Hillgrove is situated 30 km from Armidale in New South Wales, just off the Waterfall Way. It is situated on a plateau above Bakers Creek and it is down the side of this escarpment where the mines that attracted industry and people to the area are situated.
Antimony was first discovered there in 1876 but Hillgrove was a major gold field and also a producer of tungsten. The town was officially established in 1884 and grew close to 3,000 inhabitants by 1898. However, the new century saw a decline with the exhaustion of gold deposits and declining price of antimony. By the 1920’s the mining companies had left and so had the workers and businesses in town. Interestingly, most of the town’s buildings were dismantled and relocated to Armidale.
For 20 years from the late 1930’s a tungsten mine was able to operate profitably. Then in 1969 antimony prices rose to allow for profitable mining along with some residual gold. But in December 2015 the mine was closed and today there are barely 100 people living in Hillgrove.
My grandmother was born in Hillgrove in 1907. Unfortunately I missed my chance to question her in detail about the town. There is only one fact about Hillgrove that I remember her memailntioning. That it was the first town in Australia to be supplied with power generated using hydro-electricity, surprisingly this was in 1895 from an operation in the Gara Gorge.
My current interest in Hillgrove has been sparked by cousin Bob (he’s actually my second cousin once removed) who contacted me through this website. His grandfather, George Christopher Mayers, seems to have lived most of his life in Hillgrove. Bob has graciously supplied family stories and photos and allowed me to share them here.
George Christopher MAYER (1878-1967) was born in 1878 in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. His father was a German carpenter who had emigrated to Australia in the early 1850’s. He was the youngest of six children and in 1879, when he was still very young, his father fell off a bridge in Wagga (supposedly well under the influence!) and died. His mother remarried another German a few years later who was a widower and farmer near Glenn Innes. We are not quite sure when the family moved to Hillgrove. After his stepfather’s death in 1892, George’s mother remarried for a third and final time and lived in the Hillgrove area.
George married Mary Tearle in 1906. He is listed at Hillgrove with an occupation of miner in the 1913 Electoral Rolls. He also appears in the Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales on Friday 15 December 1916 [Issue:216], Page 7551: “Notices for Applicants for Leases for Mining: cancellations: George Christopher Mayers and Casper Andrew Brandschied”.
George and Mary had seven children, five who survived childhood, in Hillgrove from 1907 until 1926. In the 1930’s they moved to 92 March Street Armidale but George was still listed as a miner in the Electoral Rolls. From the late 1930’s until 1963 George was back at Hillgrove still working as a miner.
According to cousin Bob the family lived at the old Bakery in Hillgrove. Bob’s mother was one of George and Mary’s daughters. Bob’s parents married in 1941 and lived in Armidale until his father enlisted in WWII. Bob and his Mum moved out to Hillgrove during the war but by 1946 they were living in Tamworth and Bob can only remember going to Hillgrove as a boy a few times as they didn’t own a car.
One of the stories that was heard about his grandfather on numerous occasions was that he had a half share in an antimony mine with someone called Jock Usher. It wasn’t doing too well at the time and antimony prices were low so he sold out to Jock for Ten Pounds, a relative fortune in those days. After the war antimony prices went up of course and Jock ended up making a fortune.
In 1963 George is listed on the Electoral Rolls at Hillgrove and also at Belmont, New South Wales where he was renting a room. In early 1964 he became ill so Bob and his mother drove up to Belmont and took him to live with them in Condobolin until his death in June 1966.