Gold rush reprise grips Australian tourist town

June 4th, 2008 - 9:46 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, June 4 (DPA) Imagine if Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa suddenly righted itself or celebrated Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli regained his sight. Misfortune, in a sense, is never absolute. Every cloud, they say, has a silver lining. It’s a bit like that with Hill End, a Gold Rush town 275 km west of Sydney, that was once home to 8,000 people and now has fewer than 100.

Its glorious past is its pulling power and 35,000 visitors a year come to marvel at how precipitous its fall. In the 1880s it had a hospital, two newspapers, four churches and 27 pubs. Now, there’s one hotel and one shop that also serves as a cafe and a petrol station.

The threat to Hill End is not that it will shrivel to nothing, some locals have warned, but of a return to the good old days.

A company now listed on the stock exchange is having another go at reefs that at one time were surrendering 700 kg of gold a week. It’s already poured its first gold and has 20 new employees in the town with lots more to come.

The prospect of a second Gold Rush has some locals worried.

“The issue is what sort of development should be allowed in this gorgeous little town,” says Hill End resident Kim Deacon. “This whole mining thing is planning on the run. They have no idea whether it’s going to be boom or bust.”

Deacon, who is leading the campaign against Hill End Gold Ltd, argues that the resumption of mining will scare away the tourists that are now the town’s lifeblood. He reckons they come to see a ghost town, not a community trying to reclaim its former glory.

Deacon and his supporters say gold miners are taking up tourist accommodation.

But most of the locals are glad that Hill End is back in the gold mining business. For the first time in 140 years the town has full employment.

Ian Hodgson, proprietor of the Hill End Holiday Ranch that provides accommodation for visiting school parties, derides opponents of a return to gold mining as “selfish and nasty.”

“They don’t give a shit about the rest of the community,” Hodgson says.

Deacon worries that the workings will swamp a town he says should see its future in tourism and as a retreat for artists.

At the Royal Hotel, across from the only shop, the sight of people in hard hats and fluorescent jackets is a delight. They see in the return of mining a double blessing.

“We are calling it the Second Gold Rush. It’s given the prospect of work to the teenagers in the town and it’s put money through the hotel and the shop,” Hodgson says.

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