"The greatest undertaking of its kind in the colony"

Rocky Mountain Tunnel

The Rocky Mountain tunnel had its origins in a 400ft-long tailrace blasted through rock by the Rocky Mountain Company, a party of twelve men, in 1859.

In 1867, the Rocky Mountain Gold Sluicing Co. was formed and the tailrace deepened and extended, to enable the working of deep ground higher up the valley. When the tailrace was completed in 1871, it was an average 14 ft deep and 6 ft wide, cut through granite for almost half a mile. The mining surveyor at Beechworth called it "without doubt, the greatest undertaking of the kind in the colony".

The Rocky Mountain claim paid good dividends until 1876 when, as sluicing operations proceeded higher up the creek valley, the ground became deeper and the tailrace was again no longer adequate. The company reorganised as the Rocky Mountain Extended Gold Sluicing Co., increased its capital, and purchased adjacent claims, then cut a tunnel through granite from a point about 600 ft below the Newtown Falls to the company's workings, east of the town. When the tunnel was first mooted, 'it was scoffed at by many people as being wild, visionary, and impracticable'. It cost £13,500 and was reputed to have established world records for tunnelling in hard rock. It has been claimed that mining would not have continued at Beechworth had it not been for the construction of the Rocky Mountain tunnel.

It was used for sluicing and dredging for 45 years and was later used by the defunct Zwar Brothers tannery. It now acts as an outfall drain for the lake and town drainage.

Diversion Tunnel

The Rocky Mountain Co.'s water diversion tunnel measures 1010 m long x 2.13 m high x 1.52 m wide, and is cut through granite under Spring Creek from an inlet at Lake Sambell (the flooded site of the Rocky Mountain Co. alluvial works) to an outlet near Newtown Falls.

The spoil from the tunnel lies on the north side of the gorge. The outlet has been plugged with concrete. Remains of the original heavy timber sluicebox are said to remain on the tunnel floor (a substantial sluice box of heavy timber was laid on floor of tunnel, with a floor of wooden ripples and coir matting to catch gold that escaped the sluicing operations at the diggings).

Entrance to the tunnel is in water reserve, adjoining public land including Lake Sambell reserve. Tunnel exit is in Beechworth Regional(Historic)Park, ending in a deep cutting through the granite bed of Spring Creek. The exit adit has been closed off with a wire mesh screen, through which water still flows.

A Video Tour