Friday 31 January 2014

Artist's life in Sketchbooks

Late last year I picked up a recently published book which presents local history from a rather unusual perspective.  The book entitled 'Sketchbooks; An Artist's Life on the Tableland' by Ellen Danaher uses the sketchbooks of well-known artist Val Russell as a basis to relate Val's life story while at the same time telling the story of Atherton's development as Val saw it through her lifetime.  Val Russell (1925 - 2009) arrived in Atherton, with husband Eric, in 1946 only intending to stay for about a year but the town was to become their home for almost sixty years.  During that time she sketched and painted throughout North Queensland, producing almost 1200 quality works of art.  Although most were sold and dispersed across the country and some overseas, her original sketchbooks survive as an intact collection.  These thirty-nine books, which span almost forty years of work, contain over 900 pencil sketches, all works of art in themselves.  They represent a unique pictorial record of North Queensland as it used to be and is the basis to tell this story.  The story is very much a personal history which follows her life through her artistic achievements and her long involvement in the development of the local arts community in which she occupied a central position.  I enjoyed this book as I had personal involvement in many of the events written about and many of her sketches of long vanished buildings brought back memories from my carefree childhood in that long past Atherton of the 1960's.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Looking for lost Closhey

While driving home from Cairns recently, it was noted that the annual bushfires had passed through the area about Davis Creek and this brought up the notion to look for any remnant of the long lost village of the Closhey River goldfield.  The intrepid trio decided to set a Sunday to made a little expedition down to search for relics of this short lived community.  Duncan had earlier discovered that very little had been written about this township but still managed to find a short paper on the subject published in the journal of the Australian Mining History Association but little else could be found.  I had always been interested in finding the lost grave of the first burial on this small goldfield, that of the respected mining man Mr William Hooley who died there in 1895.  And Robert, he needed no excuse to get out and fire up his metal-detector, so on a bright and sunny Sunday morning, it was off to seek out the old gold mining town of the Closhey.

Row of slabs
We drove down towards Kuranda and turned off the main road just pass Goldmine Creek.  From the journal article we had learnt that the Main Roads had used the area as a depot back in the 1960's when they had rebuilt the road between Mareeba and Kuranda but we hoped something might remain of the old village which in 1894 consisted of Sandiland's little bush hotel, a couple of shops (one owned by Hooley) and no doubt, an assortment of miner's huts and shacks.  A quick look over the bare burnt off site brought on a feeling of disappointment as it was apparent that the area of the village of Closhey was either under the new highway or had been bulldozed to make way for the Main Roads depot.  We soon found a neat row of small concrete slabs which was most probably the site of a number of road workers accommodation blocks.  All that we could find after an hour or so of searching for the old village was a few shards of old green beer bottle that might have come from the gold mining days, and little else.  We had better luck with the old gold battery site.

Bank of tailings
The mill of five stamps was erected in 1894 but only worked for a few years and we hoped something of it would remain.  We were to be pleasantly surprised with what we found.  After our fruitless search of the town site, we dropped over the bank and walked along the edge of Davis Creek looking up for any remnants of the battery.  Back towards Goldmine Creek we came upon a large bank of fine quartz sand, part of which must have been washed away over the years by floods coming down Davis Creek.  This was obviously the tailings from an old battery.  Looking up from the tailings, we could see where a mill site had been cut into the bank.  We quickly climbed up and found the remains of the five-head stamper battery that had been brought down from the Palmer Goldfield to crush the local ore.  There were still a couple of old shed posts in place as well as a couple of concrete foundations blocks for the mill machinery and a little scrap metal lying about.  A small terrace had been cut into the bank on the southern side of the mill, no doubt for a workshop.  This was a lot more that we though we would find considering the mill was purchased and removed back in 1898 by a Bowen syndicate.

Then in hope of finding some old miners hut sites or the site of William Hooley's grave, we crossed Davis Creek and climbed into a small valley where we soon found an old habitation site.  Robert gave the vicinity a good going over with his metal-detector while the rest of us scoured the site for any relics.  A good assortment of household residue was found showing that this was definitely a home from the gold mining days.  The small gully that drained through this valley had the appearance of a creek that had been worked out for alluvial gold.  A decision was made to return to this creek during some wet season with prospecting-dishes to test this theory.  A good search of the rest of the valley failed to show any further signs of habitation or any evidence of Hooley's grave which was supposed to be sited close to the village.  Another trip to this area for a wider search might be needed but for the time been, this little expedition had come to an end and we called into the Emerald Creek Ice Creamery on the way home where we had a late lunch of fresh ice cream followed with an iced coffee to end all iced coffees.
Site of the Closhey township                                  The old battery site 

Friday 17 January 2014

Mulgrave Shire Historical Society

The historians of Gordonvale had a successful year, although sales of their new publications on their local history entitled 'From Plain Camp to Gordonvale' and 'The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment' has been disappointing.  It is pleasing to see that they have well utilized their new Facebook page over the past year which has greatly increased their Society's public profile.  They are opening this new year off with a flying start with an event for the centenary of the re-naming of the town from Nelson to Gordonvale.  To celebrate this occasion, the Society will be unveiling a plaque on the unmarked grave of the man after whom the towns' new name was devised, Mr John Gondon.  This little event will take place at the Gordonvale cemetery on Friday 24 January at 10.00am.

Atherton Family History Group

This small group of history buffs, who meet at the Atherton Library, had a very successful year over 2013 with a number of workshops and lectures on family history and several outings filling the year.  Their last outing of the year being the Christmas party held at the Malanda Dairy Centre which attract a couple dozen members.  Unfortunately, the de-merger of the Shire Counicls has produced some problems for the group as Council staff who where based in Mareeba have moved up to the Atherton library and have taken over rooms which were been used by the history group.  It is hoped that this little upheaval will not be too troublesome in this new year.