Megalong Mines

Katoomba Times 1 September 1893

Last Sunday morning the editor of THE TIMES, accompanied by a friend, proceeded to the famous Megalong miners’ camp. It is famous for many things, although not quite such a glaring example in some respects as it has been reported to be. However, more of this anon. It is the journey that troubles us at first, and no doubt it would trouble anyone else who had to tramp it. Bonnie Doon track was the one chosen, on account of the alleged ease and quickness in which it affords the traveller desirous of reaching the valley. It is a fairly good track, although somewhat a roundabout one. At first one is apt to think all he has to do is keep himself balanced and then gracefully throw one foot in front of the other, the while on the downard grade. There was no longing on our part to view the charms nature has bestowed upon the Doon which Mr North has christened Bonnie. But for all this we could not pass unnoticed the picturesqueness of the scenes as they presented themselves, or rather as we forced our presence upon them. On and on we went, and still the bottom appeared no nearer, nor the pathway any shorter. Once past the stage at which all vehicles must stay their progress, shank’s pony only could proceed farther. Now ascending a few feet, now descending, only to take an upward course direction afterwards. Now marching due west, now south. Now dodging around a cliff, now amidst the lovliest of ferneries. Now o’er stepping a creek and so on. Admiring the ruggedness here, contemplating the dangers a few steps further on, not infrequently amazed that anyone even dreamed of opening up such an awe-inspiring spot. But there it is – a fairly good path it is too – with its dips and its rises. Its wooden ladders and its hewn steps. It is a sight unlike any other on the Blue Mountains and although not a lantern lecture or a panorama, it is worthy of inspection, moreespecially because it leads to one of the very best mountain views, i.e. Sellies Glen.

Arriving at the Glen we discovered that the roughest part of our journey was to come. For that place has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and is the victim of a heavy traffic and a negligent Government – a protectionist Government. But strange to say – yet is it strange? – this protectionist Government has money to spend on works elsewhere, while it declines to protect the people of Megalong from the dangers of this pretty yet horrible place; it is a pretty sight, but a dreadful, a merciless, place to ascend or descend and the pity of it is that the pea-stricken Premier and his disciples have not trudged up and down it as often as have the Megalong folk. An ounce of practical experience is worth a tone of theory and perhaps in order to give Sir George the once, it would be as well to invite the hero of the Darling pea to the next pay-day banquet at the camp.

With a sigh of relief we reached the valley after a one and three quarter hour’s journey and pressed onward: not, however, prepared to visit as picturesque a settlement as the uninitiated might be led to expect after inhaling the beauties of Bonnie Doon. We were not disappointed, as we expected to find an ordinary miners’ bush camp. . We found it in a rough and ready style and not one whit superior to camps of the Barrier in ’88. It would be a hard task to find rougher camps than abounded on many parts of the dusty old Barrier Range in those days: and certainly the Megalong camps are no worse. At Megalong the roughness is all the more excusable when it is remembered that the men have on all sides such things as landlords to deal with, and they are not -like Broken Hillites – privileged to take up miners’ rights or business license blocks. Private enterprise got to Megalong before the miners, and took up selections with the result that now said enterprise is rewarded by the rents of the miners’ huts.

Other than collect the rents, private enterprise has done little. It is so little, by the way, that an expert guide is required to find it. Of course, we except the AKO. and M. Company, whose head office is in Sydney, and whose colliery, shale mine, grocery, drapery and produce stores, bakery and butchery etc arc at Megalong. En passant we might say, this advertisement is granted free gratis, for nothing, and we make no charge for inserting it. The benevolent actions of the company entitle them to the publicity we give their business. Besides the mining and storekeeping company’s places at Megalong there are three other small trading places, but since the company has ordained that the miners must not live on Wandby’s selection these places bid fair to soon become vacant.

The company are very deligent ( sic) in taking care of the men and the money they have to spend, and they (the company) deem it better to have the men as tenants all to themselves than to allow Mr Wandby to have a cut in at the golden pie. So the miners had to choose between Wandby and their company. Nothing was to be gained by sticking to the former, so they took to the latter, who so kindly act as their servants’ guardian angels. This AKO and M. Co. – All Knock Out and Make It Company – also is kind enough to save the men the trouble of paying for their provisions, by stopping the amount due out of their payments. Thus very little money is paid over the counter, but in some instances the men draw every fortnight as high amounts as 2s., 6d., 10s., 20s., and 3Os., if not higher. There is nothing to grumble at in this, and well might the men congratulate themselves in having such a kind employer. More especially should these men offer up prayers of thankfulness when they remember that many, many poor souls have to work harder, and longer hours than they, for no wages at all; and, in case it is not generally known where such a place is, we refer our uninformed readers to the Siberia of Russia. There are several other good points of the AKO and M. Coo’s system of doing business, not the least infatuating of which is the manner in which some of the men are discharged. They have too much respect for the tender feelings of the ones to be put off that they would not for all the world pain them by giving the whyfore of their dismissal, and like a clap of thunder their walking ticket ascends upon them; “No more work for you.” “Didn’t I buy enough at the store?” the “sacked one” may ask. “Ask no questions; you’re not wanted any more,” comes the answer, and all that is to be done farther is for the one with the “lag” to pack up his traps and steer for fresh fields. It works like clock-work. The man clears out. The wind passeth over him and he is gone. The plans thereof to know him no more. No demonstration of any kind – no union to harass the company nor agitators to pollute the purity of the action by their vileness. God is good, and the company liveth, and groweth fat like a miller’s bog.

No union, we said, and this reminds us that an attempt was once made to form one of these things there. Needless to say it failed. The leaders of the movement somehow or other suddenly left. Some say they left not of their own accord, but this cannot be true. We can hardly believe that a company so interested in the men’s welfare would discharge them just at the time when they were attempting to establish a union. They would be above such things.

While the world is troubling about unionism and capital, etc., the miners of this valley live without it, and we know of no better example of the advantages of non-unionism than here obtains.

Non-unionism, it flourisheth! Capitalism, it fatteneth, and with a few places like the A.K.O. and M. Company’s Megalong mines, the miners would not bother with the currency question. They would see so little of it that the price of silver and gold would not be worth their consideration.

This is the Megalong that poets write about. This is the place below the Glen, which was named after a fair Nellie. This is the place wherein flesh and blood delve, so that they might exist and it is out of this place that the fat men of the A.K.O. and M. Co. drag their dividends. The mine and the store – which, oh which should be placed first! Anyhow, put the men last: they are only chattles.

Hummer thanks John Low, local history librarian, Blue Mountains City Council for this reference and looks forward to his forthcoming article on the Eureka Youth League in the Blue Mountains.