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.