Written by subcommittee member Kathi Miller, Senior Tenement Geologist, Norton Gold Fields.
*With respect to indigenous cultural beliefs for deceased persons, the names of the Aboriginal couple mentioned below are not included.
In 1911, a newly-wed Aboriginal couple found gold in Far North Queensland. The woman became a miner and made history, when she found a new goldfield located near the Batavia River.
Aboriginal people mined the land for ochre and stone long before the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour. As the European gold rushes spread across the country, some Aboriginal people became prospectors too.
In August 1788, the first gold was reportedly found in Australia by convict, James Daley. He’d talked to others about ‘an inexhaustible source of wealth’ he’d found some distance from the colonial settlement of Port Jackson, Sydney.
His claim of finding gold was declared a hoax… but a mystery remains over whether or not he really did find gold, and if he kept the location a secret for himself. James Daley survived another three months of convict life before he faced a grisly death for the other crimes he’d committed.
Throughout the 1800’s, gold would be found in most states of Australia. Then in 1851, sizeable patches of alluvial gold were discovered. Gold rushes would start in New South Wales, continue in Victoria, and move across the length and breadth of the country before ending in the goldfields of Western Australia.
In the early 1900’s, the Batavia River located on the Cape York Peninsular in Far North Queensland was an isolated place, and a natural wilderness. Rainforests bordered the riverbanks. The wetlands were a habitat for cockatoos and native marsupials. The river brimmed with Barramundi and freshwater fish. Its floodplains provided the breeding grounds for a population of saltwater crocodiles.
In 1911, a newly-wed Aboriginal couple were on their honeymoon walkabout when they picked a lump of gold on the banks of the Batavia River. When they showed it to some white people, the news of their discovery brought hundreds of miners to the district. A township sprang up and was named ‘Plutoville’ in honour of the husband.
The couple established their legal rights to one of the richest claims on the field. For nearly two years, the Aboriginal woman was the only woman on the lonely goldfield in the isolated wilderness. A newspaper story from 1953 wrote that she had become something of a local heroine, because of the way she worked on the claim.
“Almost every day, from daylight to dark, she toiled-wielding a pick and shovel underground. Turning the windlass for lifting heavy buckets of ore from the mine and washing dirt,” it reported.
Although the mine produced a considerable amount of gold, unfortunately, for a number of reasons, the couple did not become rich, the wealth went into the pockets of others. In 1915, the claim petered out, and a few months later the husband died with a small amount of money left in his bank account which was controlled by a government department.
The sad Aboriginal woman left the Plutoville goldfield and walked into the bush alone. Two miles further down the Batavia River, she made history when she found more gold, and discovered a new goldfield.
She refused to have anything more to do with gold, which had reportedly already caused her much misery. Some miners became wealthy from the goldfield she’d discovered. The grateful ones provided her with supplies to supplement her bush foods.
For the next seven years, she lived alone in a bark hut built along the river. In her grass carry bag, she kept two lumps of gold-studded quartz. She never revealed the location of the rich quartz reef she’d found, although the prospectors searched in vain to find it.
By 1922 she was an elderly woman and she was moved to a mission station near Cairns. Before she left the area, she gave the lumps of gold-studded quartz to two white miners. They went searching for the source of her gold many miles south and in a different district.
She died penniless, and took her secret to the grave.