Publication: Tasmania Enjoy
Known for its cold climate wineries and as the starting point for the Australian Three Peaks Race, the West Tamar is equally beautiful and fertile, but is also a wonderful playground for families.
The region stretches along the Tamar River from the Launceston suburb of Riverside in the south through to Greens Beach, where you can stand on the edge of Bass Strait and stare out to the seemingly endless expanse of water.
Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre
When I mentioned fertile, I didn’t just mean in a food or wine production sense. Underneath the hills that roll down to the river’s edge lies gold. This precious metal was discovered in Beaconsfield in 1847 and brothers William and David Dally started mining the area, later named the Tasmania Reef, in 1877. They sold their gold claim to William Grubb and William Hart later that year, who mined the ore until 1903. An English company bought the rights and formed the Tasmanian Gold Mining Company Ltd, building structures that remain today as part of the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre.
The mine, which made international headlines when a team of miners became trapped in a rock fall on Anzac Day 2006, was operational until June 2012. Gold still lies under the Beaconsfield township, but at 1.6km down the costs to extract the precious ore became too prohibitive and the mine was closed.
Standing on the platform looking down on the shaft used to enter the now disused mine, it seems hard to imagine kilometres of tunnels, offices and much of the equipment still stands beneath my feet. The concept of a subterranean life is the stuff of childish imagination.
Owned by West Tamar Council, the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre ticks over with support from an eager team of volunteers who greet you upon entering the reception and gift shop and conduct regular guided tours through the centre. Make sure you pick up a copy of the list of animals hidden throughout the centre. Not only does this animal hunt keep children interested throughout the 40-90 minutes you’ll need to cover everything, but they receive a special surprise at the end for their detective efforts.
Starting in the Diprose Room, or machinery room, we saw machines from the mine itself as well as restored pieces sourced from throughout the Tamar Valley. This is the official start of the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre tour, and yellow hand symbols indicate the many interactive displays. In other words, it means the kids can touch! Some of the machines in this room are still in working order, lovingly tended by volunteers.
Walking through to the Mine Rescue area I was struck by the interactive display depicting what happened in the rock fall that made miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb famous. The multisensory display lights up various scenes, depicting the rock fall, where the miners were located during the fall and while they waited to be rescued, where the gold is located 1.6km underground and the ground water. Each section plays separately, so if you hang around you can see the whole show.
Moving into the main rescue section, a timeline shows the events over the twos weeks from the rock fall until Todd Russell and Brant Webb saw the surface again, including media clips and articles from the time showing how the event was reported. It was amazing to see how a PVC tube was used to transport food and water to the trapped miners, the route rescuers dug to get to them and visualise just how close they got to the men and then had to wait days before they could make that final hole that meant safety.
Those looking for the full experience can brave claustrophobia to crouch in a model of the same dimensions the rock tunnel miners were trapped in, or see the overalls they were wearing throughout their ordeal. This room also includes a “group hug” from the close-knit Beaconsfield community, letters of support for the miners from around the world and a register of international knitters who created kilometres of knitting in response to the event.
Just before taking the ramp to the upper levels, a quick stop in the communications area reveals an old phone box from which kids call Victoria and receive a message in return, or they can call their parents using another nearby phone.
The walls along the lower ramp up are adorned with historical maps, government and war memorabilia area collected by the volunteers over many years and the aptly named ‘Wall of Knobs’ features a sample of every wood grown in Australia.
Upstairs in the Life and Times exhibit children can get hands-on again sorting apples and putting them into a crate using historical machinery, or simply admire the apple peeler and corer taken from the IXL factory at Beauty Point. This area includes a Tamar Valley display showing the finds – glasses, oyster shells and bricks – from the archaeological dig at York Town, the northern region’s first English settlement in 1804; a diorama of Beaconsfield; and furniture and household items from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
Walking outside the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre to the ruins of original engine house and Grubb Shaft the sheer size of the machinery used in the mine makes you stop. Water was drawn from 1500ft (457m) using this shaft and you can wander slowly along the raised walkways admiring the smoke stack, water wheel, boilers, steam engines and pump rods, imagining the water being pumped and the huge black plumes of smoke that once spurted from the shafts.
Next to the model hut, which shows how a reasonably well-off miner lived in cramped circumstances, kids can pan for gold using a sluice and pans. And if they find a speck of the shiny metal they can take it back to the front counter and swap it for a souvenir.
Back downstairs to the shaft relics, visitors can see a model of the Hart Shaft, peer in at the assayer’s’ office, view the crucibles and ingots used to shape the molten metal, see tributes to the miners who perished over its many years of operation or marvel at the model of the 1914 mine, with ribbons of tunnels criss-crossing underneath where you stand.
Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre Box
Opening times: seven days between 9.30am and 4.30pm (closed Good Friday and Christmas Day).
Admission: $12 adults, $4 kids, $10 concession, $30 family, or you can buy a Tamar Triple Pass for $43.
Location: West Street, Beaconsfield.
Bookings and information: 03 6383 1473, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.beaconsfieldheritage.com.au