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Kiandra, NSW

Now a ghost town, once a briefly important goldrush town

Today Kiandra is a ghost town. It is nothing more than an old house, the Court House which is now used to store National Parks equipment, some ruins and signage which brings the short-lived township to life. Kiandra rose and fell in less than a year. At its height it attracted over 10,000 men, women and children and saw the construction of banks, hotels and the usual services required by such a large population. In less than a year most of the gold was gone and the population was reduced to less than 300. One hundred and fifty years later it is a ghost town remembered by a few plaques on high mountain plains which are lonely, glaciated and cold.

Location

Kiandra is 1400 metres above sea level, 489 km from Sydney via Canberra and Cooma, 501 km via the Hume Highway and Tumut and 92 km from Tumut via the Snowy Mountains Highway.

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Origin of Name

Kiandra takes its name from a local Ngarigo Aboriginal word - 'giandarra' or 'gorandarra' - meaning 'sharp stone' or 'stone used for making knives'.

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Things to See and Do

Kiandra's Heritage Trail
The most sensible way to explore Kiandra is to follow the Heritage Trail -  a 1 km loop which takes about 30 minutes. It is an easy walk which does not require a brochure because each location has a clear and detailed sign with historic information and usually an historic photograph. Starting at the Court House the trail passes the site of the Church of the Ascension, the Post & Telegraph Office, Matthew's Cottage (which is still standing), the Alpine Hotel, the School of Arts, Yan's Store (now a ruin), the Kiandra Hotel, the Teacher's Residence, the Dance Hall, the School, the Kiandra Pioneer Ski Club and the Wolgal Club.

Kiandra Courthouse
"The first Kiandra Courthouse was built in 1860 as part of the Police Commissioner's Camp. By the 1870s the building was being used as a barn. The second Court House, which was also the local lockup and the police headquarters, was completed in 1890. It was built from local basalt and is a typical country town court house designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnet. Most of the court cases were either about drunkenness or were disputes about gold claims and water rights. The Court House closed in 1937 and within a few years it had become the Kiandra Chalet. The owner encouraged winter visitors by operating a ski rope tow. For many years the Kiandra Pioneer Ski Club held a club license at the chalet. The Chalet enjoyed great popularity during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme but it declined and was closed in 1973. It is now a depot for the Department of Main Roads."

The Post & Telegraph Office
The signage simply says "Keeping in Touch" and there are wonderful photographs of a postman skiing through the snow to deliver the mail and delivering mail on horseback. The text reads: "KIandra had post and telegraph services from 1860. The government expected 40,000 miners to arrive by the spring of 1860 and within a few months had built a Post and Telegraph Office and a line from Gundagai. 'As matters turned out afterwards, a great deal of unnecessary expense was incurred.' (NSW Postmaster General's Report, 1860) The miners never arrived. A rush had started at Lambing Flat (Young) and most of the easily worked alluvial gold at Kiandra had already been won. The post and telegraph services were maintained for the few hundred people who remained after the rush although mail services were often irregular. After the first office fell into disrepair a second office was built on this site in 1900. A number of postmasters and their families lived here, including Bill Paterick who was postmaster from 1942 until the office closed in 1969. In 1958 he bought the building from the government and lived here until about 1971. Sometimes the postmaster acted as Mines Register, Electoral Officer and Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages."

Kiandra Dance Hall
"The Kiandra Dance and Temperance Hall was built in 1900. It had a raised stage and what was considered to be a very good dance floor. Dances were usually held in summer when stockmen, their wives and families, miners, fishermen and tourists visited the area. The Ski Club and Jockey Club balls were annual events until the hall closed in the 1940s. Bob Hughes then used it for his sulky, horses and mining equipment."

The trail is pleasant and easy and the detailed signage provides the visitor with an opportunity to imagine what life was like in Kiandra during those heady days in 1860 when the area seemed to be awash with alluvial gold. The trail stops also passes water races, mullock heaps and other physical remains of the gold rush. There is a simple map of the route - http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/kosciuszko-national-park/kiandra-heritage-track/walking/map.

The History of Skiing at Kiandra
Nothing has been more debated than the role of skiing in the history of Kiandra. At one time there was the outrageous claim that it had been the place where skiing was invented. This was obviously false. It seems that the truth, although this is open to dispute, is that it was the location of the world's first skiing competition and the world's first ski club. Why? Because Europeans and North Americans who used skis didn't see the activity as a sport. Skis were simply for getting from one place to another in the winter months. There is evidence that the miners were using skis as early as the winter of 1861. There is a suggestion that some Norwegian miners had fashioned skis out of fence posts. It was necessity. Otherwise it was difficult to get through the snow although, as the miners quickly discovered, it was also very difficult to search for gold when the ground was covered with snow. By the 1870s, when most of the miners had departed, skiing had turned into a competitive sport and there was a ski club in the town. Whether these competitions and the club were the first in the world is anyone's guess. One thing is certain - Kiandra, being the highest town in Australia until the establishment of Cabramurra, was the first Australian town where skiing was commonplace in wintertime.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Mt Selwyn Snowfields
Located only 7 km from Kiandra, off the road to Cabramurra, are the Mt Selwyn Snowfields. Skiers generally regard Mt Selwyn and "family orientated" which means it is ideal for children and people who enjoy skiing but are of limited ability. Its lowest elevation is 1492 m and its highest 1614 m. The destination offers Alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing (with Australia's only toboggan tow) and snow-tubing are available in winter. Accommodation and ski packages are available. The fields cover 45 ha and there are 10 lifts and one snow tube lift with a capacity of 9,500 people per hour which operate from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. The fields are divided into 40% designated 'easiest,' 48% 'more difficult,' and 12% 'most difficult.' An artificial snowmaking system covers 80% of the terrain. There is day parking, ski and clothing hire, catering, a children's centre, a ski patrol, a retail shop, ticket sales, a public phone, toilets and information. For comprehensive information check out http://www.selwynsnow.com.au/.

New Chum Hill
On the road to Mount Selwyn visitors pass the scars on New Chum Hill which recall the mining activity which led to elaborate sluicing equipment being introduced into the area. A few hundred metres from the Snowy Mountains Highway is a small park. The story recounted on the signage is typical of the luck involved on a gold field. "Early in the gold rush some new chums arrived at the field. Asking other miners about good spots to try their luck they were jokingly directed to a most unlikely location. Their tunnels soon struck rich deposits (so much for expertise on the goldfields) and New Chum Hill became the site of intensive mining. The gold had been deposited in a thick clay matrix by an ancient stream and was best removed by sluicing. To provide water for this operation several groups of miners built a network of races from Three Mile Dam. A strong jet of water was used to undermine the hillside and wash the loose soil and gravel into tail races up to 500 metres long. Stones paving these races trapped the gold bearing sediments. A removable bottom on the race allowed this material to be collected easily and processed. This area of the goldfields kept operating until the 1890s. At one time, during a period of only 12 weeks, they extracted £15 000 worth of gold."

Three Mile Dam
Three Mile Dam, located a few kilometres along the Cabramurra Road and just past the turnoff to Mount Selwyn, was built by Chinese miners in 1882 to provide water for the sluicing operations at New Chum Hill. There is a walk (clearly marked on a map a few hundred metres off the road past the dam) which includes the old water races and shows clearly how the water flowed from the dam to the goldfields.

Yarrangobilly Caves
Located 76 km south of Tumut on the Snowy Mountains Highway, the Yarrangobilly Caves were formed in a belt of limestone 440 million years ago. There are an estimated 60 caves in the area, of which four - South Glory Cave, North Glory Cave, Jersey and Jillabenan -  are open to the public. The great appeal of Yarrangobilly Caves is that this is much more than an cave experience. It is ideal for bushwalking, trout fishing and there is the mesmerising Thermal Pool where the water, even when there is snow on the ground, is 27°C. And, of course, being in the Snowy Mountains the air seems crisper and cleaner and the night skies are ablaze with stars which seem to shine brighter and sharper. Check out http://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/yarrangobilly-caves-nsw for more detailed information.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Kiandra had been occupied by the Ngarigo Aboriginal people with the Yuin from the South Coast and the Wiradjuri from Tumut and the Riverina coming to the area each spring to gorge on the bogong moths. There is evidence they had been in the area for at least 20,000 years.

* By the 1830s stockmen were bringing their cattle to the area during the summer months. The pastures were good and the cattle could roam free.

* Gold was discovered by David and James Pollock in Pollock's Gully in November 1859. Overnight this isolated grazing country was turned into a boom town.

* By March 1860 there were more than 10,000 people - including about 700 Chinese - on the goldfields. Many of them stayed and endured the winter snows because the rewards were extraordinary. The Sydney Morning Herald of 25 February 1860 reported: "One party before dinner got 176 oz (4981 grams) and another got one lump weighing 19 lb (8603 grams)." The gold escort removed 67,687 ozs (19,155 kg) during 1860. During 1860 the town experienced bushrangers; there were race riots involving the Chinese; and there were frequent robberies of miners who had found gold.

* By March 1861 the goldrush was over. The Sydney Morning Herald was reporting "Great exodus from Kiandra ... nearly all gone to Lambing Flat". By the end of 1861 the gold escort had removed 16,567 ozs (4,688 kg) from the goldfield. From 20,000 the town's population dropped to 250.

* By end of the goldrush Kiandra had produced 172,000 ozs (48,676 kg) of gold most of which was either alluvial and large nuggets.

* Mining continued until about 1905 but this was sluicing and dredging with drilling and a stamper battery rather than fossicking.

* Until 1951 Kiandra, which is 1400 metres above sea level, was the highest township in Australia. In that year a camp was established at Cabramurra which at 1465 m assumed the "highest" title .

* In the 1980s, in an act of disgraceful vandalism, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service burnt or bulldozed many of the town's old buildings when they assumed control of the town.

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Visitor Information

The nearest visitor information centre is the Tumut Region Visitor Information Centre, 5 Adelong Road, Tumut, tel: 02 6947 7025.

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Accommodation

There are no eating facilities or accommodation available at Kiandra which is now a ghost town. Nearest accommodation is at Talbingo, Adaminaby and Tumut.

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Useful Websites

There is a very good site which records and explore the history of Kiandra. Check out http://www.kiandrahistory.net/.

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Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • Kiandra Court House is now a small museum displaying gold rush artefacts and mining equipment and cultural (mostly Chinese) artefacts. The museum is open for groups by arrangement (bookings required) and on some weekends. Contact the Tumut Visitor Centre (02-6947 7025) or NSW NPWS (02-6947 7000).

    Monica Yeung
    • I am very sorry but the Kiandra courthouse has never been open to the public at all in the 30 odd years I have been visiting northern Kosiusko National Park. I have been through the building when the front door had been left unlocked. It is in good condition. The old kitchen at the rear has great potential, but nothing has been done,typical of NSW Nat Parks. I visit 1 week in 4. Now they can’t even afford to empty the rubbish bins. They certainly cannot afford to reconstruct the courthouse at Kiandra despite huge revenue from Thredbo etc.

      John Hobbins