Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Exploring the North East – Day 5 Stumbling upon the trail of the Tin Dragon

First glimpse of  Derby, pronounced Derby, not Darby
Resisting the urge to travel over yet another unmade road - mileage unknown, to the state’s most northerly point – Cape Portland, I headed south east through two more former mining towns, Gladstone and Pioneer, which have not yet capitalised on their tourist potential. To be fair, Pioneer did have BBQ facilities on top of the hill, and Derby, which I visited next, looked much like this the last time I saw it almost two decades ago. Their importance should not be underestimated either. Not only did such small towns contribute enormously to the wealth of the infant colonies and permit them to forget their convict origins and forge a nation, but they led  the way out of depression and a life of rural servitude, greatly improving the lot of most people’s lives .

Derby, Main Street, looking east
Although known since the Bronze Age and mined in small quantities for rustproofing tools, weapons and kitchen utensils, production of tin really escalated in the late C18th. with the invention and widespread adoption of canning for the preservation food. This was in great demand by the French, Dutch and British navies since it enabled men to remain at sea for much longer periods.  According to Sue Shephard, author of Pickled, Potted and Canned quoted in fascinating account on this topic in in the Seven Years' War in the 1750s, died of malnutrition.”  As Geoghegan writes “Supplied to the Royal Navy in 1813, they (cans) changed warfare and, later, exploration and diets.”

Main Street, Derby looking west

Though I can't find specific proof, I am fairly certain that colonial demand for vast quantities of cheap roofing and fencing material which tin was able to provide, would also have contributed, as would as would the making of machinery and eventually car parts. Since demand was particularly high during wartime, I assume that it was also used in the manufacture of planes and weapons. Tin was also used in the making of plate glass, another burgeoning industry, for bells and musical instruments, and for soldering of plumbing and electrical components.
Although 50% per cent of cans are still made from tin and it is still  a major component in the manufacture of  cars and electronic goods such as ipads and iphones,  several events conspired to render these little villages obsolete.  Where the mines were not completely worked out, competition came in the form of the discovery of large deposits in other countries such as Bolivia and Malaysia and,  (w)ithin half a century of the tin boom of 1870-72, the industry was almost dead in the face of foreign competition.”

Derby's modest architecture is frozen in time
 While some mines enjoyed a brief renaissance after the introduction of advanced machinery and techniques such as open cut mining and the use of explosives, the advent of aluminium cans, recycling, and the use of other materials such as polymers led to lowered demand. (I would venture to suggest that the  widespread adoption of freezing for the storage and transport of food introduced by Clarence Birdseye in the 1920’s, may also have contributed, though a quick web search has failed to confirm this either).
The final blow for many mines came in 1985, when the International Tin Council which guaranteed prices for suppliers, collapsed and returns fell to below the cost of production, resulting in the closure of almost all tin mines in Tasmania, with the exception of Renison Bell on the West Coast.  Today most of the world's tin comes from China or Indonesia, with small amounts still being mined in  Bolivia, Australia and Peru.

Small galleries and coffee shops abound
There, I bet you weren't expecting all that. That's what happens when you start wondering why is this place here? And then what happened? But I digress. Derby  (pronounced DERBY, not Darby as you might expect, though it does have an popular Derby Day, pronounced Darby in October), provides a startling contrast. Its Briseis* Mine was  one of the largest  tin mines in the world from the late C19th  to 1930 and supported around three thousand people.  
*Named after the 1876 Melbourne Cup winner, in case you were wondering. 
Though the population had fallen or grown to 208 in 2011, and the town was almost deserted the last time I came, I now had great difficulty getting a parking spot on the main street which positively bristles with small shops, cafes and of course, one or two large pubs.  Its architecture now attractively restored and painted, remains frozen in time and though it never reached the grand heights of say, the Empire Hotel in Queenstown or the Gaiety Theatre in Zeehan, what it lacks in grandeur it makes up for in charm.

Museum in the old School
There’s a museum in the old schoolhouse and a new one - “The Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre, " set down below the main street, which pays tribute to those who lost their lives in Derby’s great flood and the many Chinese workers who came. It was lovely to see this little town all spruced up and buzzing.
Did I mention that Derby was bicycle friendly? It also has a world class mountain bike circuit
Inside the Derby Tunnel, an engineering feat when it was built in the late 1800's since the workers had to pick and shovel their way through 2000 ft. of granite. I stupidly forgot my cap  lamp and have a lot of pictures like this

Looking out from the tunnel
From there I travelled west through Scottsdale, (population 2461), the largest town in the North East and definitely its service centre – Eureka, I even had a signal on my phone, though I didn’t linger long. Instead, I turned west to Lilydale where there was another waterfall marked on my map.

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