The Bendigo Creek Story
The Bendigo Creek Story
The Map and Remembering, Part 2.
Video directed and written by Gerry Gill
Produced by Daz Media
This film traces the history of the Bendigo creek to explore the the savage environmental impact of mining on the local environment of the Bendigo goldfields.
The Bendigo Creek’s story can be thought of as a microcosm of shifting environmental values, practices and knowledge in Australia.
[Vision of old map]
[The Map and Remembering, Part 2]
[The Bendigo Creek Story]
These are the words of Thomas Dungey who saw the Bendigo Creek before miners utterly destroyed it.
[Vision of the creek today]
'On the Sunday morning, a beautiful day, we took a stroll to the junction of what have since been known as Back Creek and Bendigo Creek and thought it the loveliest spot on Earth, with waterholes with water in them as clear as crystal, kingfisher birds flitting about in the silver wattle, whose lovely foliage almost hid the banks of the creek from view, with occasional splashings as the duck-billed platypus tumbled from the banks into the water, but there was not a human being to be seen anywhere.'
[Man opens book titled 'Annals of Bendigo' 1851 to 1867]
In this old volume of the Annals of Bendigo, there's a remarkable sketch map that gives us an idea of what Thomas Dungey was talking about.
[Map titled 'The Infancy of Bendigo']
The map was drawn by William Sandbach for the purpose of telling the story of the birth of the Bendigo Goldfields. He's interested in who was the first to find gold, where it was found, who was there in the early months, and where their mia-mias and tents were pitched. But, unintentionally, Sandbach is telling us an earlier story - the long story of the Aboriginal occupation and management of the valley of the Bendigo Creek.
[Close-up of 'Open treeless flat' on the map]
We now recognise that 'open treeless flat' is telling us that the alluvial soil of the creek flats were kept treeless by the systematic burning regime practised by generations of Dja Dja Wurrung people.
[Close-up of the 'Wooded Point' on the map]
The 'wooded point' is on the rocky, shallow sandstone soils that won't grow grass and are best left as forest.
[Old painting of the creek and the forest]
Without regular burning or heavy grazing, and left to regenerate, the creek flats returned to being covered by trees.
[Close-up on ponds on the map]
The creek is shown as a chain of ponds. This was the characteristic of many inland rivers and creeks. Some of the more astute settlers noted that European hard-hooved sheep and cattle trampled the banks and ate out the plants that held the banks and stream bed together.
[Vision of current creek]
This led to the deeply eroded, steep-sided creeks we're familiar with today.
[Black-and-white photograph of the valley]
Another witness said, 'Previous to being disfigured by the diggers, the valley of Bendigo had a park-like appearance.
[The valley today with green grass areas]
The flats carpeted with green grass were dotted with shady gums, there was a chain of waterholes which all year round before the gold era contained a good supply of sweet, clear water.'
[Black-and-white sketch of goldminers]
This goldfields artist captured the energy and busyness of the Bendigo Goldfields in 1852.
[Painting by Ludwig Becker]
German Romantic artist Ludwig Becker did this more sombre painting of Golden Square, Bendigo in 1853.
[Drawing by Becker: The Notabilities of Bendigo]
Becker also did this drawing of The Notabilities of Bendigo and wrote this reflection - '"Grass does not grow upon a miner's path," is a German proverb very applicable to the diggings. Here flourished once the noble forest. Eureka! Suddenly there comes from the south a storm of human beings. The very frame of the earth is bared for hidden treasure. The ancient trees are felled for the service of the invaders. Sometimes yet, a charred and sapless trunk is found still standing upright like a shade from Hades as one of a race of giants long since passed away.'
[Drawing of puddling machine]
It was the technology of puddling that finally put paid to the Bendigo Creek.
[Black-and-white image of the Bendigo Goldfields]
By the late 1850s on the Bendigo Goldfields, there were 10,000 men and 5,000 horses working 2,000 puddling machines. This poured out millions of cubic metres of stinking yellow sludge each year that oozed its way into the gullies and choked the creeks.
[Black-and-white photograph of flooded town]
During heavy rains, sludge flooded into the houses and shops and pubs.
[Black-and-white image of Bendigo]
Bendigo gradually transformed itself from a pockmarked wasteland interspersed with diggers' tents into a town where people went about their domestic and working lives.
[Close-up on buildings]
Grand public buildings, businesses, parks and avenues emerged and expressed civic pride, but the problems of sludge and the obliterated creek repeatedly presented problems and disruption. The aspiration for a colonial Pall Mall was challenged by sludge.
[Vision of a folder titled 'Report - Royal Commission - To enquire into the best method - Removing the Sludge']
The Parliament of Victoria established a royal commission called The Sludge Commission to fix the problem, and this set in train the making of a new paved course for the creek and the building of a timber box drain to take the sludge out to a swamp near Huntley.
[Drawing of the timber box drain]
The legacy of mining problems demanded engineering solutions.
[Bridge over the creek today]
The result is the creek we know today - a large gutter that runs through the centre of Bendigo.
[Geological map of Victoria]
The sludge was not only a problem for Bendigo. The mauve colour on this geological map represents the sludge. The sludge flowed over 160km north of Bendigo and covered more than 700km sq of country with hard infertile material.
[Eroded bank of Bendigo Creek]
Here at Huntley, we are looking at three metres of sludge in the eroded bank of Bendigo Creek.
[Man, woman and boy walk in field]
There are people in traditional owner groups, government agencies and volunteer groups who are committed to the long process of regenerating Bendigo Creek. I met Nicole Howie, Secretary of the North Bendigo Landcare Group, and her son Ned out on the creek near Huntley, to see what the group were doing and hear what motivated them. It was quite inspiring. They are controlling weeds and feral trees like the peppercorns and replanting with natives.
They are building nesting boxes for possums and birds.
[Vision of the creek]
They engage community from primary and secondary school students through TAFE and university students through to the older blokes from the Men In Sheds group who built the nesting boxes. They have a vision for the future.
[Series of ponds on the map]
It's deeply moving that the Landcare Group and the Catchment Management Authority people know the Sandbach map that shows the creek as a chain of ponds, and they know our 'Plan of General Survey' map and they're guided and inspired by it.
[Close-up of Bendigo Creek on the Plan of General Survey map]
When they ponder the map, through it, they are learning from the traditional owners and applying their learning to create a new sustainable future.
[Children planting trees]
Similar things are happening across the country and, hopefully, the world. Caring for country and for coming and future generations is deeply embedded in the human spirit. It's a source of power and motivation we will have to harness.