Interview with Ollie Dobratz
filmmaker: Sophie Boord
not for downloadCopyright
West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation
Curator of the Walhalla (Post Office) Museum and former guide of the Walhalla mines, Ollie Dobratz talks about the history of the town, while perusing images from an album of pre-1905 Walhalla images.
-The first page here, it's the left-hand branch of the township. There are two buildings that stand out which are still in existence today. It is the band rotunda and the Masonic Lodge which, at one stage, was a church. The township was, of course, quite a lively place in those days. Altogether with the outlying suburbs, there would be about 5,000 people living here.
There's the main street. Very many houses all have gone. Being in Gippsland, a lot of the houses were built out of wood. Over the years, wood deteriorates, crumbles, and a lot of houses burned, especially after the mines closed.
The hills are fairly bare. All the timber was used up in the mines. In those days, steam was the main power. And you had to have lots and lots of firewood for the boilers. Firewood from the northern end of town used to get shot through there to the main street, and then collected and taken to the mines.
In those days, of course, transport was by bullock teams and horse teams. All the machinery was brought in here. And it was a very, very difficult task.
We know for a fact that one water wheel was trundled along as a wheel from Port Albert all the way behind a bullock team. We've got the bits and pieces here in Walhalla to rebuild this water wheel. And one of these days, I hope that will come true.
There's the gold or part of it. Over 14 tons of gold was taken out of Walhalla. Now today, it would be a small fortune indeed if we could only get our hands on to it.
There it is, electrical machinery in the Long Tunnel Mine. Great big generators there. In the beginning, of course, all light was supplied by candles. But then when electricity became available, they installed this machinery in here. This was the first rural spot in Victoria where they used electricity.
There's the milk boy. Two containers of his milk. And he used to deliver from house to house, whoever wanted milk.
While I was living here, twice, I had the pleasure of seeing snow here in Walhalla. It's just a different picture altogether. You wake up in the morning, everything is still, and quiet, and looks beautiful.
Of course, people that lived here in those days went for picnics and outings to get away from daily working life. And they went further in where there is still bush. You can see a lot of beautiful photos here of the tall trees that Gippsland is known for.
This is the gorge along the Stringers Creek. The mine tailings, which the crushers discarded, could be worked again as it was washed down in the creek. At this spot here, the sand that collected there was put again through a process to get that little bit of gold out of it.
There's the old Star Hotel, the last hotel and bar in Walhalla until 1951. And then it burned down. There's a chap here, Michael Leaney, who's very, very keen on Walhalla. He managed to get all the titles organized, and he rebuilt a replica of the Star Hotel.
A photo of the Long Tunnel Extended Mine. You see the mullock dam, which is quite clearly seen from the road as you go past there. You can see a big stack of firewood up there for all the boilers, the engines to make the steam. But also, there is the crushing house, that battery house. That's the building I would like to see re-erected one of these days again.
The Long Tunnel Mine, which was the most successful mine, was closed in 1914. The Great War started. People drifted away. And also, the problem of the water as they had to go deeper and deeper to chase the reef, and the lack of timber. And all these facts together made it uneconomical for them to carry on.
Now the Long Tunnel Extended Mine is still open to some degree. It is our tourist mine. I was one of the forming committee members when the Mines Department was threatening to blow up the entrance because people used to go in there all the time and could get into trouble. So we decided to form a committee to look after the mine so that it is not lost altogether. And people, when they come up here, can see some of the old workings.
I was privileged to go down to the 300-foot level. You can see still the three compartments. Two compartments for the cages to go up and down in. They brought the little skips with the mullock up. And the other cage where the miners used to go down worked always in tandem. And there is also the third compartment in the shaft.
All along from the very bottom, there is a set of ladders. In case the windup broke down and the cages wouldn't work, the miners had to be able to get out. So they used ladders. Now in the end, that mine was a kilometer deep. I don't fancy climbing all those ladders to get to the top.
Most of the time, they were working up to their knees or even higher in water. So it was very, very difficult work for them.