Araluen is situated in a picturesque valley some 27km south of Braidwood and 72 km west of Moruya on the South Coast.
Although isolated from the surrounding area by steep mountain passes (the modern road from Braidwood was only sealed in the last decade), in earlier times it was often the meeting place of aboriginal tribes from the coast and inland and where corroborees were staged.
Some 110 members of a clan of the Walbanga tribe were thought to have been residing in the valley in the 1820s. Their numbers declined rapidly after exposure to diseases brought by the first Europeans in the 1830s. However, one Micallem, said to be a chief of the Araluen tribe, was still alive in 1890. Today what is left of their decendents is dispersed in other parts of the state.
The first European settler, Henry Burnell, arrived in 1835 and soon purchased over 1000 acres from the government. On this land he ran sheep and cattle assisted by a grant of assigned convicts, some of whom cut a road over the mountains to Moruya in 1848.
He was followed in 1836 by Andrew Badgery, son of a pioneer landowning family (600 acres) and his brother in law William Roberts in 1837. The ruins of Badgery's Araluen House, a derelict stone hut and the occasional find of hand made bricks are all that attest to the work of the large number of unnamed convicts who toiled for these landowners in the early years.
The tranquility of the valley was soon to be shattered by the arrival of thousands of goldminers following on from the discovery of gold by Alexander Waddell in September 1851.
Settler's hut (c.1890s)
This was the era of 'gold fever' and within months hundreds of miners had descended on the valley and a number of tent cities had sprung up. Descended is an apt word, as the only access to the valley was by way of a track so steep that goods traversed it by being dragged up and down on sleds.
Later a road was cut up to Majors Creek which, because it was the route gold shipments took, soon became infested with bushrangers (the current road to Majors Creek).
Early miners panned for gold in the river and creeks, and when this ran out a water race was built in 1855 by ex-Californian miners to wash away the overburden along the creeks and reach the gold, sometimes to a depth of over 12 metres.
Mining was also introduced, with water pumps brought in by Chinese miners to keep the mine shafts dry.
At one stage there were hundreds of Chinese miners, unlike other goldfields, peacefully camped on a section of the valley. One of these was the famous entrepreneur Quong Tart, who migrated from Canton to Araluen at the age of just nine.
'Adopted' by two local families, Quong Tart underwent schooling, worked in the family store, and eventually acquired mining leases of his own. Naturalised in 1871, he had amassed a small fortune and went on to marry an Australian girl, establish famous tea rooms in Sydney and Melbourne, and engage in importing tea and goods from China, becoming unofficial ambassador for that country in a difficult period of international relations.
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.
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.
Araluen Valley Hotel
This wealth also attracted those parasites of colonial days - the bushrangers. The notorious Ben Hall and his gang unsuccessfully tried to hold up the gold coach at Majors Creek Mountain in 1862. (Most gold was taken out by coach or dray to Braidwood then on to Goulburn, with a police escort to protect the gold which had by this time usually been bought by Government asseyors .)
Braidwood had its own home grown variety - the Clarke brothers Thomas and John. These two illiterate ne'er do wells came from a family of small time criminals: an ex-convict father (died on trial for murder of a black tracker), a brother (gaoled for receiving stolen goods), four lawless uncles (two of whom rode with them), and were accompanied on their exploits by several other local malfeasants.
Thomas (24) broke out of the Braidwood lockup in October 1865 while on remand for robbery under arms. For the next two years with his brother and gang he roamed the countryside for miles around robbing travellers, settlers, store owners, Chinese miners and publicans, murdering a number of troopers and citizens along the way.
Today a lookout on the Majors Creek road is called 'Clarke's Lookout'; here the brothers would lie in wait for the gold shipment to come up out of Araluen. It affords a magnificent view of the valley.
But as you stand here, do not be misguided by the romantic attachment to a bushranger past. These were thugs who preyed on the innocent and defenceless, and fought a misguided vendetta against the troopers and forces of authority, often using the excuse of Irish nationalism. They were sentenced and hanged in Darlinghurst Gaol as common criminals in 1867.
As time went by the gold at Araluen became more difficult to win, as it had no reef mines, but the fields remained productive up to the 1920s.
Hydraulic sluicing was introduced in 1870, and by the early 1900s there were 11 dredges working on the river (the last in 1932). These, of course were finananced by syndicates and companies - the small time fossicker and miner having long since gone, and the fields were largely worked out by 1920.
Since then the miners have left and the valley has reverted to its pastoral origins, increased by the families and descendants of former miners who have taken up smaller farms there.
Dairying was of sufficient importance for there to be a cheese factory in the 1920s, but the future identity of the valley was cast with the planting of orchards and market gardens in the 1930s.
Dairying became unprofitable in the 1950s and today Araluen is renowned for its fruit which is exported to the markets of Sydney, Canberra and overseas, and the orchards make a spectacular display in spring.
One hundred and fifty years ago the poets Charles Harpur and Henry Kendall wrote praises to Araluen as the "Happy Valley" and the "Valley of Peace". Today's travellers may not see much evidence of its gold mining past, but they will find the beautiful and tranquil valley they loved.
Orchards in spring