During the second half of the 19th century, people from all over the world came to Tasmania to mine its mineral resources… and maybe strike it rich. Among these immigrants were Chinese miners, who came to the tin-mining towns of north eastern Tasmania. One of the towns on what is now known as the Trail of the Tin Dragon is Derby. Here the Tin Mine Centre, officially known as the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre and Cafe, tells the story of the area’s tin mines and the people who worked there.
Several of Tassie’s towns developed around mines and this was the case with Derby. The town grew around the Brothers Mine, which was opened in 1876, and in 1887 became known as Derby. By the 1890s the mine was one of the richest of its kind in the world.
Such a large mine needed lots of water to operate and a water race was built over 48 km to bring the precious liquid from the Ringarooma River’s headwaters to the mine, which over time was renamed the Briseis Mine. This wasn’t enough though, so the mine built a dam in the Cascade River, right above Derby.
Disaster struck in early April 1929, when it rained non-stop for five days, with the last 5 inches coming down in two hours. The dam was overflowing and its wall couldn’t withstand the pressure of a billion litres of water pressing against it, so it failed. When it happened, all of the water swept through the valley, taking along everything in its path. The flood, which killed 14 people, was Tasmania’s most devastating.
At the Tin Mine Centre, a short movie and several displays tell the story of the flood. Outside there are viewing platforms where you can look out over the valley and imagine what it must have been like when the waters came rushing through.
Another fascinating theme for a display at the Tin Mine Centre is the story of the Chinese miners. These miners never worked at the Briseis Mine but they had substantial communities in nearby towns such as Moorina, where you’ll find a Chinese section in the local cemetery. After a visit to the Tin Mine Centre, it’s well worth exploring Branxholm, only about 7 km away, to find out more about the area’s Chinese heritage.
Opening times at the Tin Mine Centre vary according to season, so it’s best to check directly with them before your visit. Derby is a lovely little town to spend the night though and you’ll find accommodation options for every budget.