There is little evidence in the sleepy village of Pioneer in north-east Tasmania that it was once one of the most prosperous tin mining towns in both Tasmania and Australia. The big producer, the Pioneer Company mine, closed in 1930. The hole in the ground that the mine left behind – Pioneer Lake – has been flooded and is today stocked with trout and used for water sports.
Where Is it?
Pioneer is 119 km north east of Launceston and 8 km from the Tasman Highway.
Abandoned houses and mine workings a short distance away mark the site of Garibaldi, a tin mining town that had many Chinese workers. Other villages in the area are Herrick and Winnaleah. At the 2006 census, Pioneer had a population of 144.
The town came into existence in 1877 when William Bradshaw (until 1955 the town was known as Bradshaw’s Creek) discovered tin at the junction of Bradshaw’s Creek and Ringarooma River. In 1882 the Pioneer Tin Mining Company was formed to work the deposit. It did not prosper but in 1900 a new tin lode was discovered and the company then worked the seam continuously until it closed in 1932. At the peak of the operation the mine employed over 100 people and by 1910 the Pioneer company was so profitable that it built its own dam and, at Moorina, constructed its own power station which was used to power the equipment.
Although there were never more than 1,000 Chinese in the entire area their contribution was vital. Many of them are buried in the cemeteries in the area. The tiny school at Bradshaw’s Creek achieved some fame when its one-time teacher, Joseph Lyons, subsequently entered federal parliament and became Prime Minister of Australia.
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The township of Garibaldi on the Winiford River was first settled in the early 1880s, but the discovery of tin saw its population swell rapidly. By 1891 Garibaldi’s population appears to have been at its peak when 35 cottages dotted the landscape. Like the other tin mines in Tasmania’s north east, Chinese tin miners made up the majority of the town’s population. Garibaldi originally had a joss house which looked like a small hall with a verandah. It had a wooden floor and contained a golden shrine, and a carved float of a golden palace and incense burner.
After the mine closed, the population quickly dwindled and by 1936 only six houses remained. Over time, the buildings became dilapidated and, in some cases, pulled down and the materials used elsewhere. Some features of the former township are still evident including part of the earthen main street, brick remains at the site of former dwellings, garden boundaries, water races and four roasting ovens. The historic heritage of the town’s Chinese tin miners has been formally recognised with the permanent entry of the former Garibaldi miners’ township in the Tasmanian Heritage Register. Although none of the buildings of Garibaldi remain, the site offers a rare archaeological example of a Chinese mining township in Tasmania.