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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gold, Topsy and the second ten shilling note [Part 1]

This is it - THE ten shilling note!

There it was. Right on the front page of the Queensland Commemorative Colour Supplement of the Sunday Mail, 3 May 1959. The Centenary of the founding of our state, Queensland, and the day after my 12th birthday.

The first place in Queensland where gold was discovered – Dogleap Creek, Calliope, 1853.

… and a map of Central Queensland with our own township marked clearly by name in its exact spot, 15 miles from Gladstone. 

Like Carolyn Young’s win in the State Track and Field Championships, we bathed in the reflected glory of this statewide publicity. Now everyone knew what we had known all our lives – Calliope was one of the centres of the known universe. Possibly THE centre.

Dogleap Creek. Did you know that our own creek was the perfect width at several points for a dog the size of a kelpie to jump from one side to the other? Probably not, I guess, but in my mind the very creek where gold was discovered in Queensland was our creek, and I reckon I know the exact spot.

Not long before this blaze of publicity for Calliope in the Queensland Centenary Colour Supplement, we had had a flash flood from a cloudburst in the hills of the back paddock. Water had poured down the creek bed and I ran from dry waterhole to waterhole, watching them fill up like a chain of bathtubs, with snakes, lizards, echidnas, all sorts of creatures scurrying for refuge from the torrent.

There was an ancient fencepost still standing from a long gone fence across the paspalum flat between the windmills. Flash flooding from the storm washed the crumbling post out of the hole it had stood in for decades, and my father, a seasoned prospector of alluvial gold, noticed something near the heavy black soil from the post hole that had been churned by the torrent.

Scattered on the grass now wet from the sudden soaking and just down from the newly opened posthole were several nuggets of gold, one of them quite sizable – about as big as your fingernail in surface area and a quarter as deep. These nuggets had been washed out of the hole and the force of the current had strewn them where they were.  In the late autumn, the paspalum had been nipped down to a neat lawn by the horses. Yes, pure gold was simply scattered across it. That’s worth seeing, I can tell you.

I don’t know how much more exploration of that spot Dad did after collecting that gold, but I would surely have taken a posthole spade to that area and dug around a bit, then panned the blacksoil in the creek nearby. Maybe he did, and found nothing, but for some reason there was some gold at least in that thar paddock, and the last place you’d expect to find it was on the green grass, glinting in the bright late afternoon post-storm sunlight.

Anyway, the creek is right opposite that spot and either of our dogs could have jumped across the creek right there, so to my fertile mind that was the place, exactly, where gold was first discovered in the Sunshine State. Prove me wrong if you can. No, on second thoughts, don’t. It might not be all that hard, and some illusions are worth keeping if that’s what they turn out to be.

Mind you, if you go to online sources, you’ll find all sorts of nonsense about where gold was first discovered in Queensland, depending on what they regarded as a find. Some acknowledge Calliope but say it was Nuggety Gully. Maybe that was part of Dogleap Creek; I can’t say for sure.

Frankly, I wouldn’t waste my time with them, because it was there not only in black and white in the Sunday Mail, but on the front page of the Colour Supplement timeline of a century of our history, and as every Queenslander still knows, anything you read in the Courier Mail or Sunday Mail is gospel. Trust me.

Now some of you are going to think that my second ten shilling note is somehow connected with gold nuggets, but if you remember back well enough to how I got my first ten bob note, you’ll know it was related to Topsy, my pony. Refresh your memory by all means.

The fact is that the link with the discovery of gold in Calliope is slightly more obscure than this, for which I don’t apologise, as it won’t hurt you to know some real Queensland history straight from the Sunday Mail. The connection is this....


  1. What a thrill. I'd love to have seen that gold scattered about on the grass, and for a young boy it must've been really awesome (an overused word, I know!) I liked seeing the photo of you children standing in front of the typical Queensland house on stilts. I even remember the smell of those houses, of wet earth and vegetation (at least in northern NSW) and the sound of frogs, often. And carpet snakes in the ceiling. And mangos dropping off the tree outside. Sigh.

  2. Yes, your description at the end sure brings it back, Julie. Sometimes the mangoes would drop on to the galvanised iron tank cover through the night and reverberate like a giant drum or gong. Not so pretty was the sound of a poor green frog being eaten alive by a carpet or tree snake....
    The gold was scattered on the grass on its own because it was so heavy by comparison with the soil or anything else. On the same principle as panning, the dross was sluiced further away from the hole by the action of the water, leaving the gold in a cluster closest to the hole, but by itself.
    Gold is much heavier than lead, even. I have picked up a quite small ingot of gold valued at that time at $65,000 and it was incredibly heavy. Now it would be worth twice that much, I imagine.

  3. But did your dad make some money from it? Was it a windfall (or a groundswell :)

  4. Dad collected gold from our creek over the years. According to my mother, his wedding suit was bought from part of the alluvial gold he found in the 30s. After heavy storms he would ‘run the gullies’ taking with him a little bottle to collect the gold. What this meant was that he would start from up at the spring in the back paddock, and run to dropping point in the stream, gully to gully, right through the property. If gold was washed out by heavy rain it would collect in pockets in the gullies and he would find it.
    This was vastly more efficient than panning for gold, surprisingly enough. My mother divided the remaining gold between us four children. It could be converted into dollars any time we wished, but why would we do that? To us it has more value as nuggets and specks collected by hard work than any dollar bills!


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