Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Visiting Past Connections - a reflection on the influence of the gold rush on our family history

Peter McGregor
Last weekend I was visiting family in Queanbeyan and to follow up on my family tree research on the McGregor and McDonald branches of my family tree I thought it would be a good idea to visit the old gold mining district of Braidwood, Majors Creek and Araluen.  My sister and I decided to take our mother on a Saturday afternoon drive.  Our plan was to see if we could find the gravestone of our great great great grandfather Peter McGregor (1809-1882) who arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1849  and along with his family settled in the Araluen district.  Peter McGregor is the grandfather of the "McGregor Sisters" who feature in my blog "The Other Half of My  Tree: stories of my female ancestors." 

As we drove through the undulating country side, past the rivers that still bear the scars of the bygone mining 
View of the Araluen Valley

days I pondered on the significance of past gold mining days and how it played such a significant part in the development our family history. As with many countries, the discovery of gold and other minerals has played a significant role in our countries.  In fact I would go so far as to say that the discovery of gold was a turning point in our history, and therefore pivotal in our own family stories.

The itinerant life of miners and their families leaves us with a difficult, though interesting story to trace.  Many of the gold miners left on a whim to seek their fortunes in the gold fields, and if at first they were not successful the moved on to new diggings.  Others finding the life too arduous or unprofitable, sought a living in other areas such as farming or providing services to the miners, while others moved on to the cities. One side of my father’s family made their living carting with horse and bullock trains in this district.  Three generations of this family were responsible for moving  mining equipment, timber and supplies from Araluen and other towns in the district, to Braidwood and from Braidwood down the Clyde mountain to the port village of Nelligen. 

our map
As we drove down the steep windy road into the Araluen valley I couldn’t help but think of how difficult this must have been for fully laden buggy on dirt tracks of the mid 1800’s.  The views down into the valley were quite spectacular, and we finally arrived in the sleepy settlement of Araluen with just a few houses scattered amongst the green fields.  It was hard to believe that in the 1860-1870’s this area was a booming settlement with the reputation as being one of the richest goldfields in NSW and Australia.  There were as many as 20 pubs scattered through the mine fields and by the 1870s the settlement could boast some 20 butchers, a number of general stores, bakers, shoemakers, blacksmiths as well as a number of churches to serve the different denominations of the population. 

After dropping into the small pub on the highway to get directions to the two cemeteries (nicely drawn on a
flooded creek
scrap of paper) we headed off to find Peter McGregor’s gravestone.  Luckily we had our little map as the cemeteries were certainly off the beaten track.  As I thought it was more likely that Peter McGegor would have been buried in the Anglican Cemetery we headed there first, turning off on to a dirt track, over a cattle ramp, as far as the small creek which was surrounded by mounds left over from the mining days.  To our dismay, the creek was flooded and we weren’t able to get through to the cemetery.  How disappointing!! 

catholic cemetery - Araluen
Not to be put off, we headed back out to the road and turned on to another dirt track, making our way through numerous puddles and over many bumps, till we came to the small Catholic cemetery, sitting on a hill out in the middle of the valley.  Quite a spectacular resting place with the hazy mountains in the background.

It was time to move on to another small mining town, Majors Creek. This was one of the small gold mining settlements that our forefathers had lived in, and there is still a working gold mine there today.  Here we found the lovely old St Stephens Church which was built in the 1870's. 

After snapping a few photos, we drove out of the town over the old stone bridge which was built by Peter Rusconi, the same master mason who build St Stephens Church.  As we crossed the bridge, we could see along the river evidence of the diggings that were once the gold mines of the 1800's.

main street of Briadwood
War Memorial
Our last stop was the beautiful little historical town of Braidwood . It was time for some refreshment and to take a few pictures of the lovely old historical buildings in the main street as well as visit the Braidwood War Memorial which has our great-grandfather Malcolm Michael Shepherd listed on it.

Unfortunately, we were not successful in finding Peter McGregor's grave. This will have to wait for another day, however, it was wonderful to drive through the area and visit the little settlements that were so important in the lives of our family members past and to reflect on how the discovery of gold in this area has shaped our family history.


  1. A wonderful excursion in the steps of the forefathers, thanks for telling the story Diane.

  2. The picture of the main street of Briadwood reminds me of New Orleans. It must be the balconies and the colors.

  3. Glad you like the pictures. It is a lovely little town, if you check out this blog, you can see the same shops at the in earlier days.

  4. Great post and I enjoyed seeing your photos.

  5. A lovely family history excursion. It's something I like to do when I visit my parents. We've been to Civil War battle sites, cemeteries, libraries and coal mines!


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