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Walhalla's Water Wheels

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From 1841 until almost the end of the nineteenth century, Port Albert, east of Wilson's Promontory, was one of the main points of entry to Gipps Land, as it was originally called. Much of Walhalla's equipment and many of its miners would have made the 160-kilometer trek over the coastal plains and the rugged foothills of the Baw Baws to the new goldfields on Stringer's Creek, but few passages could have been as difficult or as hazardous as this account of how one of Walhalla's waterwheels was brought to town by a bullock team.

Walhalla boasted at least two large waterwheels to the south of the present town. "The Switzerland of Australia" suggests there were "many waterwheels along Stringer's Creek". Raymond Paull's "Old Walhalla" mentions (on p 130) that "a waterwheel of 37 feet diameter, built by Warne and Guilfoyle, supplied power for a battery working the growing accumulation of tailings from the Long Tunnel dumps. Another built by A. Thomson half a mile below Little Joe Creek, with a dam excavated to a depth of thirty feet, was thirty feet in diameter, its eighty buckets being four feet wide. The wheel had a pine belly, sixteen pairs of arms and shrouding of stout red gum."

The following two newspaper articles are unfortunately unattributable, but copies of the originals are on exhibit at the Port Albert Maritime Museum. Equally unfortunately, there is no longer any trace of any of Walhalla's enormous water wheels, although you can buy a copy of the poster below, showing the Warne and Guilfoyle wheel, at the Walhalla Store and Museum.

Warne and Guilfoyle water wheel

WATERWHEEL FOR WALHALLA

Pacing up and down the waterfront at Port Albert, Charlie Wykes, teamster and carrier, was intently watching a vessel that had just cleared the entrance and was nosing her way up the channel. "I wonder", he said to himself, "how big she will be?" It was not the ship to which he was referring, but a "parcel" that he knew would be on board for him.

He knew that it would be a huge "parcel", but he was wondering if the "parcel" would be as big as he imagined. He was also wondering how he was going to handle it with the primitive means that he had at his disposal.

As he stood there, waiting and watching, the teamster was joined by another man. He was small in stature, but as hard as nails.

"Well, she won't be long now, Charlie", said the newcomer. "We'll soon see what she's like."

Shortly afterwards, the ship came to the end of her stormy voyage. She had had a rough passage around the coast, and the captain was not sorry that they were once more in port. As he came ashore he was greeted by a little mob of spectators who had assembled to watch the boat come in.

The captain made straight for the hotel. He had been looking forward for some time to a meal onshore, and a change of beer.

The man who expected the bulky "parcel" walked by his side.

"Have you got a waterwheel on board for me?" he asked, as though it was an everyday piece of cargo.

The captain nodded his head. Then, as if he thought some further explanation was needed, he shifted his wad of tobacco to the other side of his mouth, and elaborated on the nod.

"Yes, I've got a waterwheel there for you alright," he said, "and I'll be mighty glad to see the end of it. It's been nothing but a nuisance since we took it on board. We've had the devil's own job to stop it from rolling all over the place."

"Well, your job's nothing to what mine will be," replied the teamster, "I've got to take it all the way to Walhalla."

"See you after I've had a feed," was the Skipper's only reply. He pushed open the swing doors of the hotel, and disappeared.

Several hours later in the day, the cumbersome waterwheel was brought ashore. A crowd soon collected round the strange piece of cargo. They plied the teamster with questions. "Where is it going?" "What is it for?" "How are you going to get it there?" were some of the queries put to him.

It was the last question to which he did not give a ready answer. "I'll decide about that in the morning," he said.

He was as good as his word. Next day he was hard at work building up the sides of his trolley, and having a spindle made that would go through the centre of the tremendous waterwheel, and act as an axle.

He had thought out his scheme, and was putting it into action. It would take all the bullocks in creation to haul that 20-ton wheel, if loaded onto a wagon. He would make the wheel revolve all the way to Walhalla instead -- bowl along on its axle in the centre of the trolley.

With the benediction of the few individuals ringing in his ears, the teamster started on his long and arduous journey. By his side was the little man who had stood with him the day before watching the ship come in.

It was a great reception that the two men got as ninety days later, the bullocks were finally brought to a standstill alongside Stringer's Creek, and the waterwheel ceased its revolutions.

The creek was to be its new home, in fact its permanent working place.

That was over sixty years ago.

The waterwheel is still there, the curiosity of every tourist to the once-famous but now almost derelict mining town of Walhalla. It has long ceased to turn. But it remains a monument to the man who conceived the idea of how to get it there, over an almost impassable trail.

In the days that are gone, Charlie Wykes, father of Messrs Bill and George Wykes, of Gormandale, and husband of the lady who lives on the little rise overlooking the fertile Gormandale dairy and causeway, was one of the best known identities of Port Albert.

He was there in the days of the blacks. As a youngster they seemed to fascinate him. And the blacks were mighty fond of him also. So much so, that one day when he was a toddler 19 months of age, they stole him while he was playing in his backyard, and carried him off to the bush. It was some time before the father of the lad caught up with the tribe and regained possession of his tiny son. It was this boy who, in later life, became a well-known teamster on the way to Walhalla, to whom was entrusted the task of landing the 20-ton waterwheel on Stringer's Creek.

It was he who also took the first bag of flour up the steep hillside that was later to be known as "The Flour Bag Hill."


The following item is somewhat briefer, and was possibly written in the 1960s.

WATERWHEEL WAS ROLLED TO TOWN

Walhalla's waterwheel, one of the "ghost" town's tourist attractions, was wheeled to its site.

Teamster Charlie Wykes, who at three years old was kidnapped by blacks and rescued by his father, was responsible for the transportation and erection of this historic wheel.

Weighing 20 tons, it was brought to Port Albert by boat and hauled in a very ingenious way over the ranges to Stringer's Creek. Teamster Wykes built up the sides of a trolley, and had an iron spindle made to go through the centre of the waterwheel.

This acted as an axle. He thus had five wheels rolling for him all the way to Walhalla -- two on each side of the wagon and the waterwheel revolving in the centre.

Discovery of gold made Walhalla a boom town. Between 1863 and the outbreak of World War 1, more than 72 tons of gold were taken from mines dotted around the town.

When gold petered out, the picturesque little town in the Baw Baw foothills declined.

Today it is Victoria's most celebrated "ghost" town, a town living on its memories of more prosperous days.

Tourists go to Walhalla these days to stroll through the abandoned diggings and hear stories from the old-timers of wild rollicking doings in the gold-mining days.


The following item, which was contributed to the December 1989 Walhalla "Chronicle" by Bill Ashworth, was written by W A Wykes, and fills in some of the blanks from the above story.

THE WATER WHEEL

No-one would take on the job of bringing the water wheel (weighing 18 to 20 tons and 28 feet in diameter) From Port Albert to Walhalla. No roads in those days were wide enough or a team of bullocks strong enough to pull 20 tons. My father decided to take the job of delivering the wheel.

He was Charles George Wykes and he arrived at Port Albert in 1844 from England when only about 12 months old. He died in 1931, aged 88 years.

When he saw the wheel at Port Albert and the size, he built up a trolley he had, and put an axle through the water wheel and as the trolley moved forward, the wheel rolled along with its huge weight on the ground. It was rolled in this way to Walhalla. The journey to Walhalla took nearly 90 days, getting bogged was a common occurrence.

James Bunston helped my father all the way up to Walhalla with the wheel. On the strip of track from Woodside to Rosedale, it took them a week to go one mile, being bogged all the way. The bullock team consisted of 24 bullocks attached to the trolley.
 

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Home The price offered by the Company was firstly one hundred pounds, then advanced to two hundred pounds, but later Charles Wykes (Teamster) offered to deliver the wheel for three hundred pounds ($600), and this offer was accepted. The team of 24 bullocks took a lot of handling for the first few days, as they were not used to a wheel 28 feet high rolling behind them. They used to take fright and tried to bolt, but soon quietened down as time rolled on. The route taken was from Port Albert to Tarraville, then to Woodside, to the back of Willung to Rosedale, then Toongabbie to Happy Go Lucky, then Walhalla. Altogether about one hundred miles.

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