Derby’s mining history
Christine Booth – Tin Dragon Trail Cottages
The town of Derby in Tasmania's north has a rich history of tin mining. After enjoying Derby's quirky shops, take a short drive over the bridge to Tunnel Road (right hand side, signposted). A brief exploration here will show you how Derby was shaped by its mining history.
Take the lower (right) road for a short walk to the Derby Tunnel. You will see recent earthworks revealing the start of the Cascade mountain bike trail construction. Across the deep river ravine you will see several small houses perched precariously on the cliff faces—part of the charm of Derby. Terrific views for the mountain bikers, if they have time to see it.
The Derby tunnel was a mighty folly built in the 1880's by one miner to get tailings moved from his lease, beneath another miner's lease. If you wish to venture inside, you'll need gum boots, because as the tunnel slopes downwards it fills with water. The tunnel was opened up in recent years so that it is possible to walk to its end; however the water can get mid-calf deep and you need a reliable torch. There are some unique inhabitants in the tunnel—the harmless Tasmanian Cave Spider. The Tasmanian Cave Spider is the last of an old Gondwanan lineage of spiders and can live up to several decades.
Back at the fork in the road take the top road. You can also walk up to the monument above Derby for a terrific view across Derby and into the now water-filled Briseis mine. The monument was erected for William Allan who died in Victoria in 1902.
Now follow the top road 2 - 3 km (4WD or walk) till the road condition deteriorates—stick to the top road, ignoring other small tracks. Here the valley widens out. You can see great sheets of moss and lichen-encrusted granite rock with zig-zagging streams of clear flowing water. This is the Cascade river gorge. Noticeable are the alpine-like re-growth scrub and high tree-line. Beautiful in the evening light.
You are standing several kilometres below the (renamed) Cascade Dam. In 1929 the old Briseis Dam failed after torrential rain, releasing a 30-m wall of water and mud into this narrow gorge removing trees, rocks and soil, scrubbing the bedrock clean. The flood was the worst in modern Tasmanian history lasting several days. Many buildings were destroyed and 14 people were known to have drowned. Nature is slowly repairing the damage. The Cascade Dam was rebuilt in 1936 covering an area of 49 hectares.
You can read more about Derby’s mining heritage at the Schoolhouse Museum.