people of the Lithgow District for their continued help and encouragement over the years.
I was also like to thank the “greenies” for the wonderful battles we have had over the years, it was a lot of fun. I now challenge you to do as good a job of protecting and nurturing this wonderful place as we have.
We now are off on a new adventure chasing the El Dorado of gold at Ben Bullen.
The old diamond miner Col.

Thank you Col, Australia owes you.  Now lets wait and see if National Parks honour the agreement with Col, and the community, to maintain and keep the tracks open to tourism, vehicles and future generations.


Wal said...

A wonderful story.

I'm sure the community is 100% behind you.

President said...

on behalf of all of our members in the Land Rover Owners Club, we cannot thankyou enough for the past access you have granted us to the mountain. nothing prepares you for the fantastic view from the top or the beautiful scenery on the way. my only regret is that I have not had the opportunity to further explore the area myself.
Let's hope the new custodians continue the same access for future generations.
we wish you well in your future ventures.
Matt Barnes
Land Rover Owners Club of Australia (Sydney Branch) inc

Tony Ellery, Blue Mountains 4WD Club said...

Thank you Col, for allowing our (Blue Mountains 4WD) Club access to this wonderful place over the years. Every visit by our members, young and old, some not so mobile, has been deeply appreciated and respected. You have championed the true meaning of conservation, which is to preserve and allow access to people to appreciate this beautiful place.
One hopes this beautiful and historic place is not lost to a locked gate and condemned to becoming a deteriorated, overgrown track.
I echo the thoughts of LROC President, and hold hope for our children's children to also grow up being shown, and taught respect for the bush, as we do now.
Col, may you find much gold in them thar hills!!
Tony Ellery
Association Delegate
Blue Mountains 4WD Club Assoc Inc

Mark said...

Hi Col,
I have recently had my first Mt Airlie experience, for that I am grateful.
As a 26 year old I have not had the pleasure of experiencing many of the other four wheel drive accessible tracks that many other enthusiasts have, which have been closed over the years.
Thankyou for allowing others the privilege to enjoy your sacred, secret lands, managing a real hidden treasure to be accessed by so many appreciative people.
I would dearly like to travel these lands again and take my children there in years to come, and hold hope that National Parks see fit to overcome the dificulties in conservation rather than excluding all access as has happened elsewhere in the past. Working with the enthusiasts is the best way forward I feel.
Mark Kendrick
just a regular member of:
AULRO.com forum
Land Rover Owners Club of Australia (Sydney Branch) inc

Anonymous said...

We thank you Col,for opening up Airly,and letting us share such beautiful place.
The Craddock family

Downunder Jeep said...

As a local I have been to Mt Airly or should I say Genowlan Point on numerous occasions & it saddens me to report that National Parks are NOT going to honour their pledge for no road closures.
The plan is to gate the road at the foot of Mt Gnowlan & to close the gate at the entrance to Col’s place.
Please make a submission to keep this part of Australia open to all not just the overly fit or the rich who can pay for a private tour (it’s in the plan if you read it all). Airly WILL close if YOU don’t speak up.

Stephen Dangaard said...

It is unfortunate that the gazettal of the SCA a few years ago means that fossicking is not allowed there - unless it is specifically permitted by the NPWS. It is a great pity that right was not maintained when the SCA was brought in.

Check the plan of management draft in the comment above and please anyone who can lay claim to having fossicked in this area, make a submission to the plan of management, and tell them your story. Your voice does matter, but it must be heard.

Although I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the area I would love to do it some time and to be able to fossick -- not mine though.

Our NSW&ACT Prospectors and Fossickers Association is keen to restore the right to fossick in this area, and will put a submission in in due course. If anyone can provide me with specific areas that need to be permitted for fossicking please email me at President@napfa.net

Too many fossicking rights have been removed by inflexible NSW Parks policy that makes it extremely difficult to influence any outcomes in favour of fossicking. We are becoming a threatened species in our own right!

Stephen Dangaard
NSW&ACT Prospectors and Fossickers Association Inc.

Anonymous said...

A small convoy from the central coast had the pleasure to drive up to My Airly and "Jurassic Park" over the long weekend. We also had the privilege to spend an hour talking with Col, looking at his collection of minerals and aboriginal artifacts, what an amazing guy. This is the reason I have my 4WD, to visit these amazing places and experience some truly beautiful country and share it with my kids and like minded enthusiasts.
I will definitely lobby the NPWS to keep this place open. Due to the nature of this place proper management should be easy, 1 road in and out, charge us $10 a car etc to pay for maintenance, its not that hard!