Pine Creek Northern Territory

Pine Creek NT

The Pine Creek area first came to prominence during the building of the Overland Telegraph Line. John McDouall Stuart had suggested possible gold discoveries in the Northern Territory in 1862 when he noted the May River 'as a likely place to find gold'. The first actual discovery of gold in the Northern Territory was made by H.F. Litchfield on the south side of the Finniss River in 1865. Four years later, members of Goyder's survey party found more gold at Tumbling Waters. During the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line posthole diggers made new gold discoveries at Yam Creek in December 1870.

When the line was completed, it meant very little to the few locals but the possibility of finding gold attracted thousands of prospectors, both from the southern colonies and China. The gold mining industry at Pine Creek was slow to develop, even though good alluvial gold had been 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. Since that time many small workings were developed, mostly by Chinese workers under tribute to European owners.

Mining was not a healthy occupation at that time. William Thomas died on 2 August 1873 and John White died on 5 September 1873, from fever and exhaustion at Pine Creek. Both were in the service of the Telegraph Gold Mining Company.

Pastoralists, who had taken up leases did much better. One of the first among them was Dr W.J. Browne at Bonrook. Although he, and several others, first started with sheep, they soon found that the climate was too hot and too humid for these animals. Slowly one after the other changed to cattle and horses.

In 1883, the John Cox Bray Government introduced the Palmerston and Pine Creek Railway Bill. The 959,300 contract went to C & E Millar of Melbourne and the line reached Pine Creek in 1888. It was officially opened on 30 September 1889. Some 3000 Chinese labourers worked on this part of the line. Many different proposals have been made since to join Pine Creek with Oodnadatta. When the Commonwealth Government took control in 1926 it extended the line from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs and from Pine Creek to Birdum. Both places were reached during 1929. During the Second World War Larrimah, nine kilometres north of Birdum, became the effective railhead. The thousand or so kilometres between Birdum and Alice Springs were never completed. Originally the terminus of the railway - 'the line to nowhere' Larrimah is now just another stopover point on the Stuart Highway with an outback pub, the Larrimah Hotel, which was actually the pub at Birdum until it was moved to Larrimah in 1952. The line was closed in 1976.

Soon there were other gold discoveries and by 1874 there were enough people in the area to support the opening of a telegraph office. Although there was a large concentration of miners, the town of Pine Creek was not surveyed until 1888 during the building of the railway from Palmerston to Pine Creek which was opened a year later. Two of the best producing mines during these years were the Kohinoor and Eleanor mines on the Eleanor Reef, discovered by John Lewis in 1872 and named after his sister. In 1881 Olaf Jensen bought both the lease and machinery of the Kohinoor mine and later added many other leases to his name, including the Eleanor from which he got 1652 ounces in 1887. In 1892 Jensen floated his mines into the Jensen Gold Mining Company.

Maps of the Northern Territory

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. By 1915 about 75,000 ounces of gold had been recovered from the area. It was not until the 1950s that Pine Creek enjoyed a revival of its mining industry. This time it was uranium and iron ore which provided the much needed employment opportunities. During the 1960s and 1970s about five hundred people were serviced by the towns stores and other facilities. However by the 1970s mining faded away and when in June 1976 the North Australia Railway closed it seemed that it was the end of the line for Pine Creek in more than one way.

By 1985 though matters had improved substantially. In February of that year Pine Creek Goldfields Limited was established and started mining from its open cut in October, once again providing employment for many of the local residents.

The railway at Pine Creek shows a very similar history. Started during the late 1880s it reached Pine Creek in 1889. It has seen many ups and downs. Even so many enterprising men and families settled in the new town and tried to make a living. Tom Pearce, previously from Katherine opened a store in 1893. Tom O'Shea, originally from Queensland took part in the short lived 1909 gold rush and was able to buy the Railway hotel at Katherine.

Pine Creek's bussiest time was during the Second World War when as many as 247 trains came trough in one week in 1944. After its demise in 1976 it took ten years before the first promise was made by the NT government that the Alice Springs-Darwin line would be constructed in late 1987. As was the case in South Australia, many times were these promises renewed, particularly before elections. However after all these years it has eventuated. It is a reality, the line is there and ends will joined this year!!!!!

Imported from Philadelphia in 1886 by the contractors for the Palmerston-Pine Creek section of the North Australia Railway. Its Christening on 19 July 1887 was performed by Mrs Pater, with a bottle of champagne and named Port Darwin. The historic event was photographed by Paul Foelsche. It served faithfully under several government owners until officially retired in 1950.

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