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Archeologist Karen Murphy talks about Mill Point and books

Researching the background of Mill Point, and life in the field...

READERSVOICE.COM: Research discovered news of a cricket match, and school trips to the beach. Can you talk about these and where researchers found out about them?

KAREN MURPHY: There are descriptions in the newspapers of the day by various visitors to the mill settlement.

Published in The Brisbane Courier, the Gympie Times and The Queenslander, there are detailed accounts of the trip up from Brisbane by boat to the settlement and descriptions of the people, the industry, the facilities, the forests and the activities undertaken at the settlement.

In 1876 a correspondent from the Gympie Times spent his Christmas holiday at Elanda Point. The sawmilling stopped for the week and the community celebrated with a range of activities including hunting and fishing, excursions to the ocean beach, a regatta on the lake on Boxing Day, and a cricket match on New Year’s Day with the timber-getters and bullock drivers versus the sawmill hands.

RV: Can you briefly tell the story of the founding of the site, with the Gympie gold rushes and the four businessmen who started the venture?

KM: In 1865, Queensland had only been open to free settlers for a little over 20 years, and had only been separated from New South Wales as its own state for six years.

It was facing financial crisis – banks were failing, unemployment was high and there was civil unrest.

The outlook was bleak until an important discovery in 1867 on the Mary River by James Nash – he found gold.

Within six months there were over 15000 men on the Gympie goldfields.

Even today, Gympie is often called “the town that saved Queensland”.

People were drawn to the Gympie goldfields from all over Australia and the world.

Elsewhere in the region, the speculator, Charles Samuel Russell had noted rich timber resources in the Noosa district.

He travelled to Gympie in 1869 looking for newly rich miners as partners to join him in his new business venture.

He found four wealthy men to join the enterprise – James McGhie, Abraham Luya, Frederick Goodchap and John Woodburn.

Russell proposed to apply for a large block of land at Lake Cootharaba in the Noosa district and develop it as a farm to fulfil the selection requirements.

The main attraction however was the area’s rich timber. The partners, first known as A.F. Luya and Co., built the sawmill on the property in 1870 and began milling timber.

After the required two years of residence and improvements, the company acquired the title to the land.

Russell left after this time, handing over his interests to the other partners, who then became, McGhie, Luya and Co. from 1873.

RV: What would the population of Mill Point have been, at a typical moment from 1869-1892?
KM: There are various estimations of the population but they are just that – estimations.

The company records have not been found so we can only go by other records such as the census, and school records of the number of children, to try and estimate the numbers.

There are descriptions of 24 two-roomed cottages, and mention of 150 employees and their wives and children farewelling one of the owners.

The school records show up to 40 children enrolled at any one time.

So estimations of the population at its height vary between about 150-200 people.
RV: Have there been relatively few artefacts found at the site or enough to paint a picture of life there?

KM: We have found thousands of artefacts left behind by the residents of the mill settlement.

A lot of these consist of the everyday rubbish left behind, and other items lost or discarded – broken bottles, broken ceramic plates, cups and bowls, buttons, beads, nails, and slate pencils.

Even though the evidence is fragmented it still provides us with plenty of material with which to paint a picture of the everyday lives of the people of Mill Point.

RV: How many field excavations have you been on at the site?

KM: As part of the Mill Point Archaeological Project we have done fieldwork at the site since 2004.

There has been two weeks of surveying in February 2004 and again in February 2005.

Excavations began with two weeks in July 2005.

This year we have spent eight weeks excavating at the site over the course of the entire year.

RV: What did the site look like when field work began there?

KM: The site is very overgrown with vegetation both native and exotic, including the original melaleuca swamp species as well as weeds such as lantana.

We have done extensive clearing of weed vegetation in order to be able to look for archaeological remains, however in the Queensland climate the battle against weeds in National Parks is constant.

There are numerous physical remains from the mill and later periods that were able to be seen including the tramways embankments, chimney and farmhouse remains, fenceposts, and pylons from the wharves in the lake.

RV: What might you do in a day of field work at the Mill Point site?

KM: On a typical day of excavation the crew is up and heading to the site by 7.00am.

We drive to the National Park and then the crew walks into the site while the equipment is driven in by four wheel drive.

The crew rotates through various tasks, being assigned one particular job each day.

We usually have two or three people working on excavating in specific 1 metre by 1 metre squares.

Everything needs to be carefully recorded as we go because once we dig it up the archaeology is destroyed.

We take lots of photographs, make lots of notes, and describe everything we see and do.

The excavators take the sediment that is excavated to the wet-sieving station set up down by the lake.

With two people operating the hose and sieves, all of the sediment is put through 3mm and 6mm sieves so that we can recover the artefacts.

The sediment at Mill Point is very gravelley so the sieved material then goes up to the sorting tent where we have two or three crew members working on going through the gravel to remove the artefacts.

The artefacts are sorted by material type as we go so that it makes analysis back in the lab easier.

At the end of the day the sorters pack the artefacts into plastic bags to take back to the lab in Brisbane.

Then it’s a nice walk back out of the National Park about 5.00pm for some hot showers and cold drinks.

You can check out our activities on our daily fieldwork diary on our website at

RV: What are the problems you encounter living on-site?

KM: When we are working in the field we don’t actually stay at the site itself as it is a National Park and the designated camping areas are away from the site of the settlement.

We stay in nearby Boreen Point at the Apollonian Hotel in quite comfortable share accommodation.

The publican looks after us well with plenty of food and drink to keep our energy going.

Having all the volunteers sharing the accommodation is part of the fieldwork experience and we try to always make it a both a social and educational experience.

We usually have talks on archaeology in the evenings, along with pizza and movie nights, and very competitive games of Trivial Pursuit.

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