At the peak of her short-lived glory Arltunga boasted a population of 300 and a reputation as colourful, rum sodden gold town.
Arltunga was central Australia's first town and in no small part paved the way for the development of the town we now know as Alice Springs.
In 1878 the explorer Charles Winnecke sighted what appeared to be rubies in the hills to the north east of Arltunga. In 1886 surveyor David Lindsay confirmed the presence of red gems in the Hale River at Ruby Gap, 40km east of the future townsite. He also noted 'red stones of great brilliancy' at a gorge he named Glen Annie for his wife.
Fool's Gems and Real Gold
The rubies proved to be garnets of little worth but fortune seekers had already started a small 'ruby rush' in the hope of extracting easily won gems from the river sands.
This flurry of mining activity sparked another rush when alluvial gold was discovered in a creek bed a year later in 1887.
Mining and fossicking around Arltunga occurred over a 40 square kilometre area with diggings to be seen throughout the Winnecke and White Range. A Government Battery and Cyanide Works were constructed and an array of residences were built from locally sourced materials. Stone and quartz walls were bonded with lime and mud mortar or timber structures cobbled together and clad with corrugated tin and canvas.
Prospectors disembarked at the Oodnadatta rail-head some 600km away and set out (often on foot) on a journey that could take four months.
The country around Arltunga was plagued by drought and water supplies were hard to find and unreliable. The cost of supplies, which arrived via Oodnadatta, were extortionate.
Lenore Coltheart writes in a 'Australian Womens History Forum' of Hetty Perkins, an aboriginal woman who was born around 1905 and died in 1979. Hetty was 14 when she found work in the hotel at Arltunga. She was taught to cook by another aboriginal woman at the pub who in turn had been taught by a chinese woman. Hetty recalled her teachers talent in the kitchen and realising the potential for future employment as a cook, studied with enthusiasm. Days off were spent working for a local cattleman as a stock-rider who paid them a 'couple of bob' (20 cents) and some lollies in return for watering and mustering cattle
Rum consumption seemed to be a major problem on the goldfields and combined with an unenthusiastic or corrupt police attitude, civil order was often disrupted by drunken prospectors.
A typhoid epidemic broke our in 1903 and combined with unsanitary water supplies and poor hygiene systems, life in Arltunga proved pretty harsh.
Birth of Alice
The name Arltunga came from the local Arrente Aborigines who had lived in the region for 22,000 years before the arrival of white colonists. Serious mining in the area lasted only 30 years - between 1887 and 1917.
A small camp had been established on the banks of the Todd River some 110km to the west. Hopeful prospectors rested there on their way to the goldfield or waited for supplies to arrive from Oodnadatta. The township of Stuart was born from this congregation and became the supply depot for the Arltunga community and in 1933, the name of Stuart was changed to Alice Springs.
Another small rush happened at Winnecke in 1903 but dwindling finds of gold saw the miners begin to move on to better prospects. By 1904 the population has been reduced by two thirds and the Government Battery closed for good in 1913.
1930 saw only 3 men remaining at the old town, one called Shagrew who was reprocessing waste dumps and recovering reasonable gold.
Arltunga is located 110km east of Alice Springs via 70km of bitumen along the Ross Highway and the remainder on gravel into the old townsite.
Various remains are scattered through the area including stone and timber buildings, mostly shallow mine workings, mullock heaps, the police station and a cemetery.
Fossicking is restricted although the visitor centre allows the opportunity to 'pan for gold.' Arltunga is part of the Arltunga Historical Reserve which covers 5000 hectares.
Barbecues and toilets can be found at the visitors centre while a series of 'walks' provide entertainment. The Great Western Mine, Little Flower Mission, White Range Cemetery and Paddy's Rock Hole are all interest points along the way.
This article is part of a project to record the history of ghost towns in Australia. If you can contribute any information about any of Australia's abandoned towns please use the 'CONTACTUS' link at the top of the page to send us an email.
More abandoned places can be found at Australian Ghost Towns
◄ The Complete
Guide To 4WD
The 4WD ►
To Outback Touring