Today we are going to visit the small township of Silverton, 25 kilometres from Broken Hill. The first place to discover and mine silver and lead in 1881. On the way is the turn-off to Daydream Mine, along a red dirt road for 13 kilometres. It is a must to see, being the only mine still left that is open in its original condition to see just how the miners worked and suffered back in the 1800’s. The road twists and turns through the Appollyon Valley, but it is a scenic drive. Passing rock outcrops and dry river beds lined with majestic gum trees. On the distant horizon an army of wind turbines stand sentinel.
Passing through a gate we are now on Daydream Mine land.
A group of people are gathered around the small rustic looking, Queenslander style café with a wide veranda. Home baked scones are on offer and we can’t resist.
The scones are delicious, light and fluffy so we are now ready for the tour. Kevin is our first guide and he has a wealth of information about the history of the mine, the land and geology, plants and animals in the area and has many humorous anecdotes as well.
Daydream mine did in fact start from a daydream.
The beginnings of the Daydream Mine began with just that. A daydream. In December, 1881, when prospector Joe Meech awoke from a nap under the shade of a tree, ‘he saw before him on the ridge a metalliferous outcrop and stumbling wearily towards it, found it to be a ‘blow’ of mineral, charged with bright blue, green and yellow carbonates.” (“From Silver to Steel“, Roy Bridges)
Kevin White, our guide, is the co-leaseholder of the Daydream site and he says he’s been down into the mine somewhere between 12,500 and 13,000 times.
We walk past rusty old machines now abandoned to the elements and testament to earlier days. Artefacts hang in trees and old buildings are fenced off with barbed wire. Stay strictly on the path Kevin tells us, old abandoned diggings are everywhere.
Then we don hard hats and Jason takes over to lead us down into the bowels of the earth.
We are told, hang onto the hand rail and when the going gets steep go down backwards, or sideways, but be careful and duck down in the low parts. So switching on the head lights we begin the descent into darkness.It is fortunate we have hard hats on as there are constant clangs as hats hit hard rock ceiling if we do not duck low enough through narrow passages. The early miners were mostly Cornish men, we are told, and quite short in stature so not a problem for them. It is hard to imagine that there had been 140 men and 20 boys, some as young as 8 years old, working a 6 day, 12 hour week. Dotted throughout the tunnels are artefacts left over from the mining days, an old wooden wheelbarrow, a hand forged shovel, sledge hammers, metal taps and an old ‘oxygen suit’ with a tank attached, for use in an emergency, old hessian bags and a rusted ore box.
We stop in front of a shelf with a collection of lights used through the years starting with a candle carried in a “spider” to the present day LED lights. Jason demonstrates how the spider is jammed into a crevasse in the rock face with a candle in it. Then he tells us all to turn our head lamps off. We are plunged into darkness so intense and the silence so absolute we can hear each other breathing. It only lasts for a few minutes then Jason strikes a match and we experience the feeble light from the candle that the miners had to work in. He shows us how, using a pick in very confined spaces, a hole is created to take the stick of dynamite that will blow out a section of the wall. Then the young boys would be put to work picking through the debris and putting it into an ore box to be taken to the surface to be smashed by sledge hammers.
We are now down to the third level and time to, carefully, retrace our steps with our modern day head lamps shining the way, back to the surface.
On the way out we pass this large sculpture of the Miners Spider.
So with these images of the appalling working conditions of the early miners we head to Silverton… (to be continued)