"At the height of the gold rush, there were 8000 people in Hill End. Now, there are only 125 within a 15-kilometre radius" ... co-author of Golden Journeys, Lorraine Purcell, with a photograph of her great great grandfather, John Gaynon. Photo: Marco Del Grande
IT WAS in late May 1851 that the explorer and pastoralist Gideon S. Lang was sent by the Herald to investigate alarming claims that gold had been discovered at several sites across NSW.
Within days, he was filing reports confirming the Herald's worst fears: that ''the colony is to be cursed with a gold-digging mania'', which would prompt shepherds to desert their flocks and join the rush.
''I reached Bathurst on Saturday, and found the gold mania still more violent than in Sydney,'' Lang reported. ''About 1200 people are now daily proceeding to the diggings, but every day the numbers are augmenting.''
Prospects change ... Hill End resident Ted Abbott pans for gold in Tambaroora Creek in the region where more than 8000 flocked seeking their fortune in the 1850s. Photo: Peter Rae
Most were hopelessly ill-prepared. ''Numbers I passed on the road lacked provision of any kind, either food or bedding; one, an Irishman evidently, had nothing whatever but a pick without a handle.''
Lang, who became a mine manager, was among the first of a series of special goldfield newspaper correspondents whose work is reproduced and reviewed in a new book, timed neatly to coincide with the second rush.
Golden Journeys: Visits to the Western Goldfields of NSW 1852-1859 was compiled by members of the Hill End and Tambaroora Gathering Group, descended from families in the small central-western townships.
''At the height of the gold rush, there were 8000 people in Hill End,'' said Lorraine Purcell, a retired librarian, of Carlton, NSW, who edited the book with Beatrice Brooks. ''Now, there are only 125 within a 15-kilometre radius.''
The group was formed in the 1930s to provide support for Hill End ''exiles'' who missed the ''closeness and companionship of village life''. Long-standing members include nonagenarians Bill and Betty Maris.
Apart from providing a meeting place for exiles, the 700-strong gathering collects ''Hill End-iana'', helps families search for descendants and supports the community left in the two villages.
Like many members, Purcell only discovered she had a Hill End ancestor - great, great grandfather John Gaynon - by accident, after visiting the area on walking and fossicking trips.
The Hill End Gold company has been active in the area recently. But Golden Journeys contains maps displaying locations and leases, properties and settlers' names, she says.
''There's no reason why, armed with this information, a pair of stout boots and a good metal detector, the modern fossicker may not stand a good chance of finding something first visitors to the area overlooked.''
Reporters such as Charles de Boos of the Herald and Angus Mackay of The Empire are clearly identified, but some remain unknown. Purcell wonders whether they included a member of the founding Fairfax family.
In any event, the Herald's misgivings about the ''mania'' soon vanished as its pages started filling with advertisements for goldfield supplies.
Golden Journeys, $49.95, is available from the group, on 9587 0352 or, soon, via www.heatgg.org.au