History buffs picnic by Solferino Creek
By EMMA CORNFORD
THE former Clarence Valley gold mining settlement of Solferino, west of Baryulgil, used to be a bustling township.
But now the bush has reclaimed Solferino. Where there were houses, hotels, a bakery and store, the scrub is choked with lantana; the seedlings have grown into trees.
The only remnants of human existence are a bricked-in well and a few broken bottles, crusted with age and dirt. Even the creek now runs clear, no longer muddy with the telltale signs of mining.
In its heyday, horses stood around Solferino, draped with saddlebags as men panned for gold in Solferino Creek. Up to 20 people, gripped by goldrush fever, were arriving every week.
It was during that time, in the 1870s, that Grafton-based photographer John William Lindt travelled to the settlement to offer his services as a portrait photographer.
The result was a series of photographs that documented Solferino ? its buildings, people and the rugged surrounding districts ? recently purchased by the Friends of the Grafton Regional Gallery.
Lindt researcher Ken Orchard suspects Lindt was commissioned to Solferino by a government agency such as the Lands Department or Gold Commission Office.
He said the pictures were extremely significant and in August ventured to Solferino with 14 Lindt enthusiasts from the Clarence Valley, guided by State Forests worker Robyne Bancroft, whose family knows the area well.
"I had always wanted to go out to Solferino (and) there was a personal connection at Solferino for all of us in many ways," he said.
"When we arrived at the site of the old Solferino, it was with a sudden feeling of disappointment ? it was so over-run by lantana, so crowded in by the hillsides covered in dense stands of trees, that one had no sense that this was once the site of a so romantically named gold fields township."
Despite the thick, dark bush the group was urged by Ms Bancroft to use their imaginations and soon garnered a sense of the township.
Although the town has disappeared, the photographic records of John William Lindt remain.
And thanks to the Friends of the Grafton Regional Gallery, they will stay in the Clarence Valley for future generations to catch a glimpse of an old mining town, evaporated into the pages of history.