THE HISTORY OF BROKEN DAM HUT
There are certainties and uncertainties in talking about the history of Broken Dam Hut. The most obvious certainty is that it was burnt to the ground in 1998.
Di Thompson and a small group of backpackers had the hut planned as their destination point for the night of 19 November and they arrived to find the hut reduced to charcoal, ashes, twisted corrugated iron and shattered rock. There were indications that the fire had been very recent. There were wheel tracks in the mud on Four Mile Hill Fire Trail and near the remains of the hut were wrapping papers from a takeaway meal. Whether the hut had been burnt purposely, through carelessness, or unknowingly cannot be determined, but there are those who believe it was a case of arson.
The hut was unique in the fact that it was supported on four large bedlogs (tree trunks) that in turn were on top of large rocks so that the whole structure was above ground level.
It's generally believed that the hut had its origin at some other location and that it had been moved to near Broken Dam. If the hut had a previous name such is not known but it took its name from its new location at the Broken Dam; a holding darn near the head of a small creek. The wall of the dam had been breeched at some time. Hence the name Broken Dam Hut.
The darn had been built in association with the South Bloomfield Sluicing, several kilometres to the north. A race, 4km long, following the contour, took water to a rock and earth holding dam above the sluicing area. From there the water could be directed to the gold bearing sands and gravels that were being worked.
There are two theories as to where the hut was first built and how it came to be moved to its site near the Broken Dam. Both are feasible. They are:
- The building had been erected at the Nine Mile Gold Field. Its use stopped, it became abandoned and Torn Yan, a Kiandra bullocky, hitched his team to the hut, still on the bedlogs, and pulled it to its new site. Tom Yan is supposed to have confirmed this version. The removal would have been in the early 1920s.
- The hut was originally built to accommodate workers at a sawmill near Rules Point. Ted Quinn, a Kiandra/Yarrangobilly resident, and a mate, were given the job of dismantling the hut, transporting it to its new site and re-assembling it. It was to serve as accommodation for stockmen working for the snow lease lesees who controlled the nearby country. This version comes from Ted Quinn, and the date was about 1920.
There's another version — that it started as workers' accommodation at a sawmill somewhere, perhaps near Rules Point,was moved to the Nine Mile Diggings, then moved to the Broken Dam.
Here's some extra information that might help anyone interested determine which version is nearer the truth.
I visited the hut at least six times before it was burnt. I was interested in its supposed history and its appearance when I was there so I took a number of photos (slide and print). I have photos of the hut in its setting, taken from several directions, closeups of the protruding bedlogs, the fireplace and chimney (both externally and internally), the wooden sledge that was nearby, the underground storage space, internal pictures of the original shingles under the corrugated iron, the internal walls, and cooking activities.
To me it was obvious that the building that I was in had been built in two stages. The first, and larger, portion was the main room stretching from the fireplace to the back wall, with two windows on the westernmost wall. Several records show its length to have been up to 24 feet (over 7 metres), and its width being more than 10 feet (over 3 metres).
The original wall, on the eastern side, had one window and a doorway. Some time after its erection the building had been enlarged by having half the eastern wall moved out a further 4 feet (over 1 metre). The other half of the wall, where the doorway was was not moved but a skillion roof was put in place above the whole of the eastern face.
That there had been an extension was very obvious when the inside of the building was examined. It was easy to seen where the wall had been removed. Most of the old wall studs had been taken out. I believe only one had been left to support the top wall plate and the roofing structure above it. Sagging of the skillion roof, where it butted against the main roof structure was obvious. The joining of the extension wall to the main wall was not a meticulous job.
The most obvious evidence that there had been an extension was in the flooring. There was an obvious break between the two sections — boards not being level, gaps, differing timbers being used.
Another obvious change in structure could be seen when one looked up; at the roof. The original roofing shingles could still be seen. The corrugated iron had been fixed on top of them. There were no shingles under the extension.
One could speculate that the eastern extension and the initial building, with the shingle roof, were covered with roofing iron at the one time.
That shingles had been used as roofing when the hut was first built does give credence to the belief that the hut came into existence many years ago. It's rare to find shingles in other KNP huts.
At the time of my early visits to Broken Dam Hut I had several conservations with Bob Brown, an elderly Tumut resident. In his early days Bob had been a stockman and at times Broken Dam had been his base. He was working for a western grazier named Waugh who had extensive snow leases. It would have been in the late 1920s. When I asked Bob if he camped in the Broken Dam Hut he said, "No. The men slept in tents. The building was used as a storeroom; stores, tools, horse and sheep gear, things like that. If Mr Waugh or one of the overseers or bosses came up they slept in
the hut. There was a fireplace out in the open and a bit of a rough galley, just some sticks and tree branches. They were a bit below the hut. There could have been a well, too. Just a hole in a wet patch."
I've looked for the things that Bob spoke of and felt I found some trace of them. Gatis Gregors and Klaus Heineke also mention them.
Did the building come from the Nine Mile Diggings? Very doubtful.
The Nine Mile was an alluvial field where the gold was won by panning and sluicing. It's thought of as being the area starting at the head of Nine Mile Creek where it appeared from under the basalt capping covering the crest of the main range and extending down Nine Mile Creek for a couple of kilometres. Several small creeks and gullies also drained into Nine Mile Creek. The field also extended over the watershed and down the start of Scotch (Scott's) Gully. In total it covered about half a square kilometre.
Were substantial huts erected in this area? The answer is, "No." The field started in 1860, soon after the initial find at Kiandra. It boomed but had a very short life. Several written sources reveal that the population of the Nine Mile Diggings climbed to 1400 in March, 1860, but dropped to less than 1000 when winter started and by August was as low as 150.
During this time the miners constructed their dwellings from whatever they could scrounge. One report (Sydney Morning Herald, August, 1860), describes " .. humble cabins of the diggers. Besides being flanked with sods, branches of trees and rubbish of any and all kind, sometimes a blanket served as canvas and a cow hide or sheepskin for a doorway. Then in this humble room four or five reside."Shanties and shops were on a par with the miners' huts. When it appeared that it would become a major field the authorities made plans to erect a lockup and guardhouse but it was seen that these weren't needed so all building stopped.
Businessmen contemplating a township had established hotels, bakeries, butchershops, general stores, etc by the early 1860s but by the mid 1860s they had all been abandoned. The population was down to 40.
Soon the only inhabitants of the Nine Mile Diggings were the occasional good weather fossickers and they were content to occupy the best of what was still standing.
There's no chance that a hut similar to the one that appeared at Broken Dam was ever erected at Nine Mile Diggings and even the most substantial buildings had no chance to withstand the rigours of climate, poor building standards and subsequent neglect.
As the more easily won alluvial gold started to peter out the miners moved further down Scotch Gully to find that the main lead was much deeper, below the basalt cap. There was too much overburden to remove so an adit (horizontal drive) was started with the intention that it would intersect the ancient river bed (main lead). The adit collapsed in 1860 so that scheme was over.
Gatis Gregors Honours Thesis, 1979, "A Survey of the Southern New South Wales Alpine Architecture 1840 — 1910" gives further information about dwellings near the Nine Mile Sluicing.
In the late 1860s John Lette and William Harsburgh occupied weatherboard houses abandoned during the mass exodus of 1861. "Their houses braved a far more hostile micro-climate than that at Kiandra, the Nine Mile was far higher and the area was exposed to the fierce North Westerlies which markedly reduced the 'wet bulb' temperature. This aggravated the problem of condensation, the warping of building members ...." More evidence that a building at the Nine Mile Diggings soon showed its age. The timbers in the standing Broken Dam Hut were still in remarkable condition.
John Lette was involved in the establishment of the 'Empress' mining claim in 1886. Quoting from Gregors Thesis — "A number of new buildings were constructed on the wooded watershed of Scott's Gully. Four huts of rude timber construction, one blacksmith's shop, and a number of calico shanties were erected to accommodate the owners of the claim." Broken Dam Hut was not a 'hut of rude timber'.
In 1915 a new mining company was floated. It's aim was to reopen Lette's operation (called Lette's Old Drive), clean out any collapsed adits and get back into the Main Lead. It was called "The Empress Mine".
George Bell was appointed manager in 1915. George had made his first find on a small creek running into Tumbarumba Creek some years before, had become afflicted with 'gold fever' and was to spend the rest of his life looking for the 'big one'.
I got to know Bertie Bell, John's son, retired miner, jack of all trades, permanent army for 30 years, and had many hours of informative conversations with him. Bert had been born in 1902 and between 1917 and 1921 worked for his father at The Empress Mine.
When George Bell became mine manager he moved into the buildings connected with Lette's Old Drive but they were so old and inadequate he had new buildings erected. These consisted of several small huts for the workers, another hut for himself and sons, a blacksmith's shop and a storeroom. They were erected at the bottom of the Nine Mile Sluicing Hole which by that time had become an excavation into the mountainside getting towards a 800 metres long, up to 150 metres wide and 50 metres deep at its deepest.
The new buildings were placed so they were close to the old collapsed adit and below the holding dam that had been constructed across Scotch Gully. They were close to where the work was being done — cleaning out the adit, timbering it as it advanced, storing any gold bearing alluvial then running it through sluice boxes.
Gregors describes one building. "One of the huts stood near the dam below the open sluicing face. This was a simple one room building set into a steep slope with a verandah perched on four posts. Square in plan and constructed of Mountain Ash slabs and shingles, it remained standing until well into the 1930s outlasting many other buildings."
This building went beyond the 1930s. In 1995, a friend of mine, Cliff McElroy had a special reason to visit the Nine Mile Sluicing area. He was a geologist and had done field work through the region in 1950. At the time he had taken a photo (small, black and white) of a vehicle parked near the hut. The building looked incongruous in the way that it jutted out from the slope, part of it precariously balanced on long poles. The proximity of the vehicle suggested that the hut was still being used; perhaps by someone still doing a wash down Scotch Gully. I judged the building to be no more than 12 feet by 12 feet. I believe this to have been the last building to stand at the Nine Mile Diggings. On our visit in 1995 the building was at ground level, a few sheets of rusted corrugated iron and some almost nonexistent timber framing and flooring.
We found other evidence of the huts on the other side of Scotch Gully, near to where some of the 14 pound rail (14 lbs to the foot) protruded from the ground. This was the point where the trucks carrying sands, gravel, rock, lignite, and hopefully gold came back into daylight. In Bertie Bell's day the working face was 2400 feet into the mountain.
The Empress Mine entrance had become completely obliterated by earthfalls, erosion and forest debris. But several dumps of rock nearby were liberally sprinkled with rusting tins and broken bottles — just throwing distance from the doorway of a former hut.
Further up Scotch Gully and in the sluicing hole itself, I've found remains of stone fireplaces and hearths but they would have been part of huts built and used before 1870.
I can find no evidence that a seven metre, timber framed, weatherboard clad building would still have been standing at or near the Nine Mile Diggings/ Nine Mile Sluicing/Lette's Old Workings/Scotch Gully/Empress Mine in 1920 and that it would have been there for removal; especially one in good condition.
Did Broken Darn Hut give the appearance that it had been pulled there as a single unit? Answer — "No."
The framing timbers were of minimum size, they were widely spaced, there were no strengthening noggings between studs, yet the frame was true, erect, and showed no non alignment. The floor of the main part of the hut was still quite level and the floorboards still butted together. The shingles appeared to be in as good a condition as they had supposedly been in the 1920s.
If the hut had been moved, sitting on three bedlogs, merely held together and help apart by joists bridging the bedlogs, one would think that a journey of several kilometres would have started to pull things apart. Certainly, a direct pull on the three bedlogs would have seen the outside logs pulling towards the central one.
It is possible that broken weatherboards, flooring, and even framing timber could have been replaced some time after the hut's arrival at Broken Dam, or when the verandah extension was added and the galvanised roofing iron put in place.
Torn Yan was certainly a competent bullocky. I've seen the machinery (steam engine, compressor tank, stamper battery) that he took into the Lorna Doone Mine. He had to make his own roadway through steep, heavily timbered and in places very rocky country, and with nothing more than a bridle track as a guide. It was all downhill, and so uninviting that no attempt has been made to bring anything out when the mine closed.
The route between the Nine Mile Diggings and broken Dam would not have been as bad, but still bad enough. Most of it was through dense, mature snowgum forest, huge trees, fallen timber, forest debris. The climb out of Nine Mile Creek/Scotch Gully would have caused some sweat and swearing (human and animal), there were deep water races to bridge and the best of tracks would have been a test for a horse and cart. Tom's bullocks were supposed to have been pulling a heavy load, over seven metres long, over three metres wide and about five metres high. Quite a task!
One account of the removal says that the hut was moved on rollers; that is, logs were placed across the path and the load pulled onto them. As it advanced one roller would appear at the back. It was then pulled to front of the load, the load would advance, another log appear at the back — the procedure kept being repeated.
My feeling is that the condition of the hut when I first saw it contradicts the theory that it was pulled into place, in one piece, by a bullock team.
If the version credited to Tom Yan is true I find it hard to imagine how the hut, on the bedlogs, was lifted onto the rocks that had been put in place. The means available would have been manpower, bullock muscle, poles as levers and hand operated jacks. It couldn't have been lifted and twisted one corner at a time. The end of one bedlog was three feet above ground level. Any such lifting would have caused separation of timber members.
What were the bedlogs? They were tree trunks, the size of telegraph poles. Three of them were at least 24 feet (over 7 metres) long, with a median diameter of one foot (30cm). They were near enough to being perfectly straight.
They certainly weren't Snowgum (E. pauciflora), the dominant tree of the area. A typical Snowgum is twisted, stunted, pruned by wind and snowfall and although some trees might be a metre thick near ground the trunk would be quite small seven metres up. Other high elevation species that might be found at a lower elevation, such as Manna Gum (E. viminalis), Candlebark (E. rubida) and Mountain Gum (E. dalrympleana) do not have a trunk to fit the specifications of the bedlogs under Broken Dam Hut.
The most likely bet for the bedlogs under Broken Darn Hut is that they are Alpine Ash (E. delegatensis). They are often, and incorrectly, called Mountain Ash. Mountain Ash (E. regnans), is a closely related, but quite different species, found in the alpine regions of Victoria.
Alpine Ash are quite selective in respect to the locality where they grow best. They prefer deep soil, plenty of water, and an easterly aspect, but most importantly at an elevation between 900 and 1400 metres. In a thickly forested area they are usually a tall and straight tree, reaching a height of as much as 80 metres.
Both Broken Dam Hut and the Nine Mile Gold Field are at an elevation of 1600 metres with the crest of the main range, between the two places, being slightly higher (1670 metres). One would have to drop down al least 200 metres to find stands of Alpine Ash.
Those involved in the later days of gold mining in the area, late 1800s — early 1900s, knew where Alpine Ash could be obtained; and they did use it.
Bertie Bell, who worked in the Empress Mine from 1917 to 1921 told me that it was necessary to obtain Alpine Ash mine props to support the whole of the adit (horizontal tunnel) when it was being taken towards the main lead under the mountain.
Alpine Ash was straight grained and easily split. Men were employed to cut the mine props which were cut in sets. A 'set' was two legs, a cap that bridged them and lathes to span from one cap to the next.They were being cut near Clear Creek and brought, by horse and dray, to the mine site. Clear Creek, a tributary of the Tumut River, is about 4 km west of the Empress Mine and at an elevation of 1300 to 1400 metre.
I, personally, have passed through a stand of Alpine Ash on my way to the Lorna Doone Mine, also towards the Tumut River and at an elevation of 1400 metres.
Similar Alpine Ash mine props were used in the Elaine Mine, just a mile or so to the north of Broken Darn Hut. Although work at the Elaine Mine stopped in 1936 large stacks of mine props were still there waiting to be used. Bob Hughes, manager of the mine when work stopped, acquired some of the pit props to clad his hut on Four Mile Creek. They can still be seen, but are starting to look as though they were part of a living tree close to 100 years back.
The stacks of mine props at the Elaine Mine were burnt in the 2003 bushfires
A look at the alternate theory — that a building at a sawmill near Rules Point was dismantled by Ted Quinn and a mate, that the materials were taken to near the Broken Dam and the hut rebuilt.
Fred Quinn, Ted's son, is still living in Tumut. He cannot recall his father ever saying anything about moving the hut.
The probability that the hut had been erected at Rules Point, or nearby, is high. It's known that several timber mills operated along the Cumberland Range, near today's Snowy Mountains Highway, between Talbingo and Yarrangobilly. The Dunn family was involved in at least three mills, all being called 'Cumberland Mill'. John Thomas Dunn was the principal.
Clarrie Dunn, a descendant, until recently lived at Talbingo. I knew him well and we spent time together checking the sites of two of the Cumberland Mills.
Clarrie still had the Order Book for the mill that had been situated close to the highway, between the Prosser and Lick Hole Fire Trails. The Order Book detailed all the timber orders that the mill cut between 1909 and 1920. The name and address of the person, or company, that had placed the order, the date, measurements and quantities of timber being cut and the name of the carrier who was to make the delivery are all shown.
Many of the orders were for Rules Point, houses being built on Long Plain or in the region, Yarrangobilly, Yarrangobilly Caves and Kiandra.
Photos of the mill exist and it is possible to find the site (bricks, tins, bottles, crockery and a marker indicating the grave of a Dunn infant — 'Baby Dunn son of John Thomas and Maude, died 1-7-14, one hour old'.
In investigating the site with Clarrie he pointed out one spot, that to those at the mill, was known as Alpine Gully. Alpine Ash trees were the preferred ones for milling and the gully was one place where they were cut.
When the stand of suitable trees was cut out (about 1920) the mill was dismantled and moved south along the highway to be set up again opposite the entry road to Yarrangobilly Caves where it continued to cut Alpine Ash until it closed about ten years later.
A third Cumberland (Dunn's) mill operated, in the bush, about 2 km north of the road to Jounama Homestead (now the Powerline Road.) All the mills were close to Rules Point, supposed source of the mill to be dismantled.
It's possible that the hut that became Broken Dam Hut started its life at one of the three Cumberland Mills; the most likely one being the first one mentioned. That mill closed at about the time the hut was supposed to have been erected at Broken Darn so empty buildings could have been waiting for reuse.
Ted Quinn would have been a nearby resident, ready and willing to do the job. I do find it hard to believe that any hut built at one of the Cumberland Mills would have been placed on bedlogs. Huts there would have been set on wooden stumps.
My conclusion: Tom Yan supplied the Alpine Ash bedlogs. He used his bullock team to drag them from Clear Creek, a known source of Alpine Ash and the closest ones to Broken Dam. He, with man and bullock power, lifted the bedlogs onto the rocks.
Ted Quinn did take apart a timber framed, weatherboard, shingle covered hut near Rules Point, transferred it to Broken Dam and rebuilt the hut — on the bedlogs that Tom Yan had set in place
An even better conclusion: Both Tom Yan and Ted Quinn were involved in a single operation. While Ted was pulling the hut to bits Torn cut some under mill size Alpine Ash in the vicinity and pulled them to the hut that was being pulled down.
The dismantled hut materials were stacked on the tree trunks, which became a slide, Tom hitched his bullocks to the load and away they went. There could have been a couple of loads. When everything had been delivered to the Broken Dam site the rocks were put in place (man and bullock power), the bedlogs lifted onto the rocks (again man and bullock power), Ted and his mate did the rebuilding. Later the extension and reroofing were carried out.
My solution should satisfy both Tom and Ted. Tom used his bullock team to move the hut to Broken Dam. Ted pulled a hut to pieces, then re-erected the hut at Broken Darn.
Perhaps my research and reasoning have been a waste of time, I've just read my record of my conversations with Bertie Bell, the chap who worked at the Empress Mine from 1917 to 1921.
I've quoted Bertie as saying, "You know the Broken Dam Hut. It was one of our huts at the Nine Mile."
Tom Yan was a better bullocky than I thought he was. Or perhaps Ted Quinn was involved in the first move — Rules Point to Nine Mile, about 1915, then Tom Yan's bullocks managed the 1920s move.