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Digging deep to honour mining heritage

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Photo by Ray Harrington on Unsplash

This week our Global Local bulletin is focused on ‘extraction based communities’ – basically those areas where the culture and economy is shaped by mining, forestry or some other extraction or exploitation of natural resources. When non-renewable resources play out, as they inevitably do, a hole is often left not just in the ground, but in the heart of the community.

Some places are building on their mining heritage through tourism and museums which tell the story of mining and provide the dual purpose of supporting local economies as well as telling the story of mining and mining people. These efforts are often supported local government.

Plus, some people just like a mine tour. I’m one of them and so is my partner. This article serves the dual purpose of highlighting exemplary display of mining heritage as well as creating a new bucket list of mining attractions for our future holidays.

Global Local bulletin: Extraction-based communities

Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall, UK

Cornwall has been the site of tin exploitation since at least the Bronze Age, with evidence of Phoenician traders visiting the area. Tin and other ‘hard rock’ minerals such as cobalt, copper, lithium, silver and zinc are abundant and have played a role in mining heritage. But tin and its use in bronze, is perhaps most closely associated with the area – and particularly during the Industrial Revolution when bronze machine tools were in high demand. With the collapse of the price of tin in the late 1980s and 90s, much tin mining was no longer economically viable and mines, including the Geevor mine, shut down. According to the Geevor website.

Finally, with no sign in the improvement in the tin price, the pumps were switched off in May 1991, and Geevor was allowed to flood.

More months of agony and indecision followed as the surface plant that represented so much to those that felt deeply about the old mine was either sold or cut up for scrap.

At this stage Cornwall County Council stepped in and made the wise decision to purchase the site. Many people locally believed that the mine could be developed into a ‘Mining Heritage Centre’, which would eventually create jobs in a very depressed area.

Today the museum houses displays on geology, engineering as well as cultural work such as collecting oral histories and the impact of mining on families and communities. There are multi-media experience and mine tours. Plus it’s situated right on the rugged Cornish coastline, with beautiful views from its cafe stocked with local foods.

Great Orme Mine, Llandudno, Wales, UK

Described by some as one of the best pre-Roman British visitor experiences, this ancient copper mine in North Wales is a fabulous place to visit. The mine was first worked about 4000 years ago during the height of the bronze age, although as all mining was done by hand before the development of pumps, mining had to stop when they reached the water table and the site was abandoned when the Bronze Age gave way to iron. There was a late  resurgence the Victorian area, but more abundant copper sources are nearby. The mine’s historic value wasn’t re-discovered until the site was inspected as a potential car park for a nearby country park attraction. Visitors can explore the meandering hand-dug tunnels and view the extent of the site from above. I’ve been to this one. It’s well worth a second visit. Can’t get enough copper? More modern copper mines are also available to visit nearby.

Central Deborah Gold Mine, Bendigo, Australia

The City of Greater Bendigo owns this mine and runs this and other attractions through an arms length trading company that manages or supports a number of tourist sites in the area. There’s an emphasis on community as well as industrial heritage, with the site hosting a range of fun, family focused activities such as the Elf Academy over the Christmas period.

The key to Central Deborah Gold Mine’s success as a tourist destination has always been the passion of our staff, which includes some of the grandchildren and relatives of the original Central Deborah miners.

We rave about the fact that Central Deborah Gold Mine is a ‘real’ gold mine that operated throughout the gold rush and not a replica. Even though the mine is now running as a tourist operation, we still have real miners on site, taking care of and ensuring the integrity of the underground workings and surface machinery, whilst also maintaining the authenticity of the site and ensuring that it remains in good condition.

All of the staff at Central Deborah Gold Mine are acutely aware that we are doing more than just relaying the history of the mine itself, but are storytellers of Bendigo’s origins. Our strength is in our people and many of our visitors’ final comments refer to how much they enjoyed the help of our reception staff and the company of the tour guides.

The focus of the museum is the gold mining operation which kicked off during the 1900 gold rush – with tours of the mine and exhibitions at the surface. It may also be the home of the world’s only drag queen guided mine tour which coincides with Pride festivities.

Join us for a private tour of Deborah’s golden reef, 61 metres underground! You’ll be welcomed by the fabulous Deborah Triangle, a Bendigo icon who emerges from the depths once a year to invite visitors into her shadowy crevices.

More information on Deborah’s hidden tunnels and other double entendres are available here.

Killhope Lead Mine, County Durham, England

Such an intriguing name for this award winning tourist site. Lead. Kill. Hope. C’mon kids, let’s go tour the lead mine! What’s it called? Killhope. What else can we do there? Well, you can have a birthday party there, too. Nothing like a Killhope birthday!

Actually it sounds like loads of fun. The tour requires you to bring and wear your own hightop rubber boots, so you know it’s going to be an authentic experience of a Victorian era mine. There’s also a working water mill so you can get a greater understanding of how the ore was refined. And they offer occasional blacksmithing courses. The site is supported by Durham County Council.

Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Krakow, Poland

A chapel, statues carved from pillars of salt, a spa and even salt crystal chandeliers can all be seen on a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage site Wieliczka Salt Mine. Salt has been exploited from this area for over 700 years and the mining operations have only ceased relatively recently. You can even sleep in the mine and there’s a restaurant, too – all underground. Amazing!

The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, Matewan, West Virginia, USA

The small town of Matewan, West Virginia has a rich history of conflict. In the area of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feuds, it’s also the site where efforts to unionise coal miners turned into armed conflict, with the US Army brought in to crush the strike. This museum is less about mining than about the community of miners and is run by the largest miners’ union in the US. There’s also a small local authority run museum on the history of the area and self-guided tours commemorating the famous family feuders.

King Solomon’s Mines, near Eilat, Israel

It’s another Bronze Age copper mine! But this one has Biblical references and it’s within Timna Park – a desert national park with all kinds of hiking, kids activities, amazing geology and pedal boats on the park’s lake are included in the ticket price. Plus it looks like you can actually go down the mine shafts with just a wink and a nod toward health and safety.

The ancient copper mines and mining shafts can be seen throughout the park. There are also remains of smelting furnaces dating back to ancient imperial Egypt. Copper was the first metal for creating work and household tools, weapons, costly ornaments and cultic objects. The importance of Timna in the ancient world was great. Multimedia displays tell the amazing history of the site, and visitors are engaged by dream-like stories of Egyptian goddesses and pharaohs.

Photo by Daniel Newman on Unsplash

 

Potosí, Bolivia

If you want a really authentic mining experience, visit the famous silver mines of Bolivia. This where you can find the mines and the people whose exploitation funded the Spanish empire. There is a museum dedicated to the silver mint, but you can actually visit the mines themselves via independent tour guides. Before you go, though, stop at the market to buy coco leaves, cigarettes or dynamite (!!!!) to bring as gifts to the miners who still eke out a living clawing at the rock. These are active mines with little regard to health and safety and exposure to asbestos, silicon dust and arsenic. Miners in the area are often dead by age 40 from silicosis.

Honourable mentions:

Have we missed a really cool mine museum or tourist trail? Let us know in the comments.

 



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