In 1887 gold was discoverd in Arltunga.

Arltunga was extremely isolated, lacked water, had limited supplies of even basic food, suffered extremes of temperature and the cost of living was exorbitant.
To reach Arltunga in the 1880's, you would need to walk or ride alongside the Overland Telegraph Line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, then follow the MacDonnell Ranges east for around 120 km.
This would take at least a week and often longer in temperatures that often exceed 40°C!

The shortage of water meant that fresh vegetables could not be grown and limited water supplies were drawn from wells and water soaks in creeks.
Because of the lack of feed and water for stock, the cost of transporting food was very high.
These high costs were passed on to the Aritunga residents.

Life on the Arltunga goldfields was very hard.
Arltunga's early residents lived and worked in extreme and harsh conditions.

Most of the dwellings were little more than rough shelters made of stone and branches with none of the comforts we take for granted.
They were probably sited on the ridgetops to take advantage of cooling breezes in summer.

Smoking was a popular pastime in Arltunga, judging from the number of tobacco tins, matchboxes and clay pipes that have been uncovered around the reserve.
From the number of empty tins excavated at several sites, it appears that tinned sardines and meat were consumed in great quantity by the miners.

Large numbers of broken bottles of gin and whisky show that drinking may have been a problem with some of the earlier Arltunga residents.
Perhaps they sought treatment from the different medicine bottles found around many of the dwellings.

Imagine spending your day hunched over in a low, dark tunnel as you hack away at a rock face with your pick.
Finally it's time to down tools and head home dirty and exhausted to your makeshift camp in the scrub.
Water is scarce and expensive, so a cleansing shower is out of the question likewise a "refreshing glass of beer" to wash the dust out of your throat.

The information centre has an good display of artefacts from that time.
Here some parts from the collection:

Gold Safe

Over the years, this safe from the Assayer's Room (Government Works) held most of the area's hard won gold, gold that today would sell for over six million dollars.
There is no door to the safe today as the door was blown off after the key was lost.

Camel canteens

These camel water canteens belonged to Jim Marshall, a cameleer from Queensland, who drifted around the area doing odd jobs, and worked for a while at Loves Creek Station.

The canteens would have originally been used to car water.
A badly weathered inscription on one of the canteens reads "HIGHLY INFLVNIIVIABLE" which suggests that it was used to carry some kind of fuel.

The canteens had been left at Rockhole bore on Ambalindum Station for about 15 years before they were picked up by Bill Cavenagh in about 1987.

Dry blowers

Dry blowers like this replica were used at Arltunga because there was a shortage of water.
If you load some dirt in the top and pump the handle air blows away the lighter particles.
The miner would then wash the remaining "pay dirt" with a little water and "pan out" flecks of gold.
A lot of gold was lost through dry blowing but, with water so scarce, what else could a miner do?

During the rush to Arltunga in 1903, there was an attempt to establish a proper township at the crossroads.
Several buildings were erected at the Crossroads following the sinking of a well in 1906.
The rush soon abated and the town stopped growing.

The Glencoe Hotel operated from 1910 until at least as late as 1924.
It was an important part of the community and the cause of much friction.
The NT Times and Gazette wrote:
"Linen is an unknown quantity - no sheets, table clothes, mattresses, .... one person I heard asking for a bed was given a blanket and free permission to sleep where he liked with the exception of the bar ..."

The Arltunga Police Station

In 1899, 12 years after gold was discovered at Arltunga, Constable Charles Johnson arrived with two Aboriginal trackers and proceeded to establish a camp which consisted of a large tent and two canvas covers.
Police were initially stationed at Arltunga to protect the neighbouring pastoral properties from alleged cattle stealing by miners and Aboriginal people and to assist in the prevention of sly grog selling.

Shortly afterwards they moved into two buildings.
Remains of these original buildings can be seen behind the existing police residence.


In 1911 Constable Dow, the officer in charge of Alice Springs, reported that the Arltunga Police Station was in poor condition and that:
"There is no lockup at Arltunga, and the last time I saw a European Prisoner in custody there, he was tied up by chain to the leg of the constable's bed."

In 1912 on the advice of Constable Dow a new police residence and gaol were erected which remained the district police base until 1944 when it was moved north to Harts Range.


After this time the condition of the buildings declined as people deliberately vandalised them, looking for gold falsely rumoured to be hidden in its walls.
Reconstruction of the police residence and gaol was completed in 1985.

Only the chimney now remains of the original buildings.

The Mines

The Golden Chance mine was worked intermittently between 1896 and 1905.
Its last year was its most successful, when it produced 1.8 kg (58 oz) of gold from 73 tonnes of ore.
Gold at the time was worth around $6.50 per ounce.

One of the ways that miners could reach the underground workings was by a 10 metre deep vertical shaft, which is now mostly filled in.
The other was through the nearby tunnel entrance (called an "adit").

Until 1898 ore from Golden Chance had to be carted to a small mill at Claraville, 7.5 km to the north-west.
Freight costs were high, so the quartz had to be hand sorted to ensure that only the richest ore was sent for treatment.
This situation improved in 1898 when the Government Battery and cyanide works opened for business just 1.5 km west of the mine.

Ore from the Golden Chance contained less than an ounce of gold to the tonne, and had a high copper content.
The MacDonnell Range Reef opened in 1892 and was one of Arltunga's largest and richest outside White Range.

The Christmas Reef mine dates from 1896, when German prospector Frederick Messau found gold in vein of white quartz that outcropped near this sign.
Fred pegged his claim and started digging a shaft, which eventually reached a depth of 7.5 metres.

Fred worked his mine the hard way, using pick and shovel to excavate the quartz and waste rock and a hand windlass to raise it to the surface.
Here the lumps of quartz were broken into smaller pieces, which were hand-sorecd for gold content by a small group of Aboriginal women.
Using baskets and tins, they carried the selected quartz to where it could be collected by a horse-drawn wagon and taken to Claraville for crushing and gold recovery.
It appears that Fred abandoned the Christmas Reef Mine in 1898 when he moved to the newly discovered White Range Goldfield.
In 1913, aged 60, Fred died there of throat and lung disease caused by the deadly quartz dust he'd breathed in during his years of working in poorly ventilated tunnels.

Between the Christmas Reef and MacDonnell Range Reef mines surface soil and gravel was either "washed" using precious water or "blown" using rapidly moving air to recover alluvial gold.
Nuggets weighing up to 3 ounces were found there.
(One ounce of gold is about the size of a square of chocolate.)

The MacDonnell Range reef mine was worked intermittently from 1892 to 1908.
Over its lifetime it produced 248 ounces of gold from 353 tonnes of ore, which made it one of the area's largest and richest mines outside the White Range mines.

The mine's most productive year was 1896, when it was owned by Henry Luce and Michael Vikson.
Six men were reportedly working the claim in January of that year.
Luce, who was to become Arltunga's most successful miner, discovered the White Range goldfield in 1898.

The MacDonnell Range reef mine is relatively shallow as the roofs of its tunnels are only about 4 m below the surface.
The stone packed "walls" that block off some tunnels were a labour-saving method to reduce the amount of waste rock that had to be hauled to the surface.











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Last updated: Thursday, 17.07.2008 5:38 PM