Just a group of boys and their toys

Members of the Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club with NPWS staff Coralie De Angelis and Anthony Signor with the stamper machine. Photo Anne Keen
Members of the Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club with NPWS staff Coralie De Angelis and Anthony Signor with the stamper machine. Photo Anne Keen

The smell of the old diesel engine kicking into gear filled the room as a vintage mining machine that has laid silent for nearly 40 years roared back to life.

It’s a project that has been attempted several times in the past, but now thanks to the Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club, the ‘Stamper Battery’ machine in Copeland Tops State Conservation Area’s Mountain Maid gold mine is running again.

The key to its return to glory was in the refurbishment of the diesel engine that powers the battery of stampers. 

Once the engine is running, a mere pull of a level starts up the rhythmic pounding of the metal cylinders designed to crush the quartz taken from the mountain. 

After the rock travels through the stamper, it is moved into a washer in the hope of finding gold.

According to area manager Barrington Tops, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Anthony Signor this method of mining was “labour intensive”.

Mr Signor was one of the main drivers behind the recent attempt to restart the machine, feeling it is an important part of the historical mine and the education it offers.

He explained how the stamper machine is a heritage asset of the Mountain Maid gold mine site.

“It’s really interesting to people who don’t have a connection to the mine,” he said.

“Mountain Maid was the longest running gold mine in Australia, in action from the 1870s until the 1970s, almost continuously,” Mr Signor explained.

Getting the machine back up and running was partly for the passion of the mine’s history, but also about “boys and their toys”.

This more recent attempt came after Mr Signor came across the Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club at Hunter Valley Steamfest and he thought they might be the right people to help with the project.

Several members were intrigued by the prospect of getting the rustic machine going again and volunteered more than 100 hours of their time to work on it.

Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club president Scott Brooks and the machine

Hunter Valley Vintage Farm Machinery Club president Scott Brooks and the machine

Some of the time was spent on site and while some of the work was done in individual members’ home workshops. Club president, Scott Brooks said the engine was in fairly good working order.

“We just pulled it apart and put it back together again.”

He explained how it was the club’s combined experience that made the job easy.

Mr Signor said he feels very proud to see the machine working again and he is very grateful to the club for all the volunteer hours it put into project.

The plan is to get the machine set up to run as part of the Mountain Maid gold mine tours after NPWS address the fundamental safety issues.

NPWS runs walking tours of the location for the public, as well as educational programs for the schools in the region. 

Interested in a tour? Bookings are essential and can be made by contacting the Gloucester Visitor Information Centre on 6538 5252. 

For large organised groups and school tours, you contact the NPWS Newcastle Discovery Coordinator on 4946 4112.