Monash Publications in Geography & Environmental Science: Number 48

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Reading the Landscape: Documentation and Analysis of a Relict Feature of Land Degradation in the Bendigo District, Victoria by Lynette Peterson (price includes local postage)

During the early years of mining on the Bendigo gold fields, millions of cubic metres of alluvium and regolith were puddled (washed) to remove gold. The waste material from this process, a slurry of rock debris, soil and water (termed 'sludge' by the miners) was discharged into creeks and drains which gradually became choked. Eventually sludge flooded out across the countryside.

Digital spatial data handling was deployed to include data from archival sources into a modern GIS data base so that the extent of the inundation could be determined, and remnants located in the modern landscape. Knowledge of the extent of this inumdation is important, not only because of the long-term effects of the land degradation it caused, but also because, as the puddlers themselves knew, much of the finer (often visible) gold was discharged with the sludge. Government tests conducted in 1858 confirmed this.

Recent field work has determined that an area of over 700 square kilometres to the north of Bendigo was inundated by the sludge, the thickness of which varied inversely with the height of the buried surface. The sludge flowed out over an already subdued landscape, destroying the natural drainage pattern. Aerial photographs do not reveal the pattern of sludge distribution, which is probably why it has not been recognised by soil scientists and others who have mapped the area. The place of archival research in mining-waste mapping is confirmed by this study

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