When we were planning this holiday we asked the kids where they wanted to go if they could choose anywhere. They didn’t even think twice and said “the Daydream Mine”. They couldn’t remember where it was, or even if we were ever likely to be in that part of Australia again, but that was the top of their destination list.
Luckily for them the trip to the Daydream Mine was perfectly feasible as it is between Silverton and Broken Hill and we were kind of planning to come this way anyway!
Since we have been in Broken Hill for a week now we thought we had better take the trip out there before we leave, otherwise we would have two broken-hearted kids whining at us all the way home!
Last time we went there was 2 years ago and, like the nearby town of Silverton, there were only a few others on the tour with us and we had the place to ourselves. When we drove up yesterday there were about 20 cars there and people milling around everywhere waiting for their tour to begin. Bugger…. curse their good advertising!
We wandered up to the office and just beat the next arriving carload of people to put our names at the bottom of the list for the next surface and underground tour.
The Daydream Mine is a proper old mine, no above ground machinery, no winches and no safe workplaces for those old miners. All pick and hammer here. The area was very rich in silver, lead and zinc, and in the late 1800’s Cornish miners flocked to the area from the copper mines of Burra in South Australia.
It wasn’t just miners though, they bought their wives and children too. There were no roads to such a remote place so they pushed wooden wheelbarrows full of their belongings the 400 miles here.
No roads. 400 miles. Wooden wheelbarrow.
Here is a picture of our car parked on the side of their nicely graded, slightly corrugated, 13km long driveway. Can you imagine the life that they had before if they thought packing up their kids and walking 400 miles into the dry unknown was a better option?
(When the miners first arrived here there were trees, but for miles around they were cut down for mine supports, smelter fuel and building material.)
Once they arrived here it wasn’t only the men who worked. The kids were the ones who pushed the carts full of ore to the surface, hauled sacks full of rocks, sorted the ore and cut tree trunks with hand saws for the mine supports. All this for 75c a week. That was not all they got though, working in such a place ensured that they shared in the respiratory complaints that the older miners did, and died young too.
On the surface tour the guide (who was great) showed us the remains of a hut. It was just a stack of stones in a small square which originally had a few logs laid over the top and more rocks stacked on top. There was a photo in the tea-room of one of the guides crouched in the doorway while the roof was still on but now the logs and rocks off the roof had been removed as I can’t imagine anyone going in there after all this time without first putting their affairs in order!
This tiny hut had no standing room and no lying room either. It was just a place to keep their cooking utensils and gather at night. They didn’t need any room for beds as their lungs were so riddled with miners complaint (phthisis) that they had to sleep propped up against the walls.
The township here had a population of 500 at its peak, with the obligatory pubs and other places that make people feel civilized. The ruins of the town are still there right across the road from the smelter.
Looking out over the ruins it is hard to imagine so many people living out here. It must have been an unbelievably hard existence.
After we had heard the story of the workers we all wandered to the shed and were fitted out for helmets and headlights. The mine was dug by people who would be considered small by todays standards and as such the roof was dangerously low for our modern-day heads! It is also unlit, so without headlamps we would be plunged into darkness.
It was very funny to see the group hesitantly step forward to take an appropriately sized belt to buckle the battery for the lamp on to. We had been here before so we knew this would happen, but those in the crowd who were a little weight sensitive were clearly uncomfortable going to the long end of the rack for a larger belt!
Once we were geared up the guide led us to the steps and cautioned us not to touch things, to all stick together, to use the handrail and watch our heads. There is a sign at the top of the steps that warns you that you are about to pass the point of getting a refund, so anyone who wants to back out had better make up their minds right then and there!
The steps down are quite steep and the hole in the rock small, if you are claustrophobic you will realize pretty quickly that you are not going to enjoy yourself.
Once in it doesn’t get any better and the handrail comes in very handy! The mine slopes steeply and the roof is low, the kids were having no trouble at all, laughing at our difficulties, while all of the adults were very glad for the helmets, I can’t tell you how many times I banged mine against the roof, and I am by no means tall!
We wandered through tunnels while the guide stopped us at different points and told us stories until we reached a more open (but still small) area that went no further. We all perched on rocks and, lighting a single candle, he asked us to all turn off our headlamps. The original miners dug the 4km of tunnels by candlelight and he showed us how it was dug. A team of men used a sharpened metal bar and hammered it in to make a pattern of deep holes. Black powder was then poured in, a fuse, and the hole was plugged with clay. The fuses trailed out and all ran together, when the handful of them was lit the men ran quickly away hoping that only the bit that they want would fall apart and not the whole mine.
Last time we were here one of the kids on the tour freaked out halfway through and his mum had to take him back to the surface alone. On this tour the whole group made it through without difficulty, although by the time we had made the steep climb back to the top, and up the last few steps, some of the group were wobbly legged and probably wishing they had given up and gone back earlier too!
It was a great tour, the guide had been a miner himself in the big Broken Hill mines. Naturally, number 2 son immediately befriended with him after pointing out a hidden bit of rich ore that had previously escaped his notice during the many tours he had guided.
After we put all of our gear back in the shed we were the last to leave, as usual, as number 2 was pulled aside and the two of them had a good talk about interesting rocks while the rest of the crowd went to sign out. He was given a huge rock full of interesting shapes and colours to take home and, as you can imagine, was totally thrilled.
We wandered back to the perfectly decorated office/tea room and bought a drinks and a piece of cake.
As the kids sat down with their soft drinks the bloke who did the tour wandered quietly past and gave number 2 one of the pieces of galena he had sneakily lifted from a display and muttered “put it in your pocket”. Again, a happy kid.
As I mentioned before, the road in to the mine is only 13kms long. It tuns through beautiful arid country and we kept pulling over for the other tourists to zoom past. They were all racing to the next thing and we were just happy where we were.
We pulled over a few times to look at the view or just an interesting bit of ground, it took us ages to get back to the main road. That is how we usually travel through the bush, if you go too fast you will miss out on all the cool stuff. The battery in the Man’s camera ran out halfway back and he was most unimpressed. This led us to returning the next day just to do the drive again!
Of course that meant we had no other plan for that day, and to drive the 26 km round trip took us hours. Again we constantly pulled over for those rushing past, including one time when we rolled to a stop beside a few kangaroos standing in the scrub. The other car rushed past, totally missing the chance to see them. The day before we had accidentally done the same beside a big, and very angry, Stumpy Tail lizard, nearly running him over!
I don’t understand why everyone drives all this way out to see things and then not actually look for them. What a waste.
We got home just in time for me so sit down and finish this post while listening to the NRL Grand Final on the radio (and the end on the tv). My team the Melbourne Storm got up and kicked the Canterbury Bulldogs winning 14 to 4. GO STORM! What a great day 😀