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In 1887 gold was discoverd in Arltunga.
Arltunga was extremely isolated, lacked water, had limited
supplies of even basic food, suffered extremes of temperature
and the cost of living was exorbitant.
To reach Arltunga in the 1880's, you would need to walk or ride alongside
the Overland Telegraph Line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, then follow
the MacDonnell Ranges east for around 120 km.
This would take at least a week and often longer in temperatures that
often exceed 40°C!
The shortage of water meant that fresh vegetables could
not be grown and limited water supplies were drawn from
wells and water soaks in creeks.
Because of the lack of feed and water for stock, the cost of transporting
food was very high.
These high costs were passed on to the Aritunga residents.
Life on the Arltunga goldfields was very hard.
Arltunga's early residents lived and worked in extreme and harsh conditions.
Most of the dwellings were little more than rough shelters
made of stone and branches with none of the comforts we
take for granted.
They were probably sited on the ridgetops to take advantage of cooling
breezes in summer.
Smoking was a popular pastime in Arltunga, judging from
the number of tobacco tins, matchboxes and clay pipes that
have been uncovered around the reserve.
From the number of empty tins excavated at several sites, it appears
that tinned sardines and meat were consumed in great quantity by the
Large numbers of broken bottles of gin and whisky show
that drinking may have been a problem with some of the
earlier Arltunga residents.
Perhaps they sought treatment from the different medicine bottles found
around many of the dwellings.
Imagine spending your day hunched over in a low, dark
tunnel as you hack away at a rock face with your pick.
Finally it's time to down tools and head home dirty and exhausted to
your makeshift camp in the scrub.
Water is scarce and expensive, so a cleansing shower is out of the question
likewise a "refreshing glass of beer" to wash the dust out
of your throat.
The information centre has an good display of artefacts from that
Here some parts from the collection:
Over the years, this safe from the Assayer's Room (Government
Works) held most of the area's hard won gold, gold that today
would sell for over six million dollars.
There is no door to the safe today as the door was blown off after the
key was lost.
These camel water canteens belonged to Jim Marshall,
a cameleer from Queensland, who drifted around the area
doing odd jobs, and worked for a while at Loves Creek Station.
The canteens would have originally been used to car water.
A badly weathered inscription on one of the canteens reads "HIGHLY
INFLVNIIVIABLE" which suggests that it was used to carry some kind
The canteens had been left at Rockhole bore on Ambalindum
Station for about 15 years before they were picked up by
Bill Cavenagh in about 1987.
Dry blowers like this replica were used at Arltunga because
there was a shortage of water.
If you load some dirt in the top and pump the handle air blows away the
The miner would then wash the remaining "pay dirt" with a little
water and "pan out" flecks of gold.
A lot of gold was lost through dry blowing but, with water so scarce,
what else could a miner do?
During the rush to Arltunga in 1903, there was an attempt to establish
a proper township at the crossroads.
Several buildings were erected at the Crossroads following the sinking of a
well in 1906.
The rush soon abated and the town stopped growing.
The Glencoe Hotel operated from 1910 until at least as late as
It was an important part of the community and the cause of much friction.
The NT Times and Gazette wrote:
Linen is an unknown quantity - no sheets, table clothes, mattresses, .... one
person I heard asking for a bed was given a blanket and free permission to
sleep where he liked with the exception of the bar ..."
The Arltunga Police Station
In 1899, 12 years after gold was discovered at Arltunga,
Constable Charles Johnson arrived with two Aboriginal trackers
and proceeded to establish a camp which consisted of a large
tent and two canvas covers.
Police were initially stationed at Arltunga to protect the neighbouring
pastoral properties from alleged cattle stealing by miners and Aboriginal
people and to assist in the prevention of sly grog selling.
Shortly afterwards they moved into two buildings.
Remains of these original buildings can be seen behind the existing police
In 1911 Constable Dow, the officer in charge of Alice
Springs, reported that the Arltunga Police Station was in
poor condition and that:
"There is no lockup at Arltunga, and the last time I saw a European Prisoner
in custody there, he was tied up by chain to the leg of the constable's bed."
In 1912 on the advice of Constable Dow a new police residence
and gaol were erected which remained the district police
base until 1944 when it was moved north to Harts Range.
After this time the condition of the buildings declined
as people deliberately vandalised them, looking for gold
falsely rumoured to be hidden in its walls.
Reconstruction of the police residence and gaol was completed in 1985.
Only the chimney now remains of the original buildings.
The Golden Chance mine was worked intermittently between 1896
Its last year was its most successful, when it produced 1.8 kg (58 oz) of gold
from 73 tonnes of ore.
Gold at the time was worth around $6.50 per ounce.
One of the ways that miners could reach the underground workings
was by a 10 metre deep vertical shaft, which is now mostly filled
The other was through the nearby tunnel entrance (called an "adit").
Until 1898 ore from Golden Chance had to be carted to a small
mill at Claraville, 7.5 km to the north-west.
Freight costs were high, so the quartz had to be hand sorted to ensure that
only the richest ore was sent for treatment.
This situation improved in 1898 when the Government Battery and cyanide works
opened for business just 1.5 km west of the mine.
Ore from the Golden Chance contained less than an ounce of gold
to the tonne, and had a high copper content.
The MacDonnell Range Reef opened in 1892 and was one of Arltunga's largest
and richest outside White Range.
The Christmas Reef mine dates from 1896, when German prospector
Frederick Messau found gold in vein of white quartz that outcropped
near this sign.
Fred pegged his claim and started digging a shaft, which eventually reached
a depth of 7.5 metres.
Fred worked his mine the hard way, using pick and shovel to excavate
the quartz and waste rock and a hand windlass to raise it to the
Here the lumps of quartz were broken into smaller pieces, which were hand-sorecd
for gold content by a small group of Aboriginal women.
Using baskets and tins, they carried the selected quartz to where it could
be collected by a horse-drawn wagon and taken to Claraville for crushing and
It appears that Fred abandoned the Christmas Reef Mine in 1898 when he moved
to the newly discovered White Range Goldfield.
In 1913, aged 60, Fred died there of throat and lung disease caused by the
deadly quartz dust he'd breathed in during his years of working in poorly ventilated
Between the Christmas Reef and MacDonnell Range Reef mines surface
soil and gravel was either "washed" using precious water
or "blown" using rapidly moving air to recover alluvial
Nuggets weighing up to 3 ounces were found there.
(One ounce of gold is about the size of a square of chocolate.)
The MacDonnell Range reef mine was worked intermittently from
1892 to 1908.
Over its lifetime it produced 248 ounces of gold from 353 tonnes of ore, which
made it one of the area's largest and richest mines outside the White Range
The mine's most productive year was 1896, when it was owned by
Henry Luce and Michael Vikson.
Six men were reportedly working the claim in January of that year.
Luce, who was to become Arltunga's most successful miner, discovered the White
Range goldfield in 1898.
The MacDonnell Range reef mine is relatively shallow as the roofs
of its tunnels are only about 4 m below the surface.
The stone packed "walls" that block off some tunnels were a labour-saving
method to reduce the amount of waste rock that had to be hauled to the surface.