A clip of conversation with the postmaster at Woods Point:
Nora: “We just rolled into town here on the recommendation of a friend of ours. And what a lovely place it is! It’s absolutely charming – I love it. What is the population?”
Postmaster: “The population of Woods Point? 37. But if you include the three townships to the north of here, we’re up to 47 now!”
Talk about a well-kept secret.
Kelly’s request for a Christmas present last year was a gold pan. We had been tipped off that there’s gold in some of the local rivers, and after having grown up in the “wild west” of Edmonton Alberta where the river that runs through the city still allegedly has gold in it, Kelly was on-board to see what he can find here in Australia.
Now, gold panning isn’t quite as simple as dipping in at the edge of a creek or river and seeing what you can find. Wait a minute: it kind of is. What matters is the particular selection and section of river you choose to dip into.
And on recommendation by a friend of ours who knows just about every square inch of Victoria like the back of his hand, Woods Point is the place to dip in, if ever there was.
Similar to Lightning Ridge, Woods Point is not a place you can just stumble across. You really have to want to get there. And during the summer tourist season, weekenders do indeed make the journey, camping and four-wheel driving along the Goulburn river and many creeks that flow through the area.
But it is still early spring here and the tourists haven’t come out of hibernation just yet. It was also mid-week and on the heels of a giant dump of precipitation. So after a gorgeous two hour drive through alpine country along the winding dirt road (lined with snow at higher altitudes along the way), we had Woods Point to ourselves. Well, except for the entire population of the Woods Point….all 37 of them.
Rolling into Woods Point is like stepping back in time. The river flowing through is a key feature, with gold mine shafts – old and new – charmingly lining the banks. Because it is spring, everything is lusciously green, and the flowers are coming out in full force.
Many of the buildings that were erected when prospectors started settling down here in the mid-1800’s are still there, proudly maintained as part of heritage walks, museums, or simply as part of the flavour and charm of the town.
Gold panning, like spear fishing is a pretty solitary sport. There is only so long that you can watch somebody swish water and sand around in a bowl before you go crazy.
So while Kelly was gold panning and well before insanity took hold of my fragile little mind, I went for a trek. With all the rain (and snow, depending on the altitude), the mighty river (which last summer, was little more than a trickle) was raging. The amount of water that has fallen from the sky in the last few weeks has been desperately needed but not seen by the area for almost 15 years. All the rivers in the area are swollen and in some cases flooding their banks, as water rushes along in full force. But nobody complains; the drought has been long and hard. Lake Eildon is finally starting to fill up again…but it is still only at 24% of its former full capacity. Boat ramps still hover many metres above the depleted water level, as they have for many years.
So as I was walking I noticed that the four-wheel drive tracks seemed to plunge into the river’s rapids, and emerge on the other side, over and over again. There was no way a vehicle could fjord across the river as it was currently flowing, and I just wasn’t brave enough to pull a circus stunt by crossing the white water on a fallen tree.
Which is too bad; because about four kilometers in I discovered something on the other river bank that wasn’t on any map I found: an old hut! Victoria has heaps of historical bush huts that are in various states of disrepair and rediscovery. Some are right on the roads and trails and are used frequently as refuge and base camp for local campers. Other huts have fallen off the radar and are so well hidden that just getting to them is considered to be a big deal.
Some huts have beds to lay your swags on and fireplaces to keep you warm; others are nothing more than four (if that) dilapidated walls with a sign requesting that people not use the hut for anything other than emergency refuge.
These huts are a fabulous piece of local history that few travelers to the area ever see. Many of them were erected by gold prospectors as early as the 1800’s, while they trekked through this new frontier in search of untold riches. So far I have happened upon (or have been taken to) three huts, and I can’t wait to discover more on future backcountry jaunts.
There is still active mining in Woods Point, so Kelly was not amiss to have a gold pan in the water. In my absence, an elderly man who identified himself as a local prospector ambled up to Kelly while he was panning for gold at the river’s bend.
“River’s flowing a touch too much for you to be panning today, huh?” said the man.
“Yup, but I came all this way, so I figured I may as well give it a shot,” Kelly replied with a smile.
After shooting the breeze about both Canada and Australia’s gold rushes, there was a bond between these two cronies.
“Tell you what,” the local prospector said. “You got the right idea, but you’re not quite in the right place. You need to be about 40 metres downstream, near that gum tree. That’s where all the sediment from the mine rests. And believe you me – there is so much gold coming out of that mine right now, there’s gold here. As soon as the water comes down a bit, that’s where you’ll find me and my pan”.
So although we didn’t strike it rich at Woods Point during our recent visit, Kelly has gold nuggets in his eyes and a solid desire to return with friends, show off this charming town that we feel is our little secret, and maybe even discover a shiny yellow secret of our own.
You never know…