The name "Oriental Claims" projects the image of a large area occupied by those of Asian descent in vast numbers. This however is not the case. The origin of the name, probably came from the "Oriental Company", a misleading title, as the company was European. The small force of 50 men who did most of the digging were 50% European. Interestingly, the "Omeo Sluicing Company" was run by Chinese, causing some confusion, as most people assumed that a company by that name would be run by Europeans, if not Australians, and that the Chinese would be part of the "Oriental Company".
The Main Claims and Water Races
The Pioneer Party arrived in 1853 and started to cut their race in 1855, a process which would take 8 men 9 months to accomplish.
Pioneer 2 was started over 20 years later in 1876, and sold to Dan Ah Sam in 1883. This was eventually sold after Ah Sam had worked it for 6 years to the Oriental Company in 1889.
The Oriental Company started sluicing in 1880, and continued operating until the Sludge Abatement Board prohibited them washing gravel into the creek in 1904. The company tried to survive by dumping the gravel on worked ground but was not successful and worked ceased in 1914 at the outbreak of World War 1.
Alluvial gold (gold carried by river or stream) although distributed through the gravel, is most concentrated above impenetrable layers such as fine clay and bedrock.
The gold was once part of a gold bearing mountain as reef gold (gold imbedded in the rock where it was formed), but after millions of years, the gold is washed down into the banks of certain rivers.
At the Oriental Claims, the distribution of gold was about one ounce (31g) to every 100 cubic metres of gravel. At today's prices this would represent only $400.
Since one man could only pan one cubic metre a day (with a value of $4), faster methods were necessary. This came in the form of water; a river would be diverted over the face, or water would be sprayed against the gravel face. Sluice boxes would collect the resulting run off and collect the gold ore.
The entire area produced an estimated 58000 ounces or 1.8 metric tonnes of gold. This equates to a value of around 23 million dollars at today's prices (AU $400/ounce).
However, most of the claims area was not worked to its full depth and another area near this is of similar properties and combined, an estimated AU$100m worth of gold may still be there.
A huge area of land was excavated out by around 30 m, all in an effort to find those precious golden specks.
The entire Oriental Claims are protected as a historic area, and there are many paths which can make great walks. Surrounded by native bushland with many varieties of wild orchid, the claims are a great reminder of the lengths people go to extract gold.
More information is available on the Omeo Historic Society's page on the Oriental Claims.