AusIMM Darwin Pine Creek Heritage Park and geotourism initiative
Headframe, boiler, stamp battery and signs at Miners Park, 2022.
Ballarat and Kalgoorlie are popular gold mining heritage sites. However, there are many other gold mining heritage sites scattered across Australia.
The Pine Creek mining heritage site is one such location, and its upkeep and promotion is an initiative of The AusIMM Darwin Branch in concert with the Northern Territory National Trust and with support from John Fisher (son of Joe Fisher) and Marmel Enterprises.
AusIMM and Geotourism
The Australian Geoscience Council Inc (AGC) represents eight major Australian geoscience societies, including The AusIMM. Launched in April 2021, the AGC is implementing a National Geotourism Strategy (NGS) which involves working groups with specific goals that include representatives of key active stakeholders. This initiative, supported by The AusIMM Geoscience Society, helps raise the profile of geoscience by identifying geoheritage sites suitable for geotourism and by building geotrails.
One key goal of the NGS is developing geotourism in regional mining communities with potential geoheritage and cultural heritage sites. The AusIMM contributes significantly to this this work by coordinating the engagement of the Geoscience Society along with two other Communities of Interest, the Social & Environment Society and the Heritage Committee.
In collaboration with the Geotourism Standing Committee of the Geological Society of Australia, an NGS working group has now listed over 80 geotrails in a new schedule, ‘Inventory of Geotrails in Australia.’ This list includes the proposed Pine Creek Geotrail based around the Miners Park in Pine Creek. The Miners Park was created in 1988 by a group, including members of the AusIMM Darwin Branch, led by Joe Fisher AM, past AusIMM president (1984), and other volunteers. Since 2020, AusIMM Darwin Branch has been working with Marmel Enterprises to develop the Pine Creek Geotrail, which incorporates the Miners Park.
Pine Creek is located 226 km south-east of Darwin and 90 km north-west of Katherine on the Stuart Highway. As at the 2021 Census there were 318 residents of Pine Creek.
History and background of Pine Creek
Pine Creek Geology
The Pine Creek Orogen has a 150-year history of gold mining, with more than 4 million ounces of gold produced. Most deposits are orogenic gold deposits in the Palaeoproterozoic Cosmo Supergroup, with gold most commonly hosted in quartz veins, lodes, sheeted veins, stockworks and saddle reefs, with some gold also hosted within iron-rich sediments. Gold also occurs with zinc and silver associated with volcanic-associated massive sulphide deposits. AusIMM’s digital library has some 15 geological and exploration papers on the Pine Creek geosyncline and associated gold deposits.
Pine Creek Gold Mines
Pine Creek is essentially a gold mining town which evolved when the teams building the Overland Telegraph Line in 1870 dug up some gold while digging telegraph post holes. Good alluvial gold was located at Yam Creek, Cullen River and Gandy's Gully as early as 1871. The first major reef was discovered in 1872 and named the Priscilla. Many small workings were developed, mostly by Chinese workers under tribute to European owners. The Eleanor Reef at Pine Creek was discovered in 1880. A battery was built in 1893 to crush ore from the Eleanor and another reef; concurrently, they ordered tramway materials from England. The tramway was operational by 1895.
Since 1870 the area has had a variety of gold rushes with, at one time, over 2,000 miners working in the area at more than 15 mines. Gold production declined during the 1890s but there were still twenty-seven stamp batteries at fifteen mines in the area. By 1907 most of the gold mining was replaced by tin and wolfram (Tungsten). By 1915 about 75,000 ounces of gold had been recovered from the area.
In 1985, Pine Creek Goldfields Limited opened an open-cut gold mine adjacent to the town, on the site of the shaft of the old Enterprise Mine. Over a ten-year period, it yielded 764,000 ounces (21,700 kg) of gold.
Pine Creek Heritage
Pine Creek was traditionally the junction of three large indigenous traditional owner groups: The Wagiman, Jawoyn, and Waray peoples.
The early gold rushes encouraged the town to grow rapidly with the influx of miners, many of whom were Singaporean Chinese immigrants. By 1873, a telegraph repeater station and police camp had been established. By 1875 there were two hotels competing for business, The Royal Mail and The Standard. A public school opened in the town in 1899.
The first stage of the lightly built, narrow-gauge, North Australia Railway was built between Port Darwin and Pine Creek, reaching the town in 1889. The railway closed in 1976. The old Pine Creek railway station (1888) and some rolling stock remained and were later preserved as the Pine Creek Railway Heritage Precinct. This is now managed by National Trust (Northern Territory) who also funded some of the replacement signs when work was done in 2021.
An unsealed road from Darwin was constructed in the 1930s, following the same route as the railway from Adelaide River to Larrimah, and passing through Pine Creek. Much of this poorly maintained road would later become the Stuart Highway. During the war years (1939-1945) the Stuart Highway, was upgraded and sealed.
During World War II, the Australian Army set up the 65th Australian Camp Hospital near Pine Creek. An airfield was constructed in 1942 by the US Army as an emergency landing ground and to serve the military units based in the town.
Pine Creek Miners Park
The initial Miners Park founding group collected various historic mining machinery from Pine Creek and surrounding areas and arranged them at the northern end of town. The Miners Park is a gazetted heritage site since it is located adjacent to the Pine Creek railway station and siding which has an engine shed and small museum managed by the National Trust- Northern Territory (NTNT). The site is also the focal point for the annual Pine Creek Gold Rush and hosts the gold panning competition down in Pine Creek at the edge of the park.
The Park comprises a collection of machinery and items associated with mining over the years and includes a headframe, stamp batteries, winches, pumps, boilers and the like. There are also 13 interpretive displays and information on each of the items as well as on mining in the region. There is good 4G coverage at the town to support the future possibility of including augmented reality on the web pages to show machinery in action.
Videos of the annual Northern Territory tourist gold panning championships and geoheritage site can be seen on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEpi0sc9dGg and https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x8c7itc
Pine Creek Today
The AusIMM Darwin Branch has assumed responsibility for maintaining the signage in the park, including replacing 12 of the 13 signs in 2018. Since 2020, chairman Peter Waggitt, with help from Mark Asendorf (Marmel Enterprises) has been maintaining the signage. An update of such work appeared in the Darwin Branch October 2021 newsletter https://www.ausimm.com/news-and-media/community-news/darwin-branch-newsletter-october-2021/
They have recently been successful in getting two grants towards the Pine Creek works:
- A grant from Regional Development Australia NT towards developing the business case for the Geotrail project including an assessment of various digital platforms.
- A grant from Community Benefit Fund towards the replacement of the entire gazebo structure at Miners Park, including new signage.
These grants are now virtually 100% spent. The Business Case was completed by 30th June 2023 and is now being used to assist in grant submissions for the FY 2023-24 and the gazebo replacement project is well advanced with the main structure completed in July 2023. New signs will be placed in the gazebo during Q3 2023. A further three new information signs have also been erected in 2023: one at the Enterprise lookout and two in Miners Park. As one element of the geotourism aspect of the trail a “rock walk” has been designed which will display large samples (c.1t each) of major rock types from the Pine Creek orogen, each with an explanation of their geological and mineralogical significance. Implementation is hoped to be later this year, before the wet season begins in earnest.
The project has attracted a lot of interest in the community and two presentations have been made to the Community Council at public meetings. A number of sponsors and supporters have come forward and the present plan is to have a Pine Creek Geotrail up and running in late 2023 or early 2024, including a fully active website.
The Park receives many visitors each year as Pine Creek is a major stop off/ rest stop/ refuelling point for the seasonal tourist drivers up and down the Stuart Highway. Data from tourism sources suggest there could be at least 50,000 visitors passing through Pine Creek annually. Hopefully this initiative may provide an incentive for a few more visitors to stop and perhaps linger longer to learn more about our mining heritage and geology as well as spending a few more dollars locally.