BNP 9 December 1998 - CONTENTS

Back in them days

Michael Hester is a man who has had a lifelong
passion for history. He has been active in the National Trust
for most of his 20 years in Tennant Creek
For 13 years he took people bush on his Mulga Track Tours.
Here he recounts the history behind Hatches Creek and
Old Police Station's Waterhole

Hatches Creek first came to notice because way back in 1898, a hundred years ago, Alan Davidson's Central Australian Exploration Company was coming through and they were looking for gold in the Northern Territory. They were passing through Hatches Creek looking for gold but they didn't find any so they moved on. Some years later in 1913 the Director of Mines, T.G Oliver, was in Barrow Creek and he was interested in new mineral discoveries.
They were actually looking for wolfram at this stage, in 1913, because wolfram is used in the manufacture of ammunition and there was a great demand for wolfram in both the First and Second World Wars. Wolfram is an ore and from that they get Tungsten which is a metal used for hardening the tips of drills among other things.
Oliver was in the Barrow Creek pub and he overheard this fellow talking, saying that he knew where there was some wolfram because he'd been in Hatches Creek way back in 1898 and he'd noticed this stuff which Davidson's party weren't interested in because they were looking for gold.
He said, "I know where there's some wolfram", so Oliver arranged to grub stake this fellow; in those days you could get assistance from the government to help you with new mineral discoveries.
He got his supplies together to the value of fifty pounds and pack horsed into Hatches Creek and sure enough it was wolfram that they'd found.
That was in 1913 when the first leases were taken up and it became a pretty important little centre. It wasn't just one mine, it was a whole lot of little mines at Hatches Creek.
It wasn't a big mining company that went in there and started digging, big mining companies didn't exist in those days. Places like Hatches Creek started with just small parties, always more than one though because you could never go mining on your own. You always had to have a mate because you'd be down the shaft and he'd be at the top. You couldn't do it on your own.
It was those sort of small shows like that all through the next few years. It never really grew into a large settlement, there were always a lot of mines but not a great number of miners because some miners would go there, they wouldn't be very successful so they'd move on. The fact that it was very, very remote meant it took days to get there from Alice Springs with a horse and dray. Motor transport was around by then but mostly it was still a job for pack horses and camels.
After World War I, as the demand for wolfram declined, so did Hatches Creek. There was a big surge again before World War II and by that time of course, Tennant Creek had started. When World War II began a lot of the miners in Tennant Creek went away to the War, but some of the ones that didn't went down to Hatches Creek because it was more profitable to mine wolfram than gold at that stage.
During World War II a lot of indentured Chinese labourers were evacuated from Nauru in the Pacific, where the Japanese were threatening to take over, which they did eventually.
These indentured labourers were bought to Australia and it was thought, well they're used to heat and everything and it was cheap labor so they were sent to Hatches Creek and Wauchope to work there mining wolfram. There's quite a lot of evidence left behind particularly in Wauchope of the Chinese workers having been there.
After World War II it got a bit bigger as larger companies started to come in and take over like they did elsewhere. Like they did in Tennant Creek.
There was quite a large mine at Hatches Creek called The Pioneer mine which was worked right up until the 1970s, the headframe is there still. It would be have been as large a mine as some of the medium sized mines here. The workings of The Pioneer would have been similar to what Eldorado was like. Eldorado's Headframe wouldn't have been much bigger than Pioneer's.
It was quite a big show, but once the demand for a mineral goes, so do the mines.
Hatches Creek wasn't a community that stayed on after the mining had finished, it was just a mining settlement and it wasn't one of those mining towns that supported many families either. It was so remote that it attracted more of the wandering sort of prospector, particularly in the early years of settlement. There were a few families in later years, Mrs Marjorie Fulwood who still lives in Tennant Creek, was there in 1935 with her family. Her children actually went to school in Hatches Creek for a while.
A couple of years ago a lady wrote to me from South Australia and said that her husband had been brought up as a child at Hatches Creek. His father, Lou Bailey had run the store there. Her husband had a terminal illness and he wanted to go back to Hatches Creek where he had grown up to re-capture some of his boyhood.
These people came to Tennant Creek and I safaried them out there, because I was operating my Mulga Track tours then. I took them down there in my bus and we stayed a week and he took me all over Hatches Creek and showed me the ruins. There are quite a lot of remains of a brick house on a bit of a hill with the windows still there and the floors and that was where his father and family ran the store.
That was fascinating because I learnt more about Hatches Creek in that week than I did in all the years I'd been going there on my own and from what I'd read. We took lots of photographs and he was very happy and we came back to Tennant Creek and they went home to South Australia. His wife wrote to me a few months later and said that he had lost the battle with his illness but at the end had been so glad he had made the journey back to his childhood.

Old Police Station Waterhole:
It's marked on the maps as Old Police Station Waterhole, but a lot of people just call it Policeman's Waterhole. So if it's got Policeman's Waterhole on the sign then I'll give up about calling it Old Police Station Waterhole, what hope have I got!
Old Police Station Waterhole is beautiful, it's about half way between Hatches Creek and Kunrundi on the Frew River. It's pretty old, it was established in 1920 which was a long time before Tennant Creek was established. It was an Outstation for the Police Station and jail at Heavitree Gap in Alice Springs.
There was only one policeman there and an Aboriginal assistant. But you couldn't imagine a more remote place than Police Station Waterhole in 1920. It wasn't on the route to anywhere, it was established more or less as a stock inspector's Station rather than a Police Station.
The work of the policeman there was to do with stock and attending to complaints about stock being taken from one property to another and that sort of stuff.
The head of the Frew river is down south west of Hatches Creek township where it is joined by Hatches and Mia Mia Creeks, it then branches away to the north. From the confluence of these creeks to the Old Police Station Waterhole is about 10 to 15 kms and the river flows through some of the most beautiful country in the Northern Territory. You could compare it to Katherine Gorge even! It's not as large or spectacular as Katherine Gorge because it hasn't got the height, but it's a miniature Katherine Gorge.
The only way you can travel through this gorge is on your own two feet. A few of us have done it. I think the last person I spoke to that did it was Basil Courts. Molly and Basil Courts were Tennant Creek residents for many years and Basil Courts used to be a Policeman, his last job was as a Security Guard at Warrego. Basil was one of the last people who walked through there with Bob Clough of Epenarra Station.
To walk through this gorge, you have to leave a vehicle at the Police Station Waterhole and then you drive another vehicle to the other end and you walk through. You can't take a vehicle through, it's just not possible. It's quite a few kilometres, so it's a fair walk but it's worth it because the country is so beautiful and the wildlife is amazing.
At certain times of the year it's better than others. You wouldn't be able to go through there if the river was in full spate for instance because the water would be roaring through gorges. The best time to go through is just after the water has subsided, no river in the Central Australian region flows regularly - not in the sense that the Murray flows anyway.
Territory rivers flow after heavy rain and then they become a series of waterholes connected by maybe just a dribble of water and that dribble soon dries up and then it's just waterholes.
It's now part of the proposed Davenport National Park and part Aboriginal land. So after all these years I'm not quite sure of the correct procedure for getting in there.


Simon Rieff was a prospector, miner and assayer. His house remains to this day. Clifford's Tower and Treasure Mine are in the background.

Lou Bailey's house viewed from the east front room.