WEST COAST WILDERNESS RAILWAY PART THREE – SEARCHING FOR GOLD AT LYNCHFORD
The journey from Queenstown to Lynchford is probably around 12 kilometres. The magic had already begun as soon as we left Queenstown. We were travelling on a track through the middle of nowhere. A work of engineering genius, which had taken years to build and research.
The guide, Amy starts giving us a lot of information and history. I’m on board a rolling museum. First we are told there are 3 drivers at the front and 3 staff members, 1 in each carriage, Amy, Kristin and Paul I think. Paul is on the bar in first class. Amy and Kristin are in the back two carriages. We are told the journey can be a bit bumpy, and there is an emergency brake should anyone need it.
The weather is good. 19 degrees and sunny. We are unlikely to experience rain, unusual on Tasmania’s West Coast which rains 280 days a year (and had bucketed down the previous night in Strahan).
There are guide books available for $7, I don’t buy one, but later buy a postcard for $1. We are onboard an old steam locomotive. It is the Mount Lyell No. 3, an ABT System. This track was used for mining from 1896 until 1963. The track was built specifically for mining, but could also take passengers, sometimes school children to school.
In the 1800s a gold rush all over Australia meant people were coming here looking to find that magic bit of gold nugget. Tasmania was less populated and suddenly a few people had turned up looking for “gold.” On the west coast in Waratah (a tiny village of 700 people), tin mining becamce major. Suddenly the area between Strahan and Queenstown was an area rich in copper, so there was big money to be had in copper mining.
We are given a fairly in depth history of the track building and mining era at this point. I have taken this section from Wikipedia, which details the early days of the WCWR:
The Mount Lyell Mining Co (reformed on 29 March 1893 as the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company) began on November 1892. The railway officially opened in 1897, and again on 1 November 1899 when the line was extend from Teepookana to Regatta Point and Strahan.
The railway was the only way to get the copper from the mine at Queenstown, Tasmania to markets. Until 1932 when a Hobart road link was completed, it was the only access through to Queenstown. The motto of Kelly and Orr was, Labor Omnia Vincit, shows the achievement of this railway because it ran, even though multiple surveyors said it was not possible, the weather was extreme, the trains had to climb 1m in 16m (6.25%), and the train had to carry many tonnes of copper and the rail line had to survive natural disasters (including 1906 floods).
The railway utilised the Abt rack system of cog railway for steep sections. Because of the gradients, tonnages were always limited on the railway. The gauge is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm).
The railway ceased operation on 10 August 1963 due to its financial costs and the alternative road option. The last train run was performed by the same engine that ran the first run (ABT 1 in 1896 was the first engine to steam into Queenstown). The line and most removable constructions were lifted, however some of the bridges were left intact.
The formation and some of the bridges remained intact for decades after closure, however when reconstruction was iccrring in the late 1990s most required replacement.
The original line continued into the Mount Lyell mining operations area in Queenstown, and at Regatta Point the line linked around the foreshore of Strahan to link with the Government Line to Zeehan.
Following the closure of the railway – rolling stock was dispersed – carriages to the Puffing Billy Railway in Victoria – and the Abt locomotives were put on static displays or in museums.
This explains it better than I could, as did Amy our guide for the day. It was also interesting that one of the original constructors, Bowes Kelly, was from Ireland. Though I never found out if he was from Northern Ireland are from the south. This part of the journey for me is the most informative. We learn that the only way to get the copper from the mines in the middle of nowhere was to construct an ambitious railway.
And how ambitious that was in an area full of mountains, trees, valleys and worst of all the climate. Heavy rain, wind, the risk of landslides and rock falls, the coldness of the winter. It was an engineering masterpiece that this railway was ever built. You have to respect the people who spent their lives imply building this railway.
We learn that the railway was re-opened in the year 2000 merely for tourist purposes, which is why I was there! I had also browsed at the station stops on the way, from the map and was keen to know how many we would actually stop at, and get time to see. It wasn’t very long before we got to our very first station, Lynchford, which was a custom built base up in the mountains used for transporting the gold from the mines.
Before we stop though, Amy intrigues us by getting us to gaze into the water from the Queen River which later will lead into the King River. We can see the water out of the window and it looks an orangey/goldy colour. She asks us why it’s that colour, and will tell us at the end of the journey. It would be too obvious to assume the copper and gold causes the discolour, and I believe the river to be highly polluted.
We exit the train at the wonderful Lynchford Station. We can walk in front of the train and the track and pose for photos with the vintage steam locomotive.
Everybody is doing it! So naturally I pose too! I met my first non- Australian at this point – a nice German guy who was traveling with another German guy. He took my photo and talked about German trains. I’d been on them manys a time and told him i liked the Deutsch Rail Network.
We walk across the bridge over the river, which is flowing down and it is heavily polluted as we can see. It’s brown and orange in colour, and doesnt look appealing to drink. At Lynchford it isn’t so much a mountain village – there’s not a lot there.
It’s more of a station that was needed back in the day for the transportation and so they set up camp here. The station has a few buildings around it. IT was another of those places you go in life that just seems so surreal. Up in the middle of this mountainous rainforest, who the hell would build a settlement in a place like this??!!
This station was our “searching for gold nugget” stop. I took time to walk around the area known as Lynchford first. If it wasn’t for the mines, the railway station or the few custom built buildings would never have existed.
I had a wander round the mini museum at Lynchford Station. It had some details on the mining, some history, many mementos from the glory days of mining. There was a Gold Bag store and a Gold Dust and Nugget Store.
This was also a tea and coffee stop. It wasn’t included in the price, but at just $2.50 for a cup of the Earl Grey I thought “why not?” and bought one. It would go nicely with the Anzac cookies I had in my lunch goody bag. I had a strong tea with milk and two sugars. Fairly standard these days. I find I like the sugar for energy purposes.
In a wooden shack, there was an almost gift shop/coffee room all in one. There was nowhere to sit down in there with your drink, but yet some benches out the back. I simply bought my tea and then went to search for gold.
Out the back of the Lynchford Station was an outdoor verranda type area with some small pools of water, rock, sand, and with the promise of some gold nuggets hidden. The kids loved this idea of course and were digging into the water with their bowls searching for the gold. If you find a bit of gold – you get to keep it!
So I have a go. In a few different pools and I find no gold, unfortunately. Hardly surprising given that most of the passengers rushed there as soon as the train stopped, whereas I had a wee dander round “Lynchford.” Some of the kids and older folk were parading plastic zip bags with a nugget of gold in them. A nice souvenir for them. I wasn’t too upset I didn’t find any gold at Lynchford.
I was very happy with my tea and cookies, and I boarded the train for the next leg of the journey. It was a fond farewell to mining station Lynchford and a steep climb up to our peak, at Rinadeena…
Travelled From – Driffield Street, Queenstown – Lynchford (Mountain Mining Village)
Transport Used – John Lyell No. 3 Locomotive Steam Train
Distance Travelled – 12 kilometres
Highlights – Interior of carriages, whistle to signal departure from Queenstown, heading into the rainforest wilderness, walking across the train track, the view down over Queen River, getting a cup of tea, meeting another foreigner, not finding gold at Lynchford
Nationalities Met – Australian, German
Time Period – 11 am – 12.23 pm
QUEEN RIVER AT LYNCHFORD: