Going Underground at the Central Deborah Mine – Ballarat and Bendigo, Goldfields, Victoria

IMG_0203

The final stop on our two-week campervan tour took us back towards Melbourne, to the historic Goldfields region of Victoria. Here, a massive gold rush kicked off in the 1850s, only a couple of years after the California Gold Rush. It was responsible for populating the state with a whole slew of new immigrants, building Melbourne into a boomtown and one of the great cities of the world. And, of course, it brought untold riches to a few lucky prospectors, the colony, and the crown.

We based ourselves in Ballarat, located only 110 km (65 miles) northwest of Melbourne. Since this area is quite touristy, with a lot of attractions, we started at the Visitor Information Centre to get some more information. They tried to steer us towards the nearby Sovereign Hill replica gold mining town, but we wanted a more authentic experience. We had heard there was an excellent mine tour in Bendigo, an hour and a half drive away, and decided to give the “Disneyland” Sovreign Hill park a miss. Instead, we picked up a free map from the Visitor Centre, which offered a walking tour of Ballarat.

One of Ballarat's historic buildings.One of Ballarat's historic buildings.
One of Ballarat's historic buildings.24-Jan-2012 12:29
 

While a relatively small town, Ballarat grew quickly during the Gold Rush and is home to a number of impressive gothic buildings.

Ballarat's old Post Office Building, now a part of the University of Ballarat.Ballarat's old Post Office Building, now a part of the University of Ballarat.
Ballarat's old Post Office Building, now a part of the University of Ballarat.24-Jan-2012 12:44
 

In a short span of time, hotels, banks, pubs, and all sorts of buildings were built for the rapidly growing population. Luckily, the city planners were smart enough to build all this around some nice avenues and parks.

The Gold Monument, commemorating the discovery of gold in Ballarat. At bottom is a replica of the 2,217 oz "Welcome Nugget" discovered in 1858.The Gold Monument, commemorating the discovery of gold in Ballarat. At bottom is a replica of the 2,217 oz "Welcome Nugget" discovered in 1858.
The Gold Monument, commemorating the discovery of gold in Ballarat. At bottom is a replica of the 2,217 oz "Welcome Nugget" discovered in 1858.24-Jan-2012 12:39
 

Having gotten a taste for Ballarat, we jumped in the camper and headed for Bendigo. Here, we stopped by the Central Deborah Gold Mine, right in the center of town.

The Central Deborah Mine, in operation through the early 1950s, is now a tourist attraction in Bendigo.The Central Deborah Mine, in operation through the early 1950s, is now a tourist attraction in Bendigo.
The Central Deborah Mine, in operation through the early 1950s, is now a tourist attraction in Bendigo.24-Jan-2012 18:54
 

For more than 50 years, Bendigo produced more gold than anywhere else in the world. To this day, it remains one of the top 10 global gold regions.

A 3-D view of some of Bendigo's underground mines, which extend up to 700m below the surface.A 3-D view of some of Bendigo's underground mines, which extend up to 700m below the surface.
A 3-D view of some of Bendigo's underground mines, which extend up to 700m below the surface.24-Jan-2012 18:11
 

The Central Deborah Gold Mine is one of the only tourist experiences that takes you underground, into a real mine. While this was well-regulated and safety-conscious Australia, we knew it would be nothing like the experience we had at the Cerro Rico silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia. Still, we were excited about heading 61m (200 ft) underground to learn more about gold mining!

The cages used to bring miners and equipment in (and out) of the shaft.The cages used to bring miners and equipment in (and out) of the shaft.
The cages used to bring miners and equipment in (and out) of the shaft.24-Jan-2012 18:50
 

We had some time to kill before the start of the tour, which we used to explore some of the buildings and machinery on the surface.

Some of the buildings and equipment above the ground at the Central Deborah Mine.Some of the buildings and equipment above the ground at the Central Deborah Mine.
Some of the buildings and equipment above the ground at the Central Deborah Mine.24-Jan-2012 18:54
 

Finally, it was time for the tour! Our very entertaining tour guide kept us captivated by his stories and laughing at his antics as we geared up with helmets and lamps, filed into the cage, and dropped down into the deep, dark mine.

Our highly animated guide setting the scene.Our highly animated guide setting the scene.
Our highly animated guide setting the scene.24-Jan-2012 18:18
 

Down in the mine, we learned about the quartz veins which carry the gold.

Gold-bearing veins of quartz like this are mined and processed.Gold-bearing veins of quartz like this are mined and processed.
Gold-bearing veins of quartz like this are mined and processed.24-Jan-2012 17:42
 

Drills and dynamite extend the tunnels and shafts, allowing the gold-bearing rock to be extracted and sent to the surface, where the gold is extracted.

One of the more modern drills on display.One of the more modern drills on display.
One of the more modern drills on display.24-Jan-2012 17:47
 

We also got to learn about the lives of the miners and even got to meet an old timer!

An old timer!An old timer!
An old timer!24-Jan-2012 17:40
 

He had a lot of stories, including some interesting ones detailing how miners would try and steal gold and sneak it out undetected.

A fine specimen, perfect for smuggling.A fine specimen, perfect for smuggling.
A fine specimen, perfect for smuggling.24-Jan-2012 17:45
 

After an hour and a half underground, it was time once again to climb into the basket and ascend to the surface. It was nice to see the sun and feel the warm air above once again.

Going back to the surface.Going back to the surface.
Going back to the surface.24-Jan-2012 18:06
 

We climbed back into our trusty campervan for one final night’s sleep on the road, picking a location close to Melbourne’s airport to spend the night.

Packed up and ready to depart our campervan - home for the previous two weeks.Packed up and ready to depart our campervan - home for the previous two weeks.
Packed up and ready to depart our campervan - home for the previous two weeks.25-Jan-2012 17:10
 

It was time to say goodbye to Australia and hello once again to Southeast Asia!

Leave a Reply