Historic Chewton mine site desecrated by vandals

Community members Glenn Braybrook, Ian Braybrook, Vin Cappy, Elaine Appleton, Rod Printz, Greg Plancke and David Bannear are calling for an end to the ongoing destruction at the local mine.

Community members and local historians are dismayed at the desecration occurring at the historic Wattle Gully Gold Mine at Chewton. 

The Mail visited the mine earlier this week with concerned community members to tour the facility which has been the target of sustained vandalism over the last few years. 

Buildings and offices have been ransacked and windows broken, graffiti emblazoned across walls, but perhaps more disturbing is what appears to have been the targeted theft of valuable infrastructure from the site such as copper wire, pipes and machinery components such as transformers. 

Community members are hopeful of raising awareness of the significance of the historic site, alerting the surrounding community that it is no longer an active mine or exploration site and urging anyone who sees or hears any suspicious activity to report it to Parks Victoria or the Castlemaine Police. 

Local archaeologist David Bannear said the mine which sits within the Castlemaine Goldfields National Heritage Park is an important piece of our goldfields history and it should be preserved, particularly in light of the current Central Victorian Goldfields World Heritage Bid. 

“Wattle Gully mine holds a pivotal position in the state’s quartz mining industry. The rich strike at Wattle Gully mine in 1937 helped revive the state’s gold mining industry that had been in the doldrums since the First World War,” Mr Bannear said. 

“Wattle Gully, with a yield of 350,000 ounces, was the richest mine of its era. By 1940 Wattle Gully Company had paid 207,000 poounds in dividends to its shareholders.” 

Mr Bannear said there are big penalties associated with damage and theft at such heritage sites under the Heritage Act 2017. 

“Maryborough detectives arrested a man on site in relation to theft around three years ago, but the problem continues,” he said. 

“Just two weeks ago a transformer was dug out of the ground and the components stolen,” he said. 

“We want to spread awareness that the site is not currently active, so if anyone sees something suspicious, such as machinery on site, they should report it,” he said. 

Kalamazoo Resources Limited exploration manager Luke Mortimer confirmed that while they hold the exploration tenement for the land surrounding the mine they are not conducting works at the site or in the surrounding area. 

“We have seen firsthand the relentless vandalism at the Wattle Gully mine site and like others we at Kalamazoo are both concerned and dismayed by it,” he said. 

“This has been ongoing since we became involved in this area in late 2018/early 2019. In fact, it was one of the key drivers for us “rescuing” and literally removing kilometres of diamond drill core samples from the site in early 2019 as this represented invaluable and irreplaceable geological information on the geology and gold mineralisation in this area,” Mr Mortimer said. 

“Whilst Kalamazoo hold the Exploration Licence EL6679 over the general area the Wattle Gully Gold Mine site is the sole responsibility of the previous owners Castlemaine Gold or ‘CGT’. Approximately 18 months ago it was CGT who erected the large fences you now see around the processing plant and broader site boundaries only to have them since cut and vandalised,” he said. 

Local resident Rod Printz worked for eight years underground at the mine in the 1970s and is disappointed by the thefts and destruction at the site. 

“Floors have been cut up to access copper pipe, wiring and fittings and even timbers removed from the old buildings and battery,” he said. 

Castlemaine Pioneers & Old Residents member Greg Plancke also noted that it appeared some brazen would-be thieves have also removed the bolts from the winding engine, which drove the pulley for the bucket, in preparation to potentially winch it from the building at a later date. 

“There is some really unique infrastructure here and it should be protected,” he said. 

Community members would like to see security boosted at the facility with the installation of CCTV and increased patrols by Parks Victoria and local police. 

Local resident Vin Cappy said that a successful tourist train operated at the site in the 1970s. 

“The train ran through a makeshift tunnel on the surface and local guides Ron Bulkeley and Col Campbell would detail the history of the site. I understand as many as 50,000 visitors passed through the attraction over a five-year period and it even picked up an award against the likes of Sovereign Hill. There is huge unlocked tourism potential here,” Mr Cappy said. 

Long time Chewton resident Elaine Appleton said Wattle Gully also holds important local stories from our past. 

“Seven men lost their lives here in the pursuit of gold. Their memories are honoured with a plaque dedicated by their workmates in 2004, and its unique as all the infrastructure remains here. It’s terrible to see the disrespect shown to this important piece of local history,” she said. 

Do you have a link to the former mine? Do you have photographs of the former tourist train? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Email ldennis@midnews.com.au

Lisa Dennis
Editor of the Castlemaine Mail newspaper and senior journalist on our sister paper the Midland Express. Over the last 24 years Lisa been proudly reporting news in the Mount Alexander and Macedon Ranges communities.