Sunday 31 August 2014

Return to the Palmer River

It had only been a few months since our last trip up to the old Palmer River Goldfield but the echoes of its history was calling and as the road in was so good, another expedition was organized.  Once again, on a recent Friday afternoon and in a vehicle loaded with camping gear, we headed off for another four nights camping under the stars where the gold diggers of old chased the colours.  But this time, as we passed Biboohra, we made a stop at Jack Skinner's home to chat about old sites of interest that he had found over the many years that he had spent mining for gold on that field.  It was getting late when we left Jack's place and with a map covered with directions to locations to explore, we hit the road again.  Our goal for the night was Budda's old tin washing plant site where we were to spend the night.  We found our previous camp site with little difficulty and discovered the pile of firewood we left on our last trip still lying beside the fireplace.  This adventure was off to a splendid start.

Busy day in Maytown
The next morning, we drove into the Palmer Crossing where we met up with a friend from Chillagoe.  Wayne had travelled up to the Palmer through Palmerville and together we drove into Maytown to meet up with our old mining friend, Graham Burns of Herberton who was following an old dream to try mining for gold on the Palmer.  He was showing his family the goldfield and we all spent the rest of the morning exploring the ruins of Maytown together.  Graham had teamed up with a local miner Danny who owned Alf Munn's old shack site which was the only freehold block on the Palmer.  That afternoon we spent over at the Upper Gregory Creek area where we prospect with our metal-detectors in the area above the site of our previous trips camp on Gregory Beach.  Sadly, we found very little.  With dark coming on, we availed ourselves of Danny's hospitality and camped on the lawn of his home at Ida.  While sitting about Danny's fire pit that evening, he gave us the inside story of the recent cold-blooded murder committed on the Palmer from his point of view as a witness to the event.  A chilling account of what can happen when the authorities don't move to pull up a pair of gun totting psychos.

Pub site at German Bar
The following morning, we followed Jack's advice and checked out the area about the old Native Police Camp near Maytown.  Just below the butcher's old cattle yards, Duncan found a cluster of old Chinese artifacts which appears to have been hidden there in the old days.  How they came to be here would have been a great tale.  After lunch, we drove over to German Bar and found the site of the small village which was perched high on the bank of the North Palmer River overlooking the Chinese township where we camped on our previous trip.  Here, beside the road to Laura, we found several terraces that had been cut into the slope for buildings.  One of which was obviously a hotel site as we found, laying in the gully behind the site, a whole bank of broken green glass from many hundreds of old gin bottles.  Even after nearly one hundred and forty years since the gold rush days, there are still a lot of old artifacts laying about this site.  Coming down from the village site, we made a quick visit to Binnie's original gold mill site before heading back to Danny's place where we spent the evening about his fire pit in the company of a number of visiting mining men, talking of metals, mines and mining men.  An echo of what would have once been commonplace about these fields.

Our camp at Danny's
We woke the next morning to the sight of a flat tyre on the vehicle, it appears we must have hit an echidna that previous evening and had filled the tyre with a dozen spines.  That's one buggered tyre; like our previous trip.  Luckily, Duncan always carries two spare tyres on these trips.  After changing the wheel, we headed out to Milkmans Flat to meet the folk there who have built a wonderful home on the bank of the North Palmer River.  They have set up a small museum to display the many artifacts that they have collected over the years they had spent mining in the area.  I had never seen so many old case gin bottles in one place and Duncan was delighted with the range of old Chinese opium tins that these folk had found.  After spending the morning talking history, we had lunch under the big shade trees behind their bush house that overlook a long stretch of the river.  What a place to live, although it might be a bit of a worry in flood time.  On the way back to the camp at Danny's place, we called into some of the old time mining sites and spent the afternoon exploring the relics left from those olden-days.

It might sound a bit decadent, camping under a tree on a front lawn with a nice hot shower at the end of each day but it sure made for a comfortable expedition.  We spent that last evening sitting about the fire pit with Danny and Graham and talking about gold and Danny's plans for a little heritage business venture here at his Palmer hideaway.  We wish him well with his efforts.  The next morning saw us packing up and heading off homeward in the direction of Chillagoe.  I had never been down the Palmerville to Chillagoe road before so this was all new country for me and very interesting.  To begin the day, we called into the old Alexandra mine before heading down to Palmerville and on to Mount Mulgrave Station with a stop at the Mitchell River for lunch.  This road was in quite good condition and we made good time, hitting the main road near Wrotham Park Station homestead but still some hour or so drive west of Chillagoe.  This was now familiar country and afternoon tea was taken at Wayne's home in Chillagoe.  It was dark by the time we reached home, sore and weary and with heads full of thoughts of the Palmer's golden days.
Last mill built at Ida                                                              The Ida mine in 1912             

Thursday 7 August 2014

Pioneering Margaret Parsons

About 120 history buffs attended the recent Pioneer Women's Day held at the small community shed in Watsonville where a booklet on the life of a northern pioneer woman is presented and launched annually.  The pioneering lady featured this year was Mrs Margaret Parsons nee Tobin who journey to the Palmer River Goldfield in 1903 and four years later married Percy Parsons.  Later she became the Post Mistress at the Maytown Post Office and ran it for thirty-one years until it closed in 1945.  During her forty years at Maytown, she raised a large family of fourteen children and this booklet, compiled by local historian Mrs Jane Chapman, includes a brief account of the children's lives.  These little booklets are aways a great read and can be obtained from the Western Progress Association.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Douglas Shire Historical Society

As many old-day residents of the Douglas district were buried on their farms, especially before the Mossman cemetery was opened in the 1930's, the Douglas Shire Historical Society recently conduced a field trip, led by Ken Keith, up to the Daintree area to research grave sites on private properties.  The group also proudly reported that they have been awarded a Queensland Anzac Centenary Grant.  Noel Weare and Ken Keith are to co-ordinate a team of members in researching the lives of people from the Douglas district who served during the First World War.  The findings will be put on a database to be displayed on two computers with touch screens which will travel about the Shire.  The Society's August meeting will be held at the Port Douglas CWA rooms with Mrs Miriam O'Shea as the guest speaker.  Miriam was 'Miss Cooper', the teacher at the little Cassawary State School during the Second World War.