Remnants of a gold rush hidden in the New South Wales mid-north coast hinterland could have the potential to be a major tourist attraction, according to a gold mine enthusiast.
Tom Chivers lives near the historic village of Coramba, in the Orara Valley about 15 kilometres north-west of Coffs Harbour.
The 22-year-old is keen to establish a 4-wheel drive adventure tour company focused on the gold mining history of the area.
Mr Chivers also wants to preserve the rich mining history, which is slowly being overtaken by the forest.
“It had one of the richest reefs in NSW, which produced more than 41,000 ounces of refined gold,” Mr Chivers said.
“Today that would be worth more than $50 million.”
Mr Chivers said there were up to 300 disused goldmines in the old Orara-Coramba area.
“Most of the local finds were alluvial gold panned from the creeks — there were not a lot of reefs and nuggets.
A tourism opportunity
Mr Chivers said he and his friends often explored the bush to discover old mines, remnant rail tracks and tunnels.
He believes there is an opportunity for tourist expeditions to be run in the area.
Mr Chivers said that while the Orara-Coramba goldfield would never rival Victoria’s Sovereign Hill as a tourist attraction, it was worth preserving its history.
“Much of the old machinery, mine entrances, and sleeper tracks in the area are being swallowed by lantana,” he said.
Mr Chivers said he and his friends attempted to preserve the area by hacking weeds back with machetes and would like to see an organised effort to clear the lantana around a few of the many mine sites.
“Not necessarily to the point that it’s this magnificently restored thing, but just that it’s kept so it can last.
“There’s no way we can expect it to be cleared to as it was when there was a tent city and hundreds of miners around.
‘The history is gold’
Mr Chivers said that while some people enjoyed old goldmines for the chance to find gold, his vision was to make the history of the early settlement more accessible to people.
“I don’t have to find gold — the history is gold to me.”
“In 1870, Coramba was a gold ‘boom town’.
“Beacon Village, which no longer exists, had the first powered lights on the NSW mid-north coast.
“Another village at the bottom of Mt Coramba had a school, a pub, library, mill, police station and doctor — it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Part of Mr Chivers’ passionate vision to expose the area’s history is to restore the old Glenreagh to Dorrigo rail line, which he said was built with some of the steepest gradients and tightest curves on the system.
“It had high maintenance and running costs, and experienced repeated losses throughout its entire existence.
“It closed to passengers in the mid 1960s then ran freight up and down the mountain until around 1972.
“The Dorrigo end of the railway was in action for a short time in the late 1980s, but is currently mothballed.
The State member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, said there were abandoned gold mines all along the mid-north coast and most people did not know they were there.
Mr Fraser applauded Mr Chivers’ enthusiasm and drive, saying his grand plans could have some merit.
The land around Glenreagh and Coramba is privately owned or managed by the NSW Forestry Corporation or NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Forestry Corporation said it understood the appeal of the Orara-Coramba goldfield and rail lines and one day they could add to the Coffs Coast’s tourist potential.
A spokesperson said it was unlikely the corporation would invest in restoring the area as it spent its tourism budget in areas that could generate the best return.
The spokesperson said they were always interested in talking to people like Mr Chivers, who wanted to undertake tourism activities in state forests.
“We have a permit system designed to facilitate organised tours.