The Lure of Gold

The Lure of Gold

This article was printed in the Register of 22 April 1926.

It was written by W Rogers of Leigh's Creek

This is an account of the first discovery of gold in the Yudanamutana Ranges, and its effect on the discoverer Ned Irwin, who became a well-known identity in and around the ranges in after years. Ned served his apprenticeship to his father's confectionery trade in Adelaide, but not caring for the confinement, gave it up, and made up north. He was a clean, smart young fellow, and willing to have a go at any sort of work.

The first job he got was cooking on the old Moolooloo Station, near the Blinman. He was recognised as a first-class cook, and he followed this calling for some time. Later on in 1873, he joined the first party of fencers on the Winteratana Station. This was the first attempt at fencing in the runs in those parts. There was a fair-sized party in the fence gang, all bush men. I was working then on the old Owieandana Station, then owned by JW Glason and ML Beare, of Clare.

A report was received of a rich find of gold on the Angepena country, which was really the first discovery of gold made in the northern portion of the Flinders Ranges. The find is now called the 'Dead Men's Gold' and it was the hearing of that which induced Ned Irwin to try his luck in the Yuda Ranges. One of the camps was close to the foot of the range. Ned obtained sufficient rations to last a month, and started on what was to be his future life.

After about three weeks he was back at the camp, and showed his mates some gold he had struck in one of the gullies. It was only fair colour, nothing coarse, but it proved there was gold in the range and it gave every inducement to prospect other gullies. The find proved the undoing of Ned Irwin. The gold mania got him. He threw up his job and his mates assisted him in getting another supply of rations and he went again into the range which was to be his home for years.

Things were fairly lively around Yuda at this time. A Victorian company was working the Daly, the Stanley, and the Dominic Copper Mines, and they also built the Bolla Bollana Smelting Works, which were in full swing. There were a few men working on the Yuda blocks, so there was no difficulty in getting stores. Ned discovered gold in several gullies and in one of them he obtained some nice, coarse gold. This find finally turned his head and he was never the same man again.

He showed the gold to his mates, making no secret of it. After this he lived in the range, only coming out at times to sell his gold and procure more rations. He was unable to locate the rich gully again and he became obsessed with the idea that it was something wonderful. He would get especially peculiar just at full moon, during the rest of the month he would talk rationally. The copper mines and smelters closed down, and everybody cleared out and Ned was left alone in the ranges.

He was king of the hills. His only company was wild donkeys and wild dogs and there were any number of emus and rock wallabies. He would see no human face except when he went through to Wooltana Station or came out to Umberatana Station for rations. He made a small handcart, which was a work of art. Everything was of wood and it stood on one of the old tracks for years. Then some vandal burnt it. It was worthy of being sent to the Museum.

I did not meet Ned until some years later at the Boolooroo Springs gold rush. This is about 10 miles north of Leigh's Creek. By this time he was getting careless about himself. He did not stay long, but made back to the hills. When he visited Wooltana, clothes were given to him, and perhaps a rug or blankets. At the first camping place on his return he would leave most of these, and just take what he stood up in. He was gradually going down hill and becoming unkept.

He did not turn up at the Mount Ogilvie rush, neither was he at the first rush at Angepena, but it was on this field I met him last. He arrived one afternoon on the field. He was a wreck. His clothes were all patches and he had his usual camp outfit — a five-gallon drum, a bag, an old shearing blade, and a couple of meat tins made into billycans. He picked out his camp, which had been a diggers' camp and there was a big heap of ashes left.

This suited Ned. He would make a fire in these ashes and get them warmed through, and this was his bed. He would lie in this with no other covering. The reader can guess what a state the man would be in. There were only eight of us on the field at this time, and we were only living from hand to mouth, but we mustered up some flour, tea and sugar, and tobacco for Ned. A couple of days after an old friend came along who had known Ned in his good days.

He had money and bought Ned a month's supply of rations. This gave him a great time. He did nothing until the supplies were nearly done. Then he came on the workings one day and cruising about he spotted a small heap of wash dirt, which had been left by a digger. Ned asked who it belonged to. He was told he could have it, so he scooped it into his bag, took it over to the water, panned it off — and as his luck was in — came back with a 15-dwt. bit and some rough colours, so he was financial again.

He did very little while eating this out. He had a cruise down to the reefing end, two miles east of the alluvial end. He decided to give that end a trial. I had sunk a shallow well in the bank of the Pinda Creek and found good water. It is now known as the Treasure Well. I had not discovered the treasure at the time I am writing of, but we had worked some smaller reefs I had discovered at the start of the field. None of us had seen Ned for some time.

Then the Nillinghoo rush broke out several of the diggers decided to give it a trial. They started off through the ranges, two of them, with long barrows. These would carry a fair load. They had a rough trip until they got to Erudinna Station, then the going was better. They met Ned at my well, and after a 'pitch' they gave him what little rations they could spare and some tobacco. This was a godsend to Ned.

I was prospecting for reefs. I used to pass my old camp on my way home, but did not see Ned until one afternoon I got back a bit early and on getting near the well I saw the old fellow. I could not make out what he was doing. He did not hear me, so I stopped and watched him. He was sawing away at some twisted coils of his hair with an old shearing blade. They had twisted around so tightly on to his scalp that they were hurting him.

I got close to him before be heard me. He was so intent on getting a bit of ease by getting rid of those twisted locks. He was a spectacle. His clothes consisted of shirt and trousers made up of all sorts of patches. The trousers were a work of art. The only original part was the waist, the rest was composed of all descriptions of patches held together by pieces of string and fine wire he had found around the camps. He had a coating of ashes all over him.

I asked him how he was getting on and he said, 'All right.' He was always cheerful. I asked him about tucker, and he said he had found a nest of young rabbits. These nests used to be made near the surface and were easy to find. He said, 'The wild peaches are getting ripe and I have had a couple of feeds of them.' I gave him a bit of tobacco, and he produced a pipe, one of his own make. He had scraped the clay from between the slates in the creek, and had formed the bowl, and had picked up a stem around some of the old camps.

He was soon blowing a good cloud and enjoying it too. I had been taking stock of him all this time, and I had come to the conclusion that it was time he had a change and be put somewhere where he would be obliged to look after himself a bit better. The range was no place for him now; he had gone too far. I asked if he was getting any gold, and he produced a small bundle of rags. These he unwrapped, and after a time he came to the inner one containing the gold.

It was fine gold got in the creek and worth about 1/6. He said he was coming up next week to get some rations with it, and I advised him to do so. I sent into the police at Beltana, explaining the state Ned was in, and MC Catchlove and a blacky tracker came out. They went down to his camp, but could not find him. They were in uniform, and Ned had spotted them, and he was hidden in one of the drives up the gully.

The constable went back, said he would come out again in plain clothes. This he did. M Allan, the storekeeper, suggested that he should walk down, and induce Ned to come up and get some rations. This was agreed to, and he met Ned about half-way. He was shifting camp again, so they brought his camp kit up to the store, where, a good feed was prepared for Ned, and if ever a man did justice to a meal it was Ned Irwin.

After he had finished, he was given a new pipe and a plug of tobacco, and he was soon enjoying himself with the fragrant weed. The diggers were all sitting around smoking and yarning, Ned joining in. He was in one of his normal moods, and after the good meal he was quite happy. This was soon to be changed. The constable said, 'I am going to arrest you, Irwin. 'What are you going to arrest me for,' asked Ned quite calmly.'I am doing no harm to any one.' 'Look at the state you are in. 'That's no one's business but my own'

'I have a miner's right, and as I don't trouble any of the other diggers, I don't see why you should arrest me.' He had the constable nonplussed for a moment or two. Then he told Ned he would arrest him under the Vagrant Act. He put on the 'bracelets,' and we all shook hands with Ned. He was helped on to the spare horse that was brought for him, and off they went, and this was the last seen of Ned Irwin in the north, where he had been a noted character for many years.

He was given two months in the Greenbush Gaol. The last time I heard of him he had got down to Port Adelaide. I think he must be dead, otherwise he would have been back to his favourite haunts in the ranges. Such was the effect on this man after he had found the first gold— it changed him completely from a sociable clean-living man to what he became. He was well liked by all the station owners and others. They always gave him assistance.

It is marvelous and pathetic to see a human being come down to the state he was in at the finish. There were several other old bushmen who went wrong over the gold in the same ranges. I knew them all, and fine fellows they were until the gold mania got them. Gold is always a fascinating subject and is one of the most interesting metals to prospect for, either alluvial or reefing. This is the whole history of Irwin, the discoverer of the first gold in the ranges.

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Eleven years later this story was published again. This time in the Chronicle of 28 January 1937. This time the heading was "Victim of the Lure of Gold, Search that became an Obsession". There was no acknowledgement that it had been published before, nor was there any reference to Mr Rogers of Leigh’s Creek as the author.

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