Araluen, 1901 – A Town in Transition

What do you think of the tranquil Araluen Valley in 2013?

When you drive down the sleepy Araluen valley these days it’s almost impossible to believe there was once a five kilometre stretch of businesses along the valley floor. But thanks to the gold-rush, Araluen in 1870 was a thriving town.

In this post I have provided two snapshots of Araluen. The first is a series of facts from the 1860-1870s period when Araluen was at the height of its alluvial gold rush. The second is a report in the Moruya Exminer of November, 1901. The alluvial gold had long gone but dredging had begun, reviving hopes for a strong economic future.
The Gold Rush – Araluen in the 1860’s and 1870s

photo 5

Araluen Valley now - looking down into the valley from Clarke's Lookout
Araluen Valley now – looking down into the valley from Clarke’s Lookout

In the 1860s and 70s Araluen was booming with over 4000 people in the valley, and a reputation of being one of the richest goldfields in Australia. Gold worth almost $1 million per month in today’s values was being taken from the mines.

An 'Araluen Bal
An ‘Araluen Ball’ – 1867

In the 1860s there were as many as 20 pubs on the fields, which contributed to the disordliness of those wild and reckless days. By the 70s some 20 butcher shops, plus general stores, bakers, shoemakers, blacksmiths, other merchants and a small number of churches served the needs of the population.

The town was so big there were six districts or mini-suburbs:

  • Upper Araluen
  • Bourketown
  • Newton
  • Crown Flats
  • Redbank
  • Medmelong

Each suburb had at least one general store, baker, shoemaker, blacksmith and bank. There were around 20 butchers and 26 hotels.

The 1871 Census shows the population for Araluen was much larger than that of braidwood or Majors creekand surrounding areas as following:

Braidwood               Approx. 1200
Jembaicumbene      Approx. 840
Majors Creek          Approx. 1100
Araluen                    Approx. 3240
Rest Of County       About 3000

photo 4
Hopeful of renewed prosperity Araluen in 1901

However in the account below, published in the Moruya Examiner of November 1st, 1901, the correspondent writes of a town still busy, although not as frantic as in the gold rush days. It is worth remarking that the correspondent noted  the fact that that there were ‘ two hotels’ – well before noting the number of churches or schools. This is nowhere near the ’20 pubs on the fields’ back in the busy 1860’s.

Our Araluen Correspondent writes

No doubt some of our townspeople would like to know how we are getting on down here, as I am sure that in the prosperous early days of the valley, many of them were here to seek their fortunes. Well, the valley is the self same place as of old but things seem to be a little more prosperous since we got the dredgers located in our midst which have knocked the old fossicking days on the head.

Now I will give you a short sketch of Araluen today. To begin with, we have two hotels, one at Redbank and the other at Newtown. There are also four stores at Redbank and one at Newtown. Two at Redbank belong to one person and a Chinese Company carries on business in the third. At Newtown the business is carried on by the owner of the two stores at Redbank.

The Araluen Post Office
The Araluen Post Office
James Curran c
James Curren

There is one blacksmith’s shop, conducted by the old warrior Mr J. Curren and Son. Two bootmakers attend to our uppers and souls (sic), leather I mean. We have a neat Post Office and a Police Station with two constables in charge. Mr Carlyle keeps the Chemistry. Dr Quinn is the medical practitioner here. Mr Edward Smith carries on the butchery in his usual style.

Curran's blacksmith at Araluen
Curran’s blacksmith at Araluen
The historic Old Courthouse of Araluen was built in 1886
The historic Old Courthouse of Araluen was built in 1886

We have three churches but only one resident clergyman, the Reverend Father Baugh. We have a convent school conducted by the St. Joseph Sisters and two public schools, one at Redbank and the other at Burketown. We have two public halls, one, the “Federal”, at Redbank, the other, “Perseverance Hall”, at Newtown.

One of those churches today
One of those churches today

We have seven dredges in a radius of ten miles of the town and I hear it is contemplated to erect three more in the near future.

Now you have a small sketch of what we possess. Later, I will give you an account of our wants.

Moruya Examiner
1 November, 1901

5 responses to “Araluen, 1901 – A Town in Transition”

  1. morningstoryanddilbert Avatar

    Great Post!!! Loved the Before and After!!!

    Take Care and God Bless 🙂 Kenny T

  2. Garry Richard Bruce Avatar
    Garry Richard Bruce

    I am reading this in May 2021 so not sure if the site is still active.
    My great grandfather was William Blackwood Bruce (Born St Lawrence County, New York in 1826-27). In the 1850’s he moved from the California gold rush to Araluen to prospect for gold.
    He and his partner, Eliza, had nine children in Araluen over 20 years. The family owned a property in Back Creek, Araluen in the name of one of the eldest daughter, Annie (1860).
    Amongst the children, my grandfather, Alan James Robert Bruce was born in 1874. He went to school in Araluen and in 1899 became the police constable in Araluen.
    If anyone can furnish our family with any further history of “the Bruces” in Araluen we would be most appreciative. Similarly, we would be happy to assist any of the siblings with information we have gleaned.
    Thank you, Garry Bruce (1942 – Sydney)

    1. mdhsociety Avatar

      Many thanks for the information about your family. I will pass it on to the genealogy/family history section of the society.

  3. Sir James McCann Avatar
    Sir James McCann

    After information regarding where was Red Bank Araluen in NSW and any knowledge of the McCann Family of Patrick McCann and Rose Madigan !

    1. Pat Avatar
      Pat ….i have some info so send me an email

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