Mount Drysdale Complex (Under Consideration) | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Mount Drysdale Complex (Under Consideration)

Item details

Name of item: Mount Drysdale Complex (Under Consideration)
Other name/s: Mt Drysdale Aboriginal Place, Mount Drysdale Station, Mount Drysdale Village, Mount Drysdale Mine, El Dorado Mine, Billagoe Mine, Billagoe Mountain
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Farming and Grazing
Category: Stock Well/Tank
Primary address: Cobar- Bourke Road, Cobar, NSW 2835
Parish: Moquilamba
County: Robinson
Local govt. area: Cobar
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Cobar
Hectares (approx): 1863
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT8 DP1135578
LOT7300 DP1170982
LOT7315 DP1175985
LOT7316 DP1175985
Lots1-20 DP3117
LOT1-15 DP758716
LOT3811 DP766254
LOT3 DP919337


Lot 3811 boundary, delineated by a solid boundary fence
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Cobar- Bourke RoadCobarCobarMoquilambaRobinsonPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated

Statement of significance:

Mount Drysdale Complex is a cultural landscape with multiple layers of which may be of state historical, technological, social and research significance encompassing Aboriginal, European and Chinese values.

Mount Drysdale Complex may be of state significance for its association with Baiame, the ancestral creator of the Ngemba-Wangaaypuwan people, who left signs of his journey and resting place in the mountain shape and rock features. Baiame is understood by Aboriginal people across NSW to be the creator, the ‘Father of All’, the most important ancestor and the law-maker.

Mount Drysdale Complex may be of state significance for the cultural value and research potential of Aboriginal occupation, ceremonial and axe manufacturing sites that display complex and unusual patterns with rare artefact types and manufacturing processes. The Aboriginal history of Mount Drysdale includes significant oral and archival documentation of early contact history and later shared history relating to the late 19th Century village and Government Tank.

Mount Drysdale Complex may be of state significance as a representative of late 19th–early 20th century gold mining infrastructure with associated villages, tanks, roads and telegraph line. Remoteness and abandonment has resulted in the preservation of mining infrastructure, footings and chimneys of village buildings, and a range of historic artefacts. Mount Drysdale provides physical evidence of mining and social life from the "rush" in 1892 to the end of large scale mining in 1912 recorded in detail in the Cobar and Bourke newspapers.

Mount Drysdale Complex is potentially state significant for its ability to demonstrate illustrates the necessity of water storage in an arid landscape, a theme that links the Aboriginal, pastoral, mining and Chinese history. The story of water is told by features of the complex, including rock wells created by Baiame with his spear, early pastoral tanks, mines tanks (the largest built by indentured Chinese who then used the seepage to create a market garden), use of aquifer water for the mine’s steam engines, the government tank with its caretaker's cottage, and the remarkable innovation of the Bennett family who excavated in their mine shaft a large water cistern similar to Baiame's rock wells.

The intact cypress pine Government Tank caretaker's cottage is a very rare surviving example of an1895 government funded caretaker's cottage, with associated infrastructure.
Date significance updated: 23 Sep 16
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.


Construction years: 0-1950
Physical description: 1. Mt DRYSDALE ABORIGINAL PLACE (2001).

Mount Drysdale is a rocky ridge about three kilometres long that stands out from a sandy and stony plain to a height of over 100 metres, and there is a second smaller hill to the north-west named Billygoe Hill or Billagoe West. The Aboriginal Place covers both Mount Drysdale and Billygoe Hill/Billagoe West, and the ground between, down to the 220 metres contour. The present landscape and vegetation is has been affected to some extent by mining and pastoralism. There has been substantial stripping of top soil from upper slopes and deposition on lower slopes due to overgrazing by sheep, cattle and goats, and cutting of timber for mine stopes, fuel for steam engines, and for domestic building and firewood. Originally the rocky hills and slopes were covered with more mulga, yarran, ironwood and cypress pine, with stands of bimble box and wilga on the foot slopes and creeks. Vegetation is recovering well under current management.

Both Mt Drysdale and Billygoe Hill /Billagoe West are significant places in the major journey of the creator ancestor Baiame. The hills are linked to other major places in his journey such as Cobar, Mt Grenfell, Wutagoona, Mt Gunderbooka, Byrock and the Brewarrina Fish Traps (Mathews 1907 and Beckett et al. 2003). Mount Drysdale has very significant features associated with this journey, such as a footprint of Baiame impressed into the rocks, an area where he pushed his spear into the rock, rock wells, and both men's and women's ceremonial sites (Erskine et al. 1997). There is a second footprint in the rocks on Billygoe Hill, and the outline of this hill represents Baiame lying down under his possum skin rug, the highest point being his shoulder and the second highest point his hip ( and Erskine et al. 1997).

An archaeological study of the area was undertaken by archaeologist Dan Witter and Aboriginal community participants in 2000. The study located two large campsites either side of the part of Mt Drysdale with the significant Baiame features, both campsites have a complex pattern of artefacts (including some unusual tool types) and hundreds of fire hearths and ovens. Of special significance is the high number of ochre grinding stones (paint palettes) indicating an extraordinary amount of ochre grinding, which is consistent with the area being a place of ceremonies. An axe quarry was also recorded on the north-eastern slope of Mt Drysdale, and a large number of whetstones used for sharpening axes were found nearby. The axe quarry consists of the rock outcrop, and an area covered in large metasandstone flakes including axe blanks and flaking debris. Shaping of the axe blanks started by flaking, followed by hammer-dressing, and finally grinding the sharp edge using a portable whetstone. Witter also recorded a number of scarred trees along Yanda Creek (outside the Aboriginal Place but within the proposed SHR listing) which may indicate where people were camping in the historic period (Witter 2000).


The current Mount Drysdale Homestead is immediately adjacent to the former government water tank built in 1895 as a more permanent source of water for the Village of Mount Drysdale. There are two ground tanks, a smaller catchment and silt trap tank on the west, and a larger holding tank on the east which has a windmill pump to fill cgi and plastic water tanks now on the top of the bank. The ground tanks have earth banks and are square in plan, a form consistent with construction by horse or bullock drawn scoop. They collect rainwater runoff from the slopes of Mount Drysdale.

The building now known as Mount Drysdale Homestead was originally the caretaker's hut at the government tank. The original portion of the hut is the front two rooms and the front veranda. It possibly had a rear veranda, later enclosed, but this is not clear. Two rooms, a kitchen and bedroom, have been added at the rear of the original hut (or part of the original verandah). The west most part of the building is a further rear addition comprising a central gauzed area, a bedroom at the southmost end and a bathroom at the north that extends past the north wall of the hut. The main part of the house has a hipped cgi clad roof and the rear addition and verandahs have skillion roofs. Attached but separate tin chimneys are on the north side of the building. Domestic rainwater tanks are north of the house.

The building is timber framed and the original part is clad in overlapping sawn boards. The timber is believed to be cypress pine. The front verandah is enclosed between the original posts. Some rooms have original cypress pine timber lining boards. There is a timber dado and the central wall in the original section is made from drop boards (with a beaded edge) between posts. The interior has some pressed metal lining that the owner indicates was bought here from elsewhere. The pressed metal is over timber and tar paper lining. The doors are timber boards (V jointed T & G) over a ledged and braced frame. The front windows, now opening onto the enclosed verandah are timber framed and double hung, each sash with six panes. Other windows vary but all are multi-paned and timber framed.

The kitchen and bedroom addition to rear is clad in rusticated weatherboards and lined internally with timber. The western-most rear addition is clad in ripple iron apart from the central gauzed area. To the southwest is the original separate kitchen hut later used as a laundry. It is a rough cgi and flat iron clad structure with skillion roof and tin chimney. This kitchen was still used by owner Shirley Mitchell's grandmother up until the late 1960's for cooking, especially for Christmas time family gatherings. A drop "slab" (most of the slabs are boards) meat house, later used as a school room, is east of the house. Further northeast is an elevated, two room timber house moved here from elsewhere in recent years.

These buildings are set amongst citrus and white cedar trees, and century old olive trees planted for shade and to mark the location of the tank in the landscape. There are a number of other cgi outbuildings including a partly open shed with toilet and large outdoor fire pit, used for educational tours.

The areas surrounding the house have displays of domestic, farming and mining implements and items relating to the last 130 years history of Mount Drysdale.


North of the homestead and tank on the eastern side of Mount Drysdale are the remains of the former Village of Mount Drysdale, surveyed and proclaimed in 1893 (map attached). The town was established after the discovery of the outcropping gold-bearing lode in the saddle of the ridge to the north-west. The village buildings are indicated by piles of stones, partially intact stone or brick chimneys, stone footings or piers / posts, and historic artefacts. Along the town main road (still used as a track) building remains include: the bakery baker's oven still partially intact, and remains of the Post Office house including the stove, general store, hotel with cellar, brickwork and other partial stone and/or brick chimneys, levelled areas and foundations. The former Police Station stables, house and lock-up is evident and the current owner Shirley Mitchell used to live in this building as a child. The school site is between the police station and the main part of town. There is evidence of a town well, and levelled tennis court with tin edging. Along the road, the original main road to Cobar, is the former telegraph line, later telephone line. The telegraph line is indicated by a row of galvanised Oppenheimer poles, now rare. Some poles are standing in place and some insulators and wire are still attached.


The official Mount Drysdale cemetery is a separate allotment on the northern boundary of the pastoral block. The original fence is still visible on the ground, and consists of wire netting and wire, the wooden posts were burnt in a bushfire in 1984. The cemetery is largely overgrown with regrowth trees and shrubs, but the area with headstones and visible graves is clear of shrubs and trees.

One remaining marble headstone marks the grave of Mary Shennan who died in 1895. A large number of rusted iron nails surrounding the grave suggest this was surrounded by a picket fence or similar. Another adjacent grave has a tin grave marker and is the grave of Charles Mark Smith born 1894 and drowned in the Mount Drysdale tank in 1900 (Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal, 24/3/ 1900: 2). Adjacent to this again is a grave outlined with stones with an iron cross at the head. To the east of these is a hollow area outlined with stones, and to the west at least two hollows, also probably graves.

Michael Mitchell indicated that over 30 people were buried in the cemetery, in addition to this there are five graves at Billagoe, another grave marked with cut off tree trunks, a shearer buried on Yanda Creek, as well as four people buried in the Government Tank paddock.


North-north-west of the main Mt Drysdale and El Dorado mines is a large Mine Tank built by Chinese indentured labourers (Michael Mitchell pers.comm) in 1895 ( ref). The now partly silted up tank has an unusual construction, with an excavated centre and surrounding high wall constructed from large boulders, some of which have drill holes indicating that they were brought from the mines on the hill behind. This is the largest tank built during the mining phase and was used for the steam boilers that ran the mills, pumps etc.(check).

The area below the Mine Tank wall is the location of the Chinese market garden, which depended on seepage from the Tank. The garden area is surrounded by a mostly fallen but still visible fence made from wooden posts, netting, barbed wire and a top thick wire cable, and a gate opening with large gate posts still upright. The market garden area is clear of trees and shrubs and the cultivated garden beds and surrounding ditches are readily identified. Artefacts including pipes, ships tanks, rakes, forks, hand-made watering cans are present. Domestic ceramic and glass artefacts were noted nearby, possibly marking the former camp related to the market garden. A ruined pig pen with similar fence was also noted nearby. More survey may indicate the camps and joss house said to have been located in the area.


Remains of mining and ore milling and processing are concentrated on the top and sides of the Mt Drysdale ridge between the Mt Drysdale and Mt Drysdale West villages, but also scattered further along the axis of the ridge in a roughly north-east to south-west axis.
The larger Mt Drysdale and El Dorado mines are on the ridgetop and consist of shafts, tunnels, cross-cuts, and open cuts, as well as major infrastructure such as steam engines, loading ramps, massive stone foundations of the mills, roads, a collapsed wooden poppet head, and a stone walled explosives bunker.

On the western side of the hill a later ore processing site consists of an intact mill, steam engine, above ground cgi flotation tanks, assay hut, blacksmiths forge and hut, some partly intact miners' huts, brick chimney and remains of a substantial house, and large areas of white 'slime' waste (tailings dumps) spilling down the hill slope. This relates to a later phase of small scale mining and re-processing of tailings, from the 1920s to the 1940's.


Near the south western end of the range and the western boundary remains of the Village of Billagoe and Billagoe Mines are located. The village was surveyed in 1888 (map attached) in response to the early prospecting, and the ruins of the Italian Hotel stone footings and ground tank were located. The Billagoe Silver Mine complex consists of a number of major shafts, and many smaller shafts and trenches, chimney remains, and a temporary forge made in a ships tank surrounded by steel axe heads with blades removed, draft horse shoes, shear blades etc. The Billagoe Mines were less successful than Mt Drysdale, resulting in a more casual settlement with less substantial archaeological and mining
Date condition updated:13 Sep 16
Modifications and dates: The Government tank is still in use and would have been periodically cleaned of silt. The Government Tank House (Mount Drysdale Homestead) has been added to in the 1930's (check) but the fabric of the original 1895 hut and its detached kitchen and meat house remains relatively unchanged. The mining remains are a snapshot of the later 19th century and early 20th century mining techniques, with some minor later reprocessing in the 1920's-1940's and some mining explorationover the last three decades.
Further information: The homestead has had continuous occupation and while it has been added to there is little change in the fabric of the original cottage. The house needs partial re-stumping however,and some of the floor needs replacing.
Current use: Aboriginal cultural vallues, pastoralism, tourism and education
Former use: country of the Ngemba people, pastoralism, mining


Historical notes: ABORIGINAL HISTORY

Mt Drysdale Aboriginal Place is part of a larger cultural landscape of connected significant places formed by the dreamtime journey of the creator ancestor Baiame. As Baiame travelled he shaped the landscape, created the living creatures and resources and made lore for people to follow. At Mount Drysdale he thrust his spear into the ground which left holes in the rocks and created waterholes. He also left his footprints in the rocks. Billygoe Hill (Billagoe West), also within Mt Drysdale Aboriginal Place, is Baiame's resting place, where he sleeps under a possum skin blanket and is guarded by an eagle that circles overhead. Aboriginal people regard Baiame's resting place as sacred, and out of respect, do not go there (, Erskine et al. 1997)).

Mount Drysdale was an important ceremonial centre that has been documented through oral history (Erskine et al. 1997) and archaeological research (Witter 2000). The archaeology indicates that large numbers of people camped at two areas close to the range, which contain hundreds of large hearths or ground ovens, seed grinding tools, ochre grinding "paint palettes", abraded lumps of ochre, axes, axe blanks, axe sharpening whetstones, and many other types of artefacts. These campsites are located on either side of the significant Baiame features and known ceremonial sites on the ridge. Evidence suggest that large numbers of people came to Mt Drysdale to camp, participate in ceremonies, exchange goods, exchange ideas, songs etc. Like most ceremonial sites it is located near seasonally plentiful food and water supplies. Ochre was quarried and processed for use in body painting related to ceremonial activities.

Oral history accounts describe a massacre of Aboriginal people near the northern end of Mount Drysdale (Erskine et al. 1997), said to have been in the 1880's, but possibly earlier than this.

Although records about Aboriginal people living in and around the Mt Drysdale mining settlements are sparse, there is some scattered documentation. In 1899 two Aboriginal women died in the "Aborigines Camp Mount Drysdale" and were buried in the "Government Tank Paddock". The undertaker was John Cochrane, Police Constable, stationed at Mount Drysdale. Ellen died 4th August at around 80 years of age from senility, and Jenika died at around 40 years of age from paralysis. It was unusual for death certificates to be issued for Aboriginal people in far western NSW before 1901, and Ellen's was sighted by Walterus Brown, Coroner, and Jenika's sighted by John Williams, JP of Mt Drysdale. This indicates that the women were treated with the same respect as other Mount Drysdale residents by the police, coroner and JP, although they were not buried in the designated cemetery. The witnesses to the burials were Alfred Morgan for both, plus Tom Boland for Ellen and John Murray for Jenika. Alfred Morgan also certified Jenika's death certificate and lived at Mount Drysdale. Alfred was the local Police "Tracker" who originated from the Swan Hill area but was married to a local woman called Annie. Thus in 1899 there was a camp of Aboriginal people at Mount Drysdale, two women were buried in the Government Tank paddock, and there was a Police Tracker Alf Morgan and his family based there. A year later Constable Cochrane from Mount Drysdale and his "tracker" (probably still Alf Morgan as Alf was still in the district in 1905) followed a lost man's tracks for 20 miles before finding him nearly dead (Cobar Herald 1/12/1900:5). In 1907 another tracker named Charlie Bates was based at Mount Drysdale with Constable Toohill (Cobar Herald 12/3/1907:2). ). Another reference indicates the well-known and decorated police tracker Frank Williams was brought up in the bush around Gundabooka Station and learnt the art of tracking as a child. He started his police tracking career at Mt Drysdale north of Cobar when he was 19 years old, around 1900 (Dawn July 1954:18 &1956:14). His daughter Gracie Williams had this to say:

Dad was born out out near Gundabooka Mountain where his mother was working. She had three kiddies to this Englishman from Worcestershire, England. We seen that later on Dad's papers from when they got married. They've got his mother down just as Fanny. No other name! The station people gave her that name. She was a full blood, Ngemba tribe. I don't know what her tribal name was. Dad was born about 1880 (Cowlishaw 2006).

Mt Drysdale Station (part of which is in Mount Drysdale Aboriginal Place) became a haven for Aboriginal people in the area. A friendship developed between the Aboriginal community and the Bennett/Harvey family, which continues today. The Mitchell family, who are the owners and descendants of the Bennett/Harvey family, and the traditional owners Ngemba Wangaaypuwan people jointly nominated Mount Drysdale for an Aboriginal Place declaration, and the family conducts cultural tours of Mount Drysdale in collaboration with the Aboriginal community ('


Prior to its mining history, Mount Drysdale was originally part of the large Tindayrey Station. An early pastoral map (attached) shows Tindayrey Station "runs" or blocks which includes Billagoe Run with Billagoe Mountain, the previous name for Mount Drysdale. Yanda Creek on the eastern side of the mountain was a significant water source for the pastoralists, and a route for early travellers and drovers, as it was for Aboriginal people. The same map shows that Yanda Creek was dammed to the north of Billagoe Mountain, and Tindayrey Station also had many large ground tanks, including two catching runoff from Billagoe Mountain.


An 1894 account suggests that the gold at Billagoe Mountain, said to have originally been mapped as Tindayrey Mountain by Crown Lands Commissioner John Grenfell in 1866, was first discovered in 1872 by a prospector named Fladgelly. His sample was analysed at Bourke and found to contain gold but the second sample he got did not contain any gold and he was suspected of fraud. However the manager of Tindayrey station was sure that Fladgelly had found gold on Tindayrey (Billagoe) Mountain, as he was told by the Aboriginal people living on the station that Fladgelly got his second sample from a different place to the first (National Advocate 9/10/1894:2).

In 1880 the Bogan Goldfield was declared over a wide area of the Cobar pediplain including the Cobar and Mount Drysdale areas. Martin Henderson discovered gold in a seam on the south-western end of Billagoe Mountain in around 1874 and began to prospect seriously with others in 1888, finding silver and gold, noting 'the one great drawback is the want of water' (Aust. Town & Country Jnl 7/7/1888). In 1888 a Village of Billagoe was surveyed in response to the mineral prosecting. Although some gold and silver was found at this end of Billagoe Mountain, it was largely a speculative field at this time (DPI 2007). In the 1890's some rich deposits of silver were mined at the Billagoe Mountain mines and processed at the Mt Drysdale mills and elsewhere.


Alluvial gold in payable amounts was discovered on the north-eastern side of Billagoe Mountain by R.M. McPherson in 1892, however other accounts indicate that it was and later that year David Drysdale discovered outcropping gold bearing rock on the mountain at what became the adjacent El Dorado and Drysdale Mines. Sometime after this the mountain name changed from Billagoe to Drysdale, although the newspaper articles continued to refer to the general area as Billagoe for many years.

'The existence of the rich deposits might have still remained unknown but for the discovery of payable alluvial gold to the west of the hills in 1892. There was a rush to the field, and 300oz, worth (Pounds) 2 5s per ounce, were obtained. The nuggets were but little water worn. This induced search for the reef from which, it was presumed, the gold came, and Mr. David Drysdale is said to have been the first to discover gold in the rock.' (Australian Town and Country Journal 22.6. 1895).

The Mt Drysdale gold mine is located in a conglomerate or breccia. Of the two richest shoots at Mt Drysdale, the main shoot, with values up to 30 oz Au/t was 12 metres long, the second shoot, with values to 4 oz Au/t, did not outcrop, being found at the 85 m level (

In 1895 the Mt Drysdale company reported: 'One 5ft. Huntingdon (sic) mill, together with one 40 horse power boiler and 35-horse power engine under engine-house, pump, pipes, and all necessary adjuncts to a complete mining plant, has now been erected on the company's leasehold land, and, although the rainfall has been insufficient to put much water in the company's tank, still there is enough, to have a week's run with the machinery, and it is proposed to start crushing on the 23rd instant, to give the machinery a trial' (Barrier Miner 28/11/1895:2).

Mount Drysdale village was surveyed on the eastern side of the ridge and proclaimed in 1893 (map attached), and Drysdale West village was also surveyed and proclaimed in 1894. In 1893 there were complaints about the lack of water. Initially Mr Ryan, manager of Tindarey Station 'kindly placed one of the station tanks at the disposal of the miners for domestic use and for watering their horses' (Evening News 11/1/1893:5). By 1894 between 1000 and 1200 people were living at Mount Drysdale, with huts constructed of large slabs of box bark and most t rades represented, one hotel completed and a school being erected (Barrier Miner Nov 20 1894:2). By June 1895 the village was substantial and many 'excellent' buildings erected including Dysdale stores, post office, Tattersall's Hotel, Drysdale Hotel and Globe Hotel all 'large and commodious buildings'. A government school with 90 pupils was run y a teacher and assistant, and a telegraph office was nearly ready (Australian Town and Country Journal 22June 1895:31,32)

Tenders were called for a tank in December 1894 and the Government water reservoir was complete in June 1895: 'In September 1893, the new village had been recently surveyed and proclaimed, and dissatisfaction was expressed 'at the uncalled for delay in excavating the tank for domestic purposes, for which purpose Government has voted (Pounds)150, and if the tank is not started at once the field will be badly off for water this summer' (Australian Town and Country Journal 30.9.1893).

'At Mount Drysdale the Government are Inviting tenders for sinking a large tank'(The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate 12.12.1894) and' The Government water reservoir is now completed, and once filled, will be a lasting supply for the people' (Australian Town and Country Journal 22.6.1895).

It is likely that the caretakers house was constructed in 1895 or soon after, as was the practice for most government tanks in western NSW, or possibly in 1897 when it was established a P.W.P. as shown in the attached map annotated 'Mount Drysdale Tank, PWP 283, 'T.S. & C.R. 25197 from lease notified 12th December 1896 Established a P.W.P. 5th February 1897. The 1884 Act to Regulate Public Watering Places states that it was normal to 'place such tanks dams or other works for storing water and any pulbic watering places in charge of caretakers who shall supply water to travelling stock at such rate as shall be from time to time fixed by regulation for that purpose'. Although the primary purpose of the Mount Drysdale Government Tank was to supply the village with water, as well as travelling stock, it also occassionally supplied the mines when they ran out of water (for a rate). The Cobar pediplain is not part of the Great Artesian Basin, so bores were not an option and ground tanks remained the usual kind of water storage in this area. Successful ground tanks rely on the harvesting of rain water and reqires the careful evalution of the rise and fall of the land and experience of how water flows acorss it in many different kinds of rainfall events, and so the best sited tanks will reflect the most carefully gathered knowledge about howwater works in an area ( Goodall 2008). The design and excavating techniques for ground tanks has been traced to India, transmitted by Indian migrants and English engineers who worked in India (Goodall 2008), however it is clear that in Western NSW tank excavators also utilised Aborignal knowledge and frequently excavated their tanks over Aboriginal wells and claypan water storage systems. The Mount Drysdale government tank follows the usual design with the squarish larger tank and smaller silt tank still in the orignal form, and it is a permanent water source (see below).

Additional mining company tanks were excavated in August and Nov-Dec 1895. 'The company has an excavation of 16,000 yards to hold water, which, when full, will enable the company to run two 5-ft Huntingdon (sic) mills' (Barrier Miner 28/11/1895:2).

In 1899 the Mines Tank was empty again, but the Government Tank held 14 foot of water and was described as 'one of the best supplies in the District' (Cobar Herald 17/6/1899:2). During 1901-1902 the mining companies 'were compelled' to purchase water from the Mt Drysdale Government Tank to keep the mine going. They experimented with using water from the lower levels of the mine, but it was not suitable for use in the boilers except in small quantities (Cobar Herald 19/4/1902:6).

In an attempt to drought proof the mining, the size of the Mines Tank was doubled in 1901, and this may be when the outer ring of large boulders and dirt was added, the work being undertaken by a team of 200 Chinese indentured labourers who had been sent to cut wood for the mines, or possibly originally to cut scrub for sheep feed in the 1901 drought (Michael and Shirley Mitchell pers. comm). Water seepage from under the main wall of the tank was utilised for a market garden set up by the Chinese labourers, associated with camp, and a Joss house. The garden was in use as late as about 1946 when vegetables were bought from a Chinese gardener (Michael and Shirley Mitchell pers. comm.). Later teams of Chinese workers based here went out ring-barking trees on surrounding stations, and scrub-cutting or cutting branches off edible trees such as mulga for stock feed, especially during the long drought centred around 1901.

Throughout the 1890sand into the early 1900s the payable lodes of gold and silver varied from 'phenomena'l to 'poor', and lack of water often impeded ore processing. A new rich strike at the Drysdale mine 275 foot level in 1900 renewed interest in the field, but this 'extremely erratic and pockety' ore was soon exhausted leaving relatively low grade ore (Cobar Herald 17 March 1900:1). Cyanide works were set up around 1899-1900 to treat tailings and richer ores were being sent elsewhere for processing to get an better result (The Cobar Herald 31 Mrach 1900:3). By 1902 the main shaft of Mount dysdale Mine was down to 409 feet and being sunk to 450 feet, but the the ore at the lower levels was variable 'yielding extremely high assays and within a few feet becomes very poor. Some assays yielded as high as 1000 ounces of silver, and several hundred ounces of gold to the ton, but the rich quality did not last'.The proved too expensive to treat with Huntingdon Mills, requiring stamper power, or to be smelted' (Cobar Herald 19/4/1902:6). By 1912 the Mount Drysdale Minea nd most of the smaller mines were abandoned, leading to an exodus of people from the field.


During the historically significant shearers strike of 1894 there was a large camp of 'union' shearers at Billagoe, probably taking advantage of the Mt Drysdale facilities such as water, road and telegraph communication, and recently declared common land to camp on providing refuge from the police and station owners. The camp consisted of 200 men, and their union representative was Andrew Stuart Stepney (aka Black Andy), born in Adelaide to a Zulu father and Aboriginal mother (The Worker, 8/9/1894). The same article quotes the manager of Tindayrey Station, Paddy Ryan, as saying if he had his way he would only pay shearers 15s per 100 sheep.


After the major mines ceased operation most of the Mt Drysdale most people moved on, but several families remained to make a living from rural work, small scale mining and re-processing of tailings. Two of the families to stay in the long term were the Bennetts and Harveys, who became related by marriage. Harvey is mentioned as early as 1889 as having 3 shares of the Billagoe Prop.Co. (Evening News 7/3/1889:6).

The Bennett family came from the Victorian goldfields in the 1890's, they 'travelled the dingo-fence, got here and settled' and they married into the Harvey family. The Bennett family initially lived at the foot of Mt Drysdale below visible mine shafts on the slope of the hill, one of which is called Bennett's Drive, which they worked as a family. Bennett's Drive had a special shaft 40 feet deep designed to catch and store water for the family. This unique response to the water shortages felt by the community echoes the Aboriginal rock wells on the mountain. The Bennett family originally lived in a large tent with 25 foot centre pole, and they later built houses (Shirley Mitchell pers. comm.). Their living area is isolated from the village and consists of the remains of the bigger family house, and the houses of the two sons. Two wells are visible, as well as garden borders and flower pots, pathways, collapsed stone chimneys and a wide range of historic artefacts.

Henry Bennett is mentioned with Patrick Bodkin and others, in a dispute over a mining lease at Old Mt Billagoe mines, heard at the Cobar Wardens Court in 1903. Paddy Bodkin was then the manager of the Mt Drysdale Gold Mining Co. mine, and he later married Sarah Anne Bennett. Paddy and Sarah lived on the side of Mt Drysdale now marked by a large stone chimney, house ruins and domestic items (Image 7).

The Bennett and Harvey families continued to be involved in their own mining enterprise for many years after the main mines closed, and in 1924 'Very good progress (in) the erection of the battery (Image XX) at Messrs. Dogger and Harvey's mine at Mount Drysdale, completed placing the engine and boiler in position (Image xx), and the whole of the battery plant, with the exception of the amalgamating tables, is now ready for a trial run. The pump line from the supply tank to the service tank at the battery, including the pump, is also completed' (Western Age, 21/11/1924).

A list of 'principal residents' benefitting from the mail run at Mt Drysdale in 1918 include W.T. Harvey, B. Murray and T. Huskey (Western Age, 3 Sept. 1918, page 3).Details of a cricket match played between the Mt Drysdale team and Cobar team, lists Joe Harvey, his son Jock Harvey, and Jim Bennett as members of the Mt Drysdale team, as well as J. Maher, J. White, J. Pearson, C. Contes, A & C Hubbard, T. Clapperton and S. Standford (some of whom may have come from adjacent stations) (Western Age 24/9/1920:2).

In 1928 Joseph Harvey and Ellen (Nell) Harvey nee Bennett leased 500 acres including township, common, government tank and caretaker's hut. The DP shows that Joseph Harvey was still the lessee in 1952, and in 1959 the area of his lease increased by 1275 acres. The Harvey family earned their living from rural work such as fencing as well as intermittent small scale mining. In 1970 a son William Harvey inherited, and the property passed in 1990 to Shirley Mitchell nee Harvey, the current owner.

The fibro house of Keith Harvey and family was moved to Cobar in the early 1950's and its former location to the north of the government tank house is marked by netting fence, a car charcoal converter, rabbit skin stretchers, gallows hook, cgi, a 1949 beer bottle, cordial and whiskey bottles, and various other domestic items. The house of Jock Harvey and his wife Dot nee Wilkie is still standing on the southern edge of the Mt Drysdale Village, and is a cypress pine weatherboard cottage with front and back verandahs. Jock's family also moved to Cobar in the early 1950's. Jock was a fencer but was also obtaining some gold from Mt Drysdale until the late 1940's., some items noted around the house include a 1928 and a 1942 sixpence, and a mining pick.

Shirley Mitchell nee Harvey and her family have run Mt Drysdale as an educational tourism venue for many years, but are now semi-retired. The family has a continuing strong connection with the whole area, and have worked hard at ensuring that its cultural and natural history is kept for future generations.

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Mount Drysdale Complex may be of state historical significance for its wide-range of mining infrastructure demonstrating gold mining methods of the late 19th to early 20th century along with the associated abandoned gold mining village, cemetery, roads, telegraph line, Chinese market gardens, Government and mining company ground tanks, and a caretaker's hut associated with the Government Tank and Public Watering Point. The history of the discovery of gold, the "rush", and the creation of a village and way of life in Mount Drysdale’s remote arid landscape location is exceptionally well-documented through the Cobar, Bourke and other newspapers and this record complements the authenticity of the Mount Drysdale Complex. Water conservation is a constant theme throughout the history of the place, with Baiame creating rockholes with his spear, a spring used by Aboriginal women for ceremonial purposes, dams built by the first pastoralists, and the various ways the early miners and villagers tried to overcome frequent and life-theatening water shortages. Miners tried to use aquifer water for the boilers, but it was too salty to use unless shandied with tank water. The government tank was the most successful tank built in the area. The caretaker’s hut built to accommodate the caretaker who maintained the tank and took payment for water used. The Bennett family excavated a large water cistern in one of their mine shafts for their own water supply, modelled on an Aboriginal rock well, the water gravity fed to their family houses.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Mt Drysdale Complex may be of state significance for its association with the Ngemba-Wangaaybuwan people and the ancestral creator Baiame, understood by Aboriginal people across NSW to be the creator, the ‘Father of All’, the most important ancestor and the law-maker. It forms part of the Baiame cycle of creation stories and is linked to other significance places such as Mount Gunderbooka NP, Byrock Rockholes AP and Brewarrina Fishtraps (SHR1413). Mount Drysdale is associated with the discoverers of gold, R.M.McPherson and David Drysdale, after whom the range and town are named.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The caretaker's hut demonstrates the construction and design of government tank caretaker's accommodation, once widespread in Western NSW but now rare.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Mount Drysdale is of very high significance to the Ngemba-Wangaaypuwan people, because of its traditional associations with Baiame, the landscape and geological features created by Baiame, its ceremonial uses, and unusual, innovative and evocative archaeological remains. The government tank and caretaker's cottage, mining infrastructure and village is held in high esteem by the owners and others whose forebears lived at Mount Drysdale. The site is valued by the community as evidence of its social and economic history.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The site may be of state significance for its research potential for 19th and early 20th century goldmining technology and methods of mineral extraction in semi-arid regions, and of telegraph technology. There is research potential for studies of traditional Aboriginal occupation, ceremony and technology.
SHR Criteria f)
The complex may be of state significance as a rare example of a late 19th and early 20th Century gold mining area and village where a wide range of components are still present due to its abandonment and remoteness.
The 'homestead' may be of state significance as it is a very rare surviving example of an intact Government Tank caretaker's hut. The surviving row of Oppenheimer telegraph poles is rare. The Baiame landscape and features are relatively rare, and elements of the Aboriginal archaeology are very rare, for example the concentration of paint palettes, portable whetstones and axe manufacturing material.
SHR Criteria g)
The site may be of state significance as a representative example of abandoned mining field and associated village, cemetery, roads and telegraph line, in particular of late 19th early 20th century gold rush sites in remote western NSW. The government tank and associated caretaker’s cottage is representative of a historically significant service provided by government to assist in the "opening up" of the semi-arid and arid western regions. It is also representative of Baiame's creation places.
Integrity/Intactness: The township, mining and other items are ruins or archaeological sites, but with extensive
visible and identifiable fabric. The run of Telegraph poles are in good condition, with some
wire still strung. The caretaker's hut, now homestead, is in good condition. The Aboriginal occupation, ceremonial and manufacturing sites are in good condition.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Mount Drysdale Station is currently managed by the owners who use it for educational tourism purposes and aim to protect the heritage of the area. The owners have a strong relationship with the Ngemba traditional owners and the Cobar Local Aboriginal Land Council and work in co-operation with them on the management of the Aboriginal cultural values.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - Under consideration for SHR/IHO listing  05 Oct 16   
Register of the National EstateMt Drysdale Township and HomesteadID 100977   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Cobar Shire Council Communiy Based Heritage2006 Plim, C.  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenBeckett, J., Donaldson, T., Steadman, B., & Meredith, S.2003Yapapunakirri: Lets Track Back: The Aboriginal World around Mt Grenfell
WrittenErskine, J., Ohlsen, E. & Steadman, B.1997Mt Drysdale. A Report on the Aboriginal Cultural Significance
WrittenG. M. Cunningham1973Aboriginal Waterholes in the Cobar Area
WrittenGoodall, Heather in: Beyond the Black Stump ed. Alan Mayne2008Digging Deeper: Ground Tanks and the Elusive Indian Archipelago.
WrittenHope, J. & Rice, J.2012Mount Drysdale Complex- State Heritage Register Proposal
WrittenHope, J., Rice, J. and Gottschutzke, T.2012Living and Working on the Land. Western Division of NSW 1861-1960. State Heritage Register proposal. Mount Drysdale Complex. Cobar-Bourke Road. Cobar Shire.
WrittenWitter, D.C.2000Mount Drysdale. Aboriginal Place Archaeological Study Draft 2.

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5063133
File number: EF15/11490

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