Historic gold ghost town known as the Happy Valley.
The primary reason for visiting Araluen is the sheer beauty of the valley. It is a near-perfect example of a valley in the heart of the Great Dividing Range - a road that tumbles down to a winding stream which is edged by rich and fertile pastures in a valley which is distinctive because the early settlers could not resist the temptation to plant deciduous trees. Araluen was once one of the most famous gold towns in New South Wales. Today it is little more than a few buildings, some historic ruins and a beautiful valley famed for its orchards.
Araluen is located 311 km from Sydney via Goulburn and 362 km from Sydney via Batemans Bay and the Princes and Kings Highways.^ TOP
Origin of Name
The popular explanation for the town's name is that 'Araluen', is a corruption of the local Aboriginal word 'Arr-a l-yin' which possibly meant "place of the water lilies".^ TOP
Things to See and Do
Panning for Gold
Beside the Araluen River, on the road to Majors Creek, there is a delightful picnic spot where optimistic panners and fossickers can try their luck and hope for a little gold dust. The problem is that the river was dredged for over 50 years and the chances of finding anything are rather slim. Still there is no harm in trying and the picnic ground is a reminder of how much the valley has changed since it was inhabited by 4,000 miners.
Both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in the valley have fascinating historic cemeteries. The graves are a reminder of the dynamic nature of the valley when the gold was being mined.
The Mullock Heaps
It is strange to come into the valley and to try and imagine it alive with miners. The closest there is to an historic remnant are the grassy mounds which were once the mullock waste heaps left by the dredging of the valley.
Access to Araluen
The easiest access is the 26 km route south from Braidwood which is sealed and uncomplicated. The prettiest, and also most precipitous, is the 14 km dirt track south-east from Majors Creek which drops spectacularly into the valley and offers the most attractive entry through rich orchards. This road passes both the church cemeteries before joining the main road to Braidwood. It is possible to drive from Moruya on a road that is unsealed but which is quite accessible. If you are wanting to get to the coast in a limited time it would be quicker to return to Braidwood and drive to the coast via the Kings Highway to Batemans Bay.
Not surprisingly the discovery of gold at Araluen, and the problem of taking the gold out of the valley either to Braidwood or Majors Creek up winding and narrow roads, led to the proliferation of bushrangers. The most famous in the local area were the Clarke Brothers, Tom and John, who had been born in the district and, during their two year reign of robbery, were frequent visitors to the dance halls in Araluen.
Inititally the Clarke brothers resisted the temptation to rob the coaches leaving Araluen but the arrival of Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert, and the combination of Hall with the Clarkes, led to a number of robberies. On 13 March, 1865, on the steep and narrow road from Araluen to Majors Creek (reputedly the robbery took place about 500 metres from the top of the the mountain) Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert, with the assistance of Tom Clarke, attempted to hold up a gold escort. They shot at one of the guards, Constable Kelly, but they were outflanked by the outriders and were forced to flee from the scene.
A Little About Araluen's Infamous Clarke Gang
When the Clarke brothers – Thomas and John – were being sentenced to death in Sydney in 1867 the judge, Sir Alfred Stephen, listed their record, exclusive of suspected murders, as: “Thomas, nine mail robberies and thirty-six robberies of individuals of all classes in two years; John, twenty-six crimes in one year.” If he had included the murders they were accused of, he would have added at least six people, most of whom were policemen.
The Clarkes were the sons of John Clarke, an Irish shoemaker who had been sentenced to seven years transportation and who arrived in Sydney Town in 1828. He was assigned to work for a pastoralist near Braidwood but, rather than working, he appears to have lived by stealing cattle.
When gold was discovered in the district in 1852 John and his sons, Thomas and John Jr, stole the gold miners' horses and then claimed the rewards. Old John reckoned this trade was worth some £250 a year. John’s three sons and two daughters grew up without schooling or religious instruction "in an isolated community little less than a den of thieves, connected either by marriage or misdeeds". By the mid-1860s the three brothers had established their criminal credentials. In 1863 John was gaoled for a year for horse stealing. In January 1865 James was sentenced to seven years for receiving the proceeds of a mail robbery and Thomas was awaiting trial for assault and robbery when the family managed to arrange his escape.
Between October 1865 and May 1866 Thomas Clarke was credited with three charges of horse-stealing, eight robberies including two mails and post offices, the wounding of John Emmett and the murder of Constable Miles O'Grady at Nerrigundah on 9 April.
In May Thomas Clarke formed a gang with his brother John and "no more remarkable confederacy of robbery, violence and murder has ever been known to exist in any civilized community".
Failure to catch the Clarke gang led to a public outcry. Special police were sent to the Braidwood district in April 1866 but they were unsuccessful and were recalled. In September that year the Colonial Secretary secretly appointed John Carroll, a senior warder at Darlinghurst gaol, and three others to capture the Clarkes.
In January 1867 Carroll and his party were murdered near Jinden station. The crime was credited to the Clarkes and a reward of £5000 was offered for their capture.
In March a force of experienced police were sent to Braidwood. On 27 April a party led by a black-tracker named 'Sir Watkin' found the Clarke brothers near Jinden. A Constable Walsh, Sir Watkin and John Clarke were wounded in the subsequent gunfight but the Clarke brothers were captured.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported: "The two captured bushrangers were on Saturday night (the 27th ultimo) taken to Bollaby ; and thence on to Braidwood on the Monday following. A large concourse of horsemen went to meet them as they came into Braidwood, and by the time that they reached the gaol (about half-past 2. p.m.) there must have been at least 300 persons present. The two robbers seemed to be quite indifferent to the awful position in which they were placed, smiling with real or assumed carelessness as they were taken through the town. John Clarke had one arm in a sling, and his horse was held by a constable on either side of him. The elder Clarke was handcuffed, and his horse was also held by two troopers. A large body of police, well armed, formed the escorting party. The journey was performed without any impediment. A little after the party escorting the Clarkes came in the wounded black tracker, Sir Watkin, escorted by a trooper, who was leading his horse. The poor fellow had his arm in a sling, and seemed to be faint and weak from pain; scarcely able to keep his seat on the saddle."
At Nelligen there is the “Bushranger Tree” where the Clarke brothers were chained while they awaited shipment to Sydney where they were executed on 25 June, 1867. The executions effectively ended organised bushranging in New South Wales. There is a long and detailed history of the gang at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13143870. It is a story from the Sydney Morning Herald dated 4 May, 1867 - six weeks before they were executed.
* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Araluen Valley was occupied by the Walbanga Aboriginal people.
* In 1822 the first Europeans reached the valley.
* By the late 1820s the valley had been accurately mapped.
* In 1835 Henry Clay Burnell purchased 1280 acres in the valley for £265.
* By 1836 Andrew Badgery was grazing cattle in the valley.
* In 1848 a road was cut from the valley to Moruya. Some of the labourers were convicts.
* By 1851 two Moruya men, Alexander Waddell and Harry 'The Blacksmith' Hicken, went prospecting at Ophir and noticed that the terrain was similar to the Araluen Valley where they found gold.
* By 1851 there were 15,000 prospectors in the Araluen Valley. The prospectors sailed to Broulee on the New South Wales South Coast and walked overland to the Araluen goldfields.
* By 1852 an estimated 100,000 ozs (2830 kg) had been successfully mined.
* By 1855 a water race had been built to wash away the overburden and reach the gold.
* A road up the mountain from Araluen to Majors Creek was constructed between 1856-61.
* By 1860 over 4,000 people were living in the valley. The valley at this time had over 26 hotels, 20 butchers shops, churches, general stores, blacksmiths and bakers.
* In 1860, with many of the valleys stripped by overzealous goldminers, the area was hit by a devastating flood. The creek grew to over 1000 metres wide and, as reported in Moruya - The First 150 Years: "The loss of life was heavy. In one case a hotel and all its occupants were swept away, and the bodies of several of those in the building at the time were found afterwards on the beach at Moruya. Much later that year the workings were reopened but they never returned to their former glory or excitement."
* On 13 March, 1865, on the road from Araluen to Majors Creek and no more than 500 metres from the top of the mountain, Ben Hall and Johnny Gilbert and with the assistance of Tom Clarke (one half of the Clarke Brothers), attempted to hold up a gold escort. They shot at a Constable Kelly but they were outflanked and were forced to flee from the scene.
* In 1870 hydraulic sluicing was introduced to extract the gold.
* In 1871 the population of the valley was approximately 3,240. At this time the town stretched for 5 km along the valley.
* Gold continued to be mined until the end of the century but, after the removal of the alluvial gold, dredges moved in and the gold fossicking miners moved out.
* In 1899 the first dredge arrived in the valley and started dredging the river. It was eventually followed by 11 other dredges.
* By the 1920s there was a cheese factory in the valley.
* In the 1930s orchards and market gardens were planted in the valley.
* By 1939 dredging had stopped and the valley was allowed to return slowly to its former beauty.^ TOP
The closest Visitor Information Centre is at Braidwood - the Braidwood Visitor Information Centre, tel: (02) 4842 1144.^ TOP
There is no specific site for Araluen but the Braidwood site - http://www.visitbraidwood.com.au/araluen - has useful information about the valley.^ TOP