27 September 1854
“…we buried [Charles Farmer] at sunset, sewn up in his blanket, with his saddle for a pillow, on to which we lowered him gently in a horse-rug. I read the beautiful service of our Church for the burial of the dead over him, after which we fired our guns, and retired in silence.”
T.D. was working for a contractor at Twin Peaks Station in the Murchison at the start of July 1907. He was repairing a fence with the help of an older bushman, who liked to yarn as he worked. As they went about their work, it was inevitable that talk would turn to gold. The bushman casually mentioned that there was “a rich thing that he knew of at a place called Mount Farmer.”
Many years ago, he said, an old prospector uncovered a rich gold lead and worked it on his own. As time went on, he became sick. He moved all the gold that he had found to a washaway and covered it up with stones and bushes. He went to Geraldton for medical attention but later died in hospital.
The bushman knew the story because he had stumbled across the old prospector’s find when he was out kangaroo shooting. Then, a fire raged through the area, burning the bushes and changing the look of the landscape. He could have gone to find it again, but he didn’t bother. He preferred hunting over mining.
T.D. was intrigued. He shared the story with his mate, Jack Tierney. Both men were keen for an adventure. Together, they decided to search for the gold.
On 15 July 1907, they left Twin Peaks and tramped to Wurarga. They stopped for a short while at the Wurarga Hotel while they decided whether to catch a train to Yalgoo or Mount Magnet. T.D. and Jack got talking to Emmet Gill, the proprietor of the hotel. He, too, had a story to share, one incredibly similar to what they had heard at Twin Peaks. He called it: the Murchison mystery.
Some time ago, an old shepherd brought some gold quartz down to Geraldton. He wanted help to work the area or a lump sum to reveal the location. He received no assistance nor any payment. Disillusioned, he left Geraldton, and he left the gold behind. Years later, a mining expert saw the quartz and asked where it had come from. After being told of the shepherd, he went to find him. During his enquiries, he learned that the shepherd had died in hospital. Further information revealed that the gold had come from Mount Farmer.
There were others also on the scent. Several prospecting parties were heading to places that were on the way to Mount Farmer. T.D. and Jack compared notes. There was no other conclusion. Everyone was searching for the lost gold, and they had to get there first!
From Wurarga, they took the train to Mount Magnet and asked for directions. Mount Farmer was 50 miles away, northwest of the town. They had no horses, so decided to go on foot, buying a wheelbarrow to carry their supplies. At first, they were optimistic. T.D. stated, “Those who saw us depart from Magnet, were unanimous in declaring that we had struck a grand idea.”
Once they reached Boogardie, they purchased supplies to put in the barrow. It increased the weight to 200 pounds and made pushing it exhausting. Doubt crept in after they left Jones’s station.
A few miles after leaving the station, they lost control of the wheelbarrow. It rolled down a steep embankment into a stony creek. The wheel was damaged and rendered it useless. T.D. and Jack halved the supplies and carried them on their backs.
Jack later described the next 30 miles as a “blitherer”. Winter rains fell heavily, their sodden swags creating extra weight. They found shelter in a cave and stayed there until about midnight when the roof began to crumble and fall. Deciding that the elements were safer than the cave, they left and waited it out in the rain until daylight.
Resuming their journey, they realised that they had lost the track to Mount Farmer. They continued walking, crossing a spinifex desert with nothing more than hope that they were walking in the right direction. Eventually, they climbed a ridge and saw a mountain in the distance. They started walking towards it, passing the ominous tracks of a person indicating that they had lost their way and perished.
Finally, after five days walking from Mount Magnet, they reached the mountain and realised it was indeed Mount Farmer. They made their camp, ate some food, and started looking for the reef. They found nothing. For eight days, they stayed in the area, prospecting and investigating. The country looked auriferous, but “whether with hammer, dish, or dolly” they “failed to raise a color.”
T.D. and Jack came to the conclusion that the yarns they had heard “had very little foundation in fact.” Consulting their map, they noticed that Lake Austin was due east, so they decided to walk there instead. Again, they tramped in the pouring rain, but they found the return trip easier.
Thus ended our trip to Mount Farmer…
Gold mining in the vicinity of Mount Farmer occurred sporadically over the years. While what was found may not have been enough to spark a frenzied gold rush, gold did exist. Reporters regularly wrote about prospectors in the area. Some were successful, while others faced difficulties with the rough country and lack of water.
The tale of the treasure seems to have originated from the accidental death of Charles Farmer in 1854. Those who knew of it embellished the story, stating that he was buried with gold found in the area. As it was told and retold, the characters changed. A shepherd, or a prospector. “Tales of gold being brought in by dying men, or of lost men having found hills of gold and unable to locate the place again.” It was a story recounted by prospectors as they sat around campfires under a starry sky. Whether there was any actual truth to it is unknown. As T.D. concluded in 1907, “…for the present must the Murchison Mystery remain an unsolved problem.”
- An Expedition to Explore the Interior of Western Australia; Robert Austin. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg.
- 1907 ‘An Unsolved Mystery.’, Murchison Advocate (WA : 1898 – 1912), 30 November, p. 4. , viewed 25 Aug 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213843922
- 1927 ‘EARLY MURCHISON GOLD DAYS’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 13 March, p. 24. , viewed 27 Aug 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58325171
- State Library of Western Australia; Map of the Central Goldfields [cartographic material]; including parts of Murchison, East Murchison, Yalgoo & Peak Hill G.Fs.; Western Australia Department of Mines; 1904; Call Number: 9022.M95H2
- State Library of Western Australia; A prospector on the road with his wheelbarrow 50 miles north of Woolgangie, 1910-1920; Call Number: 062128PD
- 1898 ‘No Title’, Clare’s Weekly (Perth, WA : 1897 – 1899), 2 July, p. 15. , viewed 02 Sep 2022, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256024888