Gawler is a tiny rural community, several kilometres inland from Ulverstone, on Tasmania’s north-west coast.
On April 4 1929 a tragic event left residents of Gawler in a state of utter grief. During widespread flooding in northern Tasmania, eight young people drowned when their covered Ford truck plunged from a flood damaged bridge into the Gawler River. They had been on their way to a concert. Six of the victims were from the same local family.
How on earth did relatives, friends, and their small, close knit community cope? Well, of course there was an outpouring of love and support. One example was the Pearn family, who opened their home in Ulverstone’s James Street to receive the bodies. Mr H.C. Pearn was the local coroner. It was his motor truck that carried the coffins to the cemetery.
A committee was formed to raise funds for Mr and Mrs Lynch.
As arrangements were made to bury the victims, one body was still to be found; that of 1l year old Allan Lynch.
The gang worked on untiringly, and in the afternoon left the river and were conveyed by motor lorries to Ulverstone, where they attended the funeral, bearing grim testimony to the tragedy as they marched along wearing the clothes in which they had been making their search of the river.
It was estimated that more than 2,000 people attended the service.
After the funeral these men hurried back to Gawler and continued their task until dark, without success. The search for the missing body will be resumed this morning. (Advocate April 8 1929) It was not recovered until April 16. Allan was laid to rest with his friends and siblings.
One man who did his best to rescue the victims was Constable Albert Henry Jackson. With the help of William, one of the older Lynch brothers he was able to save 14 year old George Lynch, who managed to jump out of the back of the truck. He had been clinging to the branch of a willow tree for over three hours in the freezing, fast flowing river.
William Lynch was awarded a certificate of bravery.
Several days after the tragedy George Lynch described how the evening began;
‘It was about half past seven on Thursday night when we left home,‘ he told a reporter yesterday .’and we set out for Ulverstone in a Studebaker sedan car. On account of the heavy rain Mr Wells had thrown a bag over the engine, and had forgotten to remove it before we left. Not far from home the bag caught fire and we stopped to remove it. The engine would not start again.’ The lad, who is now quite well again, and is apparently suffering no ill-effects from his recent terrifying ordeal, said that when they were unable to continue the journey in the Studebaker they decided to go on in a covered Ford truck. (Advocate, Apr. 8 1929).
It’s doubtful whether the outcome would have been any better if they had been in the car, in fact George may have perished with the others.
Tough times continued in Gawler as the Great Depression deepened. However, just before Christmas 1933 came news worthy of celebration. Gold had been discovered by the river. The Advocate newspaper reported on the raising of capital and the exciting early finds;
GAWLER GOLD STRIKE!
December 23 – GAWLER RIVER MINES Increased Capital. At an extraordinary meeting of the Gawler River Gold Mining Co., held in Melbourne it was resolved to increase the capital of the company of the company to 100,000 pounds in shares of 1 pound each. The company is operating on an area of 134 acres at Gawler River, about three miles from Ulverstone. Prospecting for reefs has been going on for some time on the Gawler River, particular attention being paid to an outcrop……. the stone assaying from 10 dwt. to 2 oz.of gold to the ton. It was announced at the meeting that mining operations are to be resumed after the holidays.
The target was soon reached;
In early March there was an even more positive update;
GAWLER GOLD MINE Big Developments Reported According to reports, big developments are taking place on the Gawler goldfield, where Gawler River Goldmines is proceeding to prove the lode, where it is being shown that highly payable gold exists. The chairman of directors (Mr. A Mather) stated at Ulverstone yesterday that workmen had cut a splendid quartz reef of seven feet width across to the hanging wall. Dish returns, he said, averaged 3 ounces of coarse gold to the ton.
At the end of April Mr Mather reported what was described as ‘a birthday lode’. ‘The width of the reef was as present showing fully ten feet, and gold was showing freely in the stone…. Commenting upon the discovery he said it was the most important development in all his mining experience.‘ (Advocate, 28 April 1934)
It created such an important sense of hope for the future.
ALL THAT GLISTERS……
But sadly, things were not as the company had represented. The following is from a parliamentary report in The Advocate, September 27 1934;
In the Legislative Council Mr Hubert Nichols made the following statement;
Dealing with the Mining Act, Mr Nichols said that something should be done to put an end to the extravagant claims made by promoters of companies. Recently the Gawler Gold Mining Co. had advertised in Melbourne newspapers that returns of the company which it controlled in the North-West had averaged from 3 to 13 ounces of gold to the ton. As a matter of fact, samples sent to the Mines Department contained not a trace of gold. Those responsible for such lying advertisements should be punished.
Mr Nichols’ electorate of Mersey included Gawler. He went on to say that poor Tasmanian men had been borrowing to invest in what was clearly a fraudulent scheme. The dream of prosperity was shattered almost before it had begun.
As the years went by the story of the Gawler Gold Mining Company faded from memory. The abandoned mine became an exciting place for local kids to explore, no doubt without the knowledge of their parents!
GAWLER WAS NOT THE ONLY SMALL TOWN HEAVILY IMPACTED BY THE 1929 FLOODS. CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY OF DERBY.