Great Ocean Road
Ballarat and Bendigo
Trains run frequently from Melbourne to Geelong every day; there are also daily V/Line trains running between Melbourne and Warrnambool (about a 3-hour trip). Along with many organised tour buses (check with tourist offices in Melbourne or Geelong), a regular V/Line bus service leaves daily from Geelong railway station for Apollo Bay, with a weekly service (on Fridays) to Port Campbell and Warrnambool. McHarry's Transit (t 03 5223 2111) provides a regular bus service between Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula, Point Lonsdale and Torquay.
The most logical place to begin a tour of the peninsula is in the industrial town of Geelong (population 128,300), 72km south of the city. Geelong itself is popularly known for two things: Geelong Grammar School, probably the most exclusive boarding school in the country, founded in 1857 (Prince Charles attended here in the 1970s); and the Geelong Cats, the town's fiercely loved Aussie Rules Football team. The location of the school is a telling commentary on the development of the town, for it now sits on the edge of the enormous Shell Oil Refinery and next to a fertiliser factory. The Cats are sponsored by Ford Motor Company, which has major plants in town. Despite the overwhelming presence of such industrial sites, Geelong as one of the oldest cities in Victoria, contains many historical buildings and areas of interest. Geelong/Otway Tourism (t 03 5223 2588) is downtown at 48 Brougham St.
When overland explorers Hume and Hovell reached the tip of Corio Bay in 1824, the local Aborigines, the Wathaurong tribe, told them the bay was called Jillong, hence the town's name. Settlers began to arrive in 1836, at first taking up enormous runs around the bay; land blocks went up for sale in 1839, and by the time of the gold rush in the 1850s, Geelong's population of 8000 supported the wool and grazing industries developing inland. The influx of immigrants during the 1850s saw the population treble, with Geelong seriously rivalling Melbourne for position of premier city, as goldseekers arrived and travelled the flatter route from here to the goldfields. Those made wealthy in this period constructed mansions and public buildings around Western and Eastern Beaches along the bay itself.
By the 1860s, the frenetic pace eased, and Geelong settled into a period of increasing mercantile activity. Indeed, a popular saying asserts that 'wool is to Geelong what gold was to Ballarat'; enormous quantities of this most important Australian product were shipped around the world via the port of Geelong, a fact demonstrated in the National Wool Museum.
Wool Centre Museum, Moorabool St. (t 03 5272
4701; weekdays 9.30-17.00, Sat and Sun 13.00-17.00), one
block from the waterfront on the corner of Brougham and
Moorabool Streets is in the heart of the city's wool trading
district. The museum is housed in the old bluestone Dennys
Lascelles Wool Store, originally constructed in 1872 by
Jacob Pitman and considered the model for all future wool
stores because of its window design; subsequent buildings
were added on until 1930. The museum is tastefully designed
and includes oral history displays in re-created shearers'
quarters, and a functioning Jacquard textile loom. Geelong's
main tourist information centre-a very thorough and
well-staffed one-is also located here.
Turning right into Brougham Street from Moorabool Street, you will find the sandstone Customs House, built in 1856 by W.G. Cornish from a design by Colonial Architect James Balmain as Geelong's third customs house. It is considered one of the finest Victorian public buildings in this region, and still serves its original purpose. Walk one block up Moorabool Street and turn west on Malop Street to reach Johnson Park and Little Malop Street, location of the Geelong Art Gallery (t 03 5229 3645; open daily 10.00-17.00). The collection includes several excellent regional paintings, most notably Frederick McCubbin's famous Bush Burial (1890).
One block west of Johnson Park is Latrobe Terrace, a six-block stretch of historic houses from different eras, most of them originally owned by doctors. They include 'Sarina', nos 266-8, double-storey brick houses built c 1854, and 'Ingliston', a single-storey villa with wooden verandah built in 1871 by Joseph Watts and owned by well-known doctor Robert Pincott.
Back at Corio Bay, the most interesting route is off Princes Highway on to the Esplanade around Western and Eastern Beaches. In Osborne Park at Swinburne Street is Osborne House. Built in 1857 for pastoralist squatter Robert Muirhead, the building has a colonnaded verandah and views to Corio Bay. It served as the First Australian Naval College in 1913 and as a submarine base in the early 1920s.
Go back to Princes Highway and turn at Bell Parade into the Esplanade; on the west is Lunan House, a spacious two-storey mansion built in 1850 for James Strahan, early wool broker and member of Victoria's first Legislative Council. The design by Charles Laing included a Doric portico and elaborate iron gates that are now at the entrance to Geelong Grammar School.
If you have transport, you might drive around Western Beach to look at Cunningham Pier and Steampacket Gardens; the gardens are on land reclaimed from the sea, and originally used for industrial purposes. (A small walking tour brochure of this area is available at the Tourist Information Centre in the Wool Centre.) Further along at Eastern Beach is The Royal Geelong Yacht Club, established in 1859; the first sailing regatta here was in 1844. In the early days, Eastern and Western Beaches had six bathing complexes, segregated for men and women.
One of the most fascinating structures in Australia --
probably the most famous domestic building in the country --
is Corio Villa, 56 Eastern Beach; it is still a private
residence, so visitors can only view the exterior. The villa
is a single-storey prefabricated iron house designed by the
Edinburgh firm of Bell & Miller and cast in Scotland
before being shipped to Australia in 1855. Soon after, the
factory and its moulds burned to the ground, making this
villa the only known extant example of this unusual building
process. Upon arrival in Geelong, the original consignee
(believed now to be Land Commissioner William Gray, who died
in 1854) did not claim the order and the crates of bulky
13mm thick plates were discarded, eventually to be purchased
by magistrate and banker Alfred Douglass, and assembled
without any detailed specifications. The overall impression
of the house is one of delicacy and lightness, despite the
nature of the material; iron lacework abounds, its interiors
include English cedar and oak linings, and throughout are
decorative motifs of rose and thistle.
At the end of Eastern Beach at Garden Street is another important mansion, still in private hands: Merchiston Hall, designed and built by Backhouse and Reynolds in 1856 for businessman and politician James Cowie. From its balcony there would originally have been sweeping views of Corio Bay, but these are now obscured.
At the end of Eastern Beach Road there are the Geelong Botanical Gardens (t 03 5222 6053), one of the oldest in Victoria, with 'notable trees' surviving from the first plantings in 1857. The original designs, laid out by Daniel Bunce, are no longer distinguishable. In the gardens is Geelong's first Customs House, prefabricated in Sydney in 1838 and moved to this site in 1938; a small wooden building, it also served as the settlement's first telegraph office. The gardens sit on what was originally called Limeburner's Point; a cairn at the point recounts the story of the supposed discovery here of a set of keys (now lost), believed to have come from a Portuguese ship in these waters in 1522-one of many mysterious legends throughout Australia alluding to explorers here before Captain Cook or Abel Tasman.
A National Trust property open to the public is The
Heights (t 03 5221 3510; open Sun 11.00-16.30),
on Aphrasia Street in Newtown; take Ryrie Street, the
Hamilton Highway, west past Princes Highway to Shannon
Avenue, turn south to Aphrasia. The original part of the
house was prefabricated in Germany, and erected on the site
in 1854. Home to three generations of the Ibbotson family,
the home was extensively 'modernised' in the 1930s, although
the 1850s outbuildings still remain.
Also in Newtown, on Fernleigh Street off Fyans Street, is Barwon Grange (t 03 5221 3906; open Sun 13.00-16.00), another National Trust property located on the banks of the Barwon River. Built in 1856 for merchant and shipowner Jonathan Porter O'Brien, this house is distinguished for its decorative roofline and elegant rooms. The homestead is in original condition, with beautiful gardens.
History of the Peninsula
It was here, between present-day Point Lonsdale and Point Nepean (on Mornington Peninsula), that Matthew Flinders entered Port Phillip Bay in 1802, navigating the treacherous Rip; from Point Lonsdale, at Rip View, you can still witness the danger of the passage, as ships negotiate the heads on their way to Port Melbourne. Flinders sailed on and named Indented Head for the notch of land jutting out of the peninsula. David Collins came here with a surveying party on an expedition from New South Wales in 1803 to form a settlement; finding no adequate water supply, they went on to Tasmania.
At Indented Head in 1835, John Batman's party landed here, and encountered the extraordinary figure of William Buckley, a convict who had escaped from Collins' party 32 years before and had lived with the Aborigines all that time. Buckley subsequently became a go-between with the natives and his seemingly romantic story became the stuff of legend (in reality his limited intelligence led him to be less than the heroic figure presented along with other stories of 'wild white men'); his name lives on in Buckley's Cave below the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse.
To the northwest of Indented Head is Portarlington, a lovely fishing village, and the site of the Portarlington Mill (t 03 5259 2804; open summer months, Sun 12.00-16.00), a flour mill opened in 1857; the building is now part of the National Trust, which conduct tours of the preserved steam-driven mill.
Queenscliff rapidly developed as a pilot station and customs point for entering ships. In 1861 The Black Lighthouse was erected here; along with the nearby White Lighthouse, it provides a line bearing for navigation of the Rip waters.
By the 1880s, Queenscliff had become Melbourne's most popular weekend seaside resort; while initially smart, it quickly became the holiday destination for all stratas of society. In Frank Hardy's Power Without Glory (1950), the poor of Carringbush in the 1900s dreamed of weekends at Queenscliff, and rides on its giant paddlesteamers; in Graham McInnes' The Road to Gundagai (1965), Queenscliff is 'pedestrian, respectable and family'.
Remnants of its more elegant days are the Victorian era hotels, The Grand (now the Vue Grand), The Ozone, and the Queenscliff, still open for visitors. The Queenscliff Hotel is architecturally the grandest of all; the Grand Dining Room here should not be missed.
Queenscliff was also a garrison town; during the Crimean War (1853-56), fear of Russian invasion led Australians to build fortresses everywhere, particularly around Port Phillip Heads. Fort Queenscliff (t 03 5258 1488; open daily) is a fascinating reminder of this period, built to withstand assault from land or sea; a tour of the facility includes a museum in the underground powder rooms. The town also houses the Queenscliff Maritime Musuem (t 03 5258 3440; open holidays, 10.30-16.30, weekends 13.30-16.30), on Weeroona Parade, with changing displays relating to the seagoing history of the peninsula, and the Marine Studies Centre next door; and the Queenscliff Historical Museum (t 03 5258 2511; open daily, 14.00-16.00), on Hesse Street, which presents the history of the region, including relics from shipwrecks.
Queenscliff is also important as the point of departure of the Sorrento-Portsea-Queenscliff ferry (t 03 5258 3244; on the hour 7.00-18.00), including the car ferry linking the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas. The route is a great way to avoid Melbourne for those travelling the Princes Highway between the Ocean Road and Gippsland.
The Ocean Road continues 15km to Anglesea, the
tranquillity of which is somewhat blighted by the presence
on the edge of town of a coal mine and power station. The
town itself has a lovely beach; on New Year's Day, an annual
regatta of the town's 100-year-old boats sails on the
Anglesea River, and in September the Angair Festival
presents displays of wildflowers and excursions into the
bushland. The area also displays charred reminders of the
Ash Wednesday Fire, the devastating bushfires of 1983 that
spread across much of Victoria and all the way to the
10km along the road is Airey's Inlet, named for settler J. Eyrie in 1846. Of most interest here is the Split Point Lighthouse (t 03 5263 1133, tours on the hour 11.00-13.00), built in 1891 after the wreck of the Joseph Scammell at Torquay. Still in operation, the lighthouse can be climbed by visitors, to provide stunning, if vertigo-inducing, views of the cliffs and sea. Its location figures in detective writer Arthur Upfield's The New Shoe (1952).
Lorne and Apollo Bay
From here the road continues 21km to Lorne (population 930), a traditional old summer resort, initially established as such by the local grazier family the Mountjoys at the temperance hotel Erskine House in 1868. While Erskine House still remains, the town is now thoroughly overrun by hordes of tourists (at least in summer), making it difficult to appreciate any bucolic charm it may have had. Arthur Upfield, in The New Shoe (1952) nicely sums up the atmosphere:
Once upon a time Lorne was charmingly beautiful. Situated above a wide, sandy and safe bathing beach, its doom was inevitable. Crowded hotels and a fun fair, souvenir shops and crude cafes attracted the flash elements from the city. When Bony saw Lorne, he shuddered.
In the 1960s, this scenario was overlaid with a hippie-surfer attitude; now it is a bit more yuppified, with oversize holiday condos on the main street, but the overall impression is the same. Tourist information: 144 Mountjoy Parade, t 03 5289 1152.
Nearby is Teddy's Lookout, with magnificent views of the coastline, and the Angahook-Lorne State Park stretching 50km along the coast, with pleasant walking trails through the hills and to the beautiful Erskine Falls (t 131 963).
45km further west on the Ocean Road is Apollo Bay
(population 880), still a quiet, lovely spot, with gorgeous,
soft hills in the background where hang-gliders fly (there
is even a hang-gliding school here), and which provide open
views of relatively calm surf, and a long, friendly stretch
of beach. Founded in the 1860s as a timber town, the area is
also home to the Old Cable Station Museum, marking the site
where in 1936 telephone cable was laid across the Bass
Strait to Tasmania; it now contains a local history
collection. In March, Apollo Bay hosts a popular music
Be sure to take a trip up into the meadows and hills north of Apollo Bay to Paradise, c 6km. Enchanting fern forests along the Barham River offer a beautifully cool respite, especially on hot days.
West of Apollo Bay on the Ocean Road, you enter the Otway
National Park, site of treacherous Cape Otway; about
7km into the park is a turn-off to the cape, some 14km
south. After numerous early shipwrecks along these reefs,
the sandstone lighthouse here was erected in 1848, making it
the oldest along the Bass Strait coast; the second
lighthouse keeper, Henry Bayles Ford, lived here with his
family for 30 years. The lighthouse can be climbed, offering
a terrifying glimpse of this dangerous coastline; nearby is
a cemetery with the graves of lighthouse families and
The Otway Ranges receive some 200 days of rainfall a year, making this one of the wettest spots in Victoria. The park is also home to the Otways Black Snail, a rare carnivorous snail that retards its prey through an injected secretion. One can also spot koalas in the wild here, along with a vast number of other native species. Bimbi Park provides camping accommodation within the park, and nearby are excellent walking trails with views of the coast.
Back on the Ocean Road, it is c 50km to Lavers Hill, and
3km further west to Melba
Gully State Park (open daily), a 48 ha preserve
donated to the state by the local Madsen family and named
for the famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. The park is
known for its fern gullies, myrtle beech trees, and blue
From this point, continue west some 20km to Port Campbell National Park, the starting point of the Historic Shipwreck Trail, 100km of steep cliffs and world-renowned rock formations within sight of land. All of these landmarks have well-marked turnoffs from the Ocean Road.
15km from the beginning of the national park is Princetown, site of the Glenample Station (the Station either has a tea room and display or has been closed for several years; let us know if you visit, please), owned in the 1860s by Scottish immigrant Hugh Hamilton Gibson. Gibson built his own homestead in 1868, on the Simpson Road nearby. Gibson built the Gibson's Steps to reach the nearby beach; these still provide access to the sand. It was also at Gibson's homestead that, in 1878, the only two survivors of the shipwreck Loch Ard, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael, were rescued and recuperated.
A bit further west is the turn-off to the Twelve Apostles, the most famous of the limestone rock formations, now some 65m out to sea, having eroded from the cliffs over time. The rocks vary in height from 10m to 50m; as the plaques at the well-maintained overviews explain, one cannot always see all twelve formations at once, but at any time the view is impressive. From here you can take helicopter rides to view from the air this stretch of coastline.
Further on is the turn-off for Loch Ard Gorge, so named because it was near here that the above-named Loch Ard crashed in June 1878, killing all but two of its 53 passengers; only four bodies were recovered, and the story of survivors Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael provided numerous romanticised stories. The cave on the beach here where Eva sought refuge is named in her honour.
The gorge area reveals some fascinating examples of the interaction of sea and rock, including a blowhole and caves; it is also the nesting site for mutton birds, the short-tailed shearwaters that annually make an extraordinary 15000km migration around the Pacific Ocean. Recently the gorge has provided the backdrop for delightful Shakespearian performances in the summer (information from Apollo Bay or Port Campbell tourist office).
The road from here to the town of Port Campbell, c 7km,
is dotted with more scenic views of the rough coast; the
town itself (population 250) is named for a Captain Campbell
who sheltered here in the inlet in 1843. Indeed, the turn
into this small port leads to one of the only calm beaches
along this rugged coast, where swimming is a cold prospect
at most times. Tourist
information: Morris Street, t 03 5598 6089.
7km west of Port Campbell is another interesting set of ocean rock formations. Originally called London Bridge because a bridge linked what are today two separate rocks, the formation's central section broke off on 15 January 1990, stranding two people on the outer rock; they were quickly airlifted to safety.
From here, the next town is Peterborough, believed to have been settled by people who had come to see the shipwreck Schomberg in 1855. As with so many other shipwrecks here, the timbers and fittings were salvaged and reused. The Schomberg was captained by flamboyant 'Bully' Forbes, who had in 1852 made the Liverpool-Melbourne run in the unprecedented time of 68 days. In his haste to make the run in 60 days with the Schomberg, he ran aground here to the east of Curdies Inlet, today known as Schomberg Rock.
About 6km west of Peterborough is Massacre Bay. Its scenic turn-off includes information plaques about the Mahogany Ship, one of the most romantic and mysterious legends along the coast, and thought to be located somewhere nearby. See Flagstaff Maritime Museum, Warrnambool, for a more detailed description.
At Warrnambool (population 28,000), the Great Ocean Road meets Princes Highway. The town seems much larger than it is, perhaps because it is decentralised in layout and because its natural port, although unsuitable for large-scale maritime activity, enabled the early growth of a thriving industrial economy. Fletcher Jones, a leading clothes manufacturer, and Nestlé, both have headquarters here. Tourist information: Merri Street, t 03 5564 7837. The V/Line trains from Melbourne via Geelong arrive daily.
Settled in the 1840s by squatters, the town's name, originally Warnimble, derives from an Aboriginal word meaning either 'running swamps' or 'place of plenty'. In 1842, the writer 'Rolf Boldrewood' (Thomas Alexander Browne) arrived here before settling on his nearby property Squattlesea Mere; he fondly remembered his joyous time in that 'kingdom by the sea'.
By 1847, the settlement was big enough to host a horse race, an event that has continued as the Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeple Chase; the race is a major event on the racing calendar, and brings thousands of visitors to the beautiful Warrnambool Racecourse during the first week of May.
From Princes Highway, proceed to Spence Street and
Raglan Parade, where a substantial tourist information
centre offers excellent material about the region's
features, including a small brochure of the town's Heritage
The blocks bounded by Timor, Liebig, Koroit and Fairy Streets still contain many fine examples of buildings from Warrnambool's 19C boom period, many of them built by local architects Andrew Kerr, George Jobbins, and James McLeod. A mural on the corner of Liebig and Koroit Streets depicts much of Warrnambool's history, including the contribution of Chinese immigrants and the amusing images of deep-sea divers playing cards underwater, homage to those who helped dredge the harbour in the 1880s.
The most grandiose structure of this period, The Grand Ozone Coffee Palace (1890), was on the corner of Kepler Street, where the Hotel Warrnambool now stands; the palace burned to the ground in 1929.
On the corner of Liebig and Timor Streets (locally pronounced LAI-big and TAI-mor) is the Warrnambool Regional Art Gallery (t 03 5559 4949; weekdays 10.00-17.00, weekends 12.00-17.00), in a modern blue building tastefully designed to complement its 19C neighbours. Its excellent collection of Australian paintings includes Eugen von Guerard's brilliant Tower Hill (1855, the painting has been used as the model for recent reforestation of the Tower Hill site) and Robert Dowling's Minjah in the Old Time (c 1858). Also on display is a model of the demolished Grand Ozone Coffee Palace.
Other interesting sites are the lovely Botanic Gardens (t 03 5559 4800), c 2km north on Fairy Street. Laid out in 1877 by William Guilfoyle, Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, the gardens retain their original design.
At the south end of Banyan Street, on Merri Street, is Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum Complex (t 03 5559 4600), an excellent 'open-air museum' re-creating the history of this part of the Australian coast. The museum is built around the remains of an old fort built after the Crimean War (fear of that Russian invasion again!). Other buildings include two original lighthouses from the 1870s and various artisan shops where such activities as shipbuilding and blacksmithing are demonstrated.
On the water the passenger steamer Rowitta (1909) and a trading ketch Reginald M are on view. In the Shipwreck Museum are many artefacts and treasures retrieved from the coast's many shipwrecks. Of greatest interest is the Loch Ard Peacock, a magnificent life-size piece of Minton pottery, designed by Italian Paul Comolera and on its way to Melbourne for the International Exhibition of 1880 when it was salvaged from the Loch Ard disaster in 1878. The museum complex's restaurant, The Mahogany Ship, alludes to the area's most enduring legend.
The Mahogany Ship
Between 1836 and 1880, several reliable sources maintained that they had seen in the drifting sandhills outside of Warrnambool the remains of an ancient wreck, consistently described as built of dark wood and with enormous timbers. Aborigines of the region agreed that the remains had been there for centuries, and even, in some stories, spoke of 'yellow men' coming from a big ship. As the Australian Encyclopedia (1956) summarises, 'it poses a problem of the first magnitude in the controversial history of the discovery of Australia by European navigators'.
Alas, none of the witnesses at the time established an accurate location for the relic. By the 1850s the timbers had been removed and burned by whalers, and by 1880, the remains disappeared entirely from view beneath the dunes. The wreck figures romantically in Henry Kingsley's novel Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859) and in Vernon Williams' historical romance The Mahogany Ship (1923). Poet George Gordon McCrae made an intensive investigation of the subject, presenting a paper on his findings to the Royal Geographical Society in 1910. As late as 1992, the Victorian government offered a prize of $250,000 for the rediscovery of the ship. To date, the only remnants found are a few iron bolts and latches, now being carbon-dated.
Some 15km west on the Princes Highway is Tower Hill State Game Reserve (t 03 5565 9202). The site provides fascinating evidence of Victoria's largest volcano. Geologically, the site is described as a nested maar with a flooded crater and deposits of volcanic tuff creating fertile soil. The lake contains three small islands, produced when eruptions produced scoria cones (scoria is lava with steam holes). The region was cleared for farming and quarried in the mid-19C, leaving barren hills; recent reforestation has depended on the 1855 oil painting by Eugen von Guerard, now in the Warrnambool Regional Art Gallery. A loop drive around the lake is well worth the detour. The Natural History Centre in the reserve is open daily, 09.30-16.30.
The area was first visited by whalers and sealers at the beginning of the 19C. Indeed, the town's name is in honour of the cutter Fairy, the boat of early sealer and explorer Captain James Wishart who sheltered here in the 1820s. By 1835 a whaling station was established on Griffiths Island, a spit of land at the southeastern end of town and now site of the largest mutton bird rookery on the mainland. Viewing platforms here make it possible to watch the birds' arrival at twilight during the months of September through April, when they take off again on their 15,000km migration. The island also has a lighthouse built in 1859 of local bluestone and now solar-powered. At Griffiths Island, you can also get a great view of Port Fairy Bay and East Beach, usually windswept and choppy, although enjoyable for picnicking on a sunny day.
In 1844, Irishman and New South Wales solicitor James Atkinson obtained thousands of hectares of land here and renamed the area Belfast after his native town. He subdivided the area, created a harbour, and established the township, controlling all properties until land sales in the 1880s; at that time, the town was renamed Port Fairy. In the 1840s and 1850s, the town prospered along with the business enterprises of Atkinson and William Rutledge & Co., a commercial concern controlling an international firm headquartered here; most of the substantial buildings of the settlement date from this period. When Rutledge crashed in 1862, the town was paralysed and development ground to a halt. Consequently most of the old buildings have been retained, with minimal additions since the turn of the century. Today there is a small fishing fleet, and it is a centre for the abalone industry (but do not expect abalone on the town's menus; most of it is exported).
Entering on Princes Highway, turn on to Bank Street to
reach the centre of town. Here you will find several
historic buildings, including, on the left, the Drill Hall,
built c 1896 and now an antiques barn; and on the right, the
Caledonian Hotel, believed to be, since 1844, Victoria's
oldest continuously licensed hotel. In the hallway of the
hotel you can see original hand-adzed timber, plus a section
left unfinished when workers dropped their tools when word
of the Ballarat gold discovery reached them. In the hotel's
yard, author 'Rolf Boldrewood' sold horses bred from his
nearby station. A little further on Bank Street, on the east
side at Barkly Street, is St John's Church and Hall,
designed by Nathaniel Billing and erected in the late 1850s
at a cost of £7000, an extravagant sum at the time. The
tower was completed in 1956 by Maltese stonemasons.
Back on Bank Street, in what was once the second post office building of 1881, is 'Lunch', a pleasant restaurant; next door is the tourist information centre, which provides an excellent historical walking tour brochure, as well as a 'Shipwreck tour'. Next to the centre is the Star of the West Hotel, on the corner of Sackville and Bank Streets. The hotel was built in 1856 by John Walwyn Taylor, a West Indian who made money on the goldfields and dreamed of building a chain of 'Star' hotels throughout Victoria. This was the only one to be built, and was at one time a staging post for the Cobb & Co. coaches (see p 368).
Sackville Street has always been the main public street, and still includes many 19C structures, such as the Lecture Hall, completed in 1884; the Corangamite Regional Library next door, which was once the Mechanics Institute; the Cafe Gazette in the building which was the home of the Port Fairy Gazette from 1849 to 1989; the bluestone ANZ Bank, designed in 1857 by Nathaniel Billing, a well-known architect in Western Victoria, and considered by famous educator and historian James Bonwick in his description of 1858, 'the handsomest house in the town'; and the opulent post office, opened in 1881 at a cost of £4200.
On the corner of Sackville and Cox Streets is Seacombe House, begun in 1847 and in the 1850s the social centre of the town. In 1873, it became a boys' school and later a guest house. Walk south down Cox Street to Gipps Street and the lovely Moyne River canal; the two blocks here between Campbell and Bank Streets contain some of the most historic buildings from the town's early days, including 'Emoh', 8 Cox Street, now a youth hostel and originally the residence of William Rutledge, 'the King of Port Fairy'.
On the corner of Cox and Gipps Streets is a bluestone wall, the only remnants of Rutledge's warehouses. The early structures have been tastefully preserved, with later buildings complementing their architectural styles. East on Gipps Street is Mill House, originally a flour mill constructed in 1866, and now a bed and breakfast; the stone house across Gipps Street belonged to the miller Joseph Goble. West from Cox Street on Gipps Street is Mills Cottage, incorporating the 1841 wooden hut that was the original home of Charles Mill, Harbour Master from 1853 to 1871.
Further along Gipps Street is the former Court House, now the headquarters of the Port Fairy Historical Society (t 03 5568 2263; open Wed & weekends, daily during holidays 14.00-17.00) and a local museum. The building, begun in 1859, was unusually large as it was designed to seat the Supreme Court as well as the county and magistrates' court; a sign of Port Fairy's early importance in this rather isolated location. At Gipps Street and Campbell Streets is the old 1861 customs house, now a private residence; at the time of its construction, Port Fairy was an important point of entry into Victoria. Also at this corner is the Merrijig Inn, built in 1841 and, opposite the Old Moyne Mill, a five-storeyed wind-driven mill that operated until 1883.
Back on Sackville Street is Mott's Cottage (t 03 5568 2682; open Wed-Sun 14.00-16.00), a typical 1850s cottage now owned and operated by the National Trust; Sam Mott had been a member of Captain Wishart's whaling crew. Along Campbell Street are fine examples of stone cottages of the 1850s and 1860s. Further north at Cox and College Streets is St Patrick's Church, the town's second Roman Catholic church built in 1859 and another example of architect Nathaniel Billing's design.
From Port Fairy, you can also take a four-hour boat tour out to Lady Julia Percy Island, a volcanic island that is now home to some 4000 fur seals, the animals that were nearly decimated by sealers in the 19C.information centre at Henty Park (t 03 5523 2671) provides excellent material on the region and friendly service; the centre also organises several walking tours, and natural history day-tours around Portland. The is in an 1850 bluestone watchtower; this historic area of town contains many substantial bluestone buildings that are well preserved. Nearby on Bentinck Street is the former Steam Packet Inn (currently being rennovated), one of Victoria's oldest timber buildings, erected in 1842 from pieces prefabricated in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). Of special note is the hotel's steep staircase and attic roof with dormers. The hotel is now managed by the National Trust.
Now an industrial town with aluminium factories and huge commercial docks, including berths for 8-tiered sheep ships, the area was the land of the Gunditjmara Aborigines who called it Pulumbete, or 'little lake' for the swampy region now known as Fawthrop's Lagoon. French navigator Baudin passed by here in 1802, and Matthew Flinders charted the bay's waters in 1803.
Permanent white settlement here began in 1833, with the arrival of the whaler William Dutton and then the Henty family (see box), although whalers and sealers had been processing oil in the area from the early 1800s. The region was one of the best whaling areas in the world, until stocks were nearly depleted by the end of the century. In recent years, whale numbers have increased and migrating groups can be seen around Portland from June to September.
The Henty family
The Henty family epitomise the history of squatters in Australia: opportunistic adventurers who laid claim to large runs in 'uninhabited' and unexplored regions of the new country, developing pastoralism and gaining wealth and prominence by tenacious occupation of the land. Thomas Henty (1775-1839) was a Sussex farmer and breeder of Merino sheep. One of his six sons was the first Henty to arrive in Australia; he joined the Swan River settlement in Western Australia in 1829. Other members of the family moved to Tasmania in 1832 and took up large tracts of land there. In 1834, another son, Edward (1810-78), sailed into Portland Bay in the Thistle to establish the first permanent white settlement in Victoria. By 1835, sheep and cattle were grazing here, and Henty began a whaling operation, joined by his brothers. On the basis of this venture, Portland is considered 'Victoria's Birthplace by the Sea'.
When explorer Thomas Mitchell arrived from overland at the bay in 1836, he was astonished to discover the Henty settlement. By 1842, the Hentys claimed some 110,000 acres around the bay and inland as far as Wannon near Hamilton. After some reversals of fortune, the Hentys settled on these large inland properties, developing lavish estates and becoming prosperous graziers and ultimately politicians.
In the Portland region, as in every other part of Australia, the arrival of white settlers provoked inevitable conflict with the indigenous inhabitants, who as supposedly nomadic people appeared to the whites to have no real claim to land at all. Ironically, in this region, many of the Aborigines were not nomadic at all. Aborigines for the most part were viewed as little more than pesky obstructions in the way of civilised settlement. Whalers were the first to 'punish' these inhabitants, through outright slaughter, for their 'theft' of whale catches on the beach.
Resistance by Aborigines to the invasion of their tribal lands was fierce once they recognised their total displacement by these new arrivals. The Eumeralla Wars of this region raged until the mid-1840s, when the remaining Aborigines were defeated and eventually removed to mission settlements such as the one at Lake Condah north of Portland. Officially operating as an Aboriginal mission for 'assimilation' from 1867 until 1919, Lake Condah remained an Aboriginal settlement into the 1950s. It was from this base that the Gunditjmara people successfully fought for compensation for their traditional land in a famous legal battle of the 1980s, being awarded $1.5 million from the Alcoa company who built an aluminium smelter on a sacred site near Portland. The award included 4000 acres (1600 ha) at Lake Condah, now operated by the Gunditjmara for more information contact the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Co-operative at Warrnambool (t 03 5564 3333).
The Town Hall on Charles Street, built in 1864 to a
Classical design by Alexander Ross, now houses the History
House (t 03 5522 2266; open daily 10.00-12.00,
13.00-16.00), which displays relics and artefacts of the
pioneer period. Next door is the tiny Rocket Shed of 1887,
which stored rockets and ship rescue equipment; today it
displays memorabilia of the town's 150th anniversary
celebrations which took place in 1984.
The basalt ashlar Court House on Cliff Street next to the town hall was completed in 1853 from designs by Colonial Clerk of Works Henry Ginn; it is still used as the court house and stands as Ginn's most significant work. For many decades the judge would arrive in Portland for court from Melbourne by sea; once sentenced, a prisoner would be sent to the gaol next door. When excavations were made for Beach Road from here to the bay, builders uncovered a tunnel underneath the gaol, apparently dug by a convict who left it unfinished a few metres from the beach cliff.
On Gawler Street next to the information centre is another fine building by Henry Ginn, the Customs House (t 03 5522 3900; open weekdays 09.00-16.00) completed in 1850 and reminiscent of Tasmanian structures of the period; it is still used for its original purpose, and is open for tours.
One of the loveliest spots in Portland is the Botanical Gardens (t 03 5522 2200, open daily sunrise to sunset, free) on the corner of Glenelg and Cliff Streets. One of the oldest public gardens in Victoria, the site was first developed in 1857 by William Allitt, using Chinese convict labour. Allitt was a protégé of the famous Ferdinand von Mueller, curator of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. As official curator of the gardens in the 1860s, Allitt planted some 2000 species, only a quarter of which still survive. The gardens' area has decreased substantially since Allitt's day, although several unusual plants remain, including the state's largest known New Zealand cabbage tree, registered on the National Trust's list of 'Notable Trees'. The grounds also include the 1858 Curator's Cottage, restored and maintained by the Historical Society.
Also of interest in Portland are its many gracious homes, most notably Burswood, 15 Cape Nelson Road, now operating as a bed and breakfast. The splendid gardens (t 03 5523 4686) are still open to the public in the summer, but views of the interior are limited to guests. This was the third home of Edward Henty, designed by James Barrow in 1853 in a Regency style reminiscent of the Hentys' Sussex home. It has a glazed verandah and superbly decorated interior walls.
On Battery Hill at Bancroft Street is Kingsley, a charmingly fanciful structure built in 1893 for William Thomas Pile, an eccentric businessman who made money on the Castlemaine goldfields and in the wattlebark industry. Kingsley is now home to the state's southernmost vineyard (t 03 5123 1864; open daily, 13.00-16.00) and winery.
The area around Portland provides some stunning coastal views and opportunities for picnicking and serious bushwalking. Cape Nelson (t 03 8738 4051), 11km south of Portland, is now a state park with a 3km self-guided cliff walk around its 24m-high lighthouse and through the soap mallee, a unique kind of bush fauna. Cape Bridgewater, 21km southwest of the town, now the site of a convention centre, provides stunning coastal views, as well as tours of its petrified forest and blowhole. It is also the site of a seal colony, which can be reached after a 90-minute bushwalk. The National Trust also runs a lodge here, on Cape Bridgewater Road (t 03 5526 7276), that provides accommodation for up to six people.
For the truly adventurous, the Great South West Walk begins at the Portland Information Centre and encompasses 250km of track through the Lower Glenelg National Park and the seaside village of Nelson. The National Park and Information Centre (t 03 8738 4051) is located on North Nelson Road. Campsites with limited facilities are well marked along the trail. Shorter walks along the track can be reached by following the emu-logo markers.
On the Henty Highway north towards Hamilton, you can turn off towards Homerton and travel c 50km to Mount Eccles National Park (t 03 5576 1014 or 131 963) with fascinating walks through volcanic scenery (long extinct), lava caves, and Lake Surprise, a crater lake. The visitor's centre has great displays about Aboriginal life in the region, and the park is filled with birdlife.
From Portland, you can reach the gold country and
Ballarat by travelling north on the Henty Highway (A1 to
Heywood; A200 to Hamilton). V/Line bus service extends from
Melbourne via Ballarat to Hamilton and on to the Mt Gambier
in South Australia, and a daily train to Dimboola via
Ballarat, Stawell and Horsham. A more direct train travels
weekdays from Melbourne to Stawell, stopping only in
Ballarat. A 'Grampians link' is a daily train-and-coach
service to Halls Gap. To the northwest are the wheat-growing
flatlands of the Wimmera, an area reminiscent of grasslands
America in its vastness. This region was that explored by
Major Thomas Mitchell in the 1830s. Commemoration of his
expedition appears in plaques and monuments throughout the
district, and a 1700km tourist route through the region
retracing his wanderings is called the Major Mitchell Trail.
Mitchell's Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern
Australia (1838) gives an exciting picture of these early
days. Mitchell was so impressed by the green landscape on
the eastern side of the Grampians that he labelled it
'Australia Felix', encouraging pastoralists to settle here.
To the north is Grampians National Park, one of the state's largest parks, filled with bizarre rock formations and voluptuous bush. It is one of the best places in the state to view Aboriginal art, especially at those sites run by the Aboriginal communities themselves.
From Portland drive 27km north to Heywood, where you can turn off to the Aboriginal community of Lake Condah, 12km east (see Portland section). Continue 58km north on the Henty Highway to Hamilton. Hamilton (population 11,000) proudly proclaims itself as the 'Wool Capital of the World', a fact reinforced by the Big Woolbales Centre on the outskirts of town-one of the 'big things' tourist attractions, a more subdued example of the 'roadside grotesques' so popular throughout Australia. The area was founded by Scottish pastoralists and German settlers arriving from South Australia; it remains an important centre for the rural community. Of most interest for the visitor are the Hamilton Art Gallery, the Ansett Transport Museum, and the Aboriginal Keeping Place. Tourist information centre: Lonsdale Street, t 03 5572 3746.
The art gallery (t 03 5573 0460; open daily), on Brown Street, is an impressive regional gallery, emphasising an excellent collection of Mediterranean pottery and antique porcelain, donated by local grazier Herbert Buchanan Shaw, as well as a superb collection of paintings and watercolours by the 18C English artist Paul Sandby purchased from local resident C.C.L. Gaussen.
The transport museum (t 03 5571 2767) on Ballarat Road commemorates Sir Reginald Ansett, who began his airline service in Hamilton in the 1930s; Ansett Airlines is now one of the leading services within Australia. The museum includes a replica of Ansett's first plane, a Fokker Universal.
In the former Mechanics Institute on Gray Street is the Aboriginal Keeping Place, an exhibition depicting Aboriginal culture in western Victoria. Also in the area there are several private gardens that are part of the Open Garden Scheme, and are open to the public at different times throughout the year.
Grampians National Park
From Hamilton, take the Glenelg Highway (B160) 29km to Dunkeld, and proceed north 65km on route 111 to Halls Gap, entrance to Grampians National Park. An excellent visitor's centre (t 03 5356 4381) here provides displays, audio-visual presentations, detailed walking guides and books, and tours into the ranges. The Aborigines-first the Buandig and later the Jardwa tribe-called the land Gariwerd or Nambun Nambun. When Major Mitchell passed through the mountains, he named them the Grampians because they reminded him of that Scottish range. One of Arthur Upfield's best Napoleon Bonaparte mystery novels, The Mountains Have a Secret (1952), is set in the Grampians.
The 167,100 ha of national park was officially proclaimed as protected in 1984. The chain of mountains is actually the westernmost end of the Great Dividing Range, separating the fertile coastal plains from the dry interior.
Some 65km on the western side of the park is the pastoral town of Horsham (population 12,300; tourist information: Wimmera Tourism, 20 O'Callaghan's Pde, t 03 5382 1832).
36km northwest of Horsham, the Little Desert National Park (information in the town of Nhill, t 03 5391 1714) exemplifies the scrubby woodland of the Mallee, indicating the beginnings of the arid desert land of the interior.
33km southwest of Horsham is Mt Arapiles-Tooan State Park (t 03 5837 1260 or 131 963), widely regarded as the best rock-climbing location in Australia. Local climbing schools offer instruction for the neophyte and the advanced climber.
The Grampians display all the vegetation and geology of
their transitional situation: the dramatic rock formations
are filled with abundant displays of wildflowers (especially
brilliant in the spring and autumn), waterfalls, shady
picnic grounds and prolific numbers of native birds and
The main reason to come to the Grampians is to go bushwalking and rock- climbing; trails and climbs exist for every level of skill and endurance. The visitor centre at Halls Gap (see above) can give detailed information on the best sites and directions to take. The most popular-because it is the most accessible-section is the Wonderland area immediately west of the centre.
A lovely spot for a simple picnic is Zumsteins, 5km into the park, named for pioneer Walter Zumstein, who came here in the early 1900s and established a bee farm. By the 1910s, he had planted orchards and attracted kangaroos that he hand fed. He built a few tourist cottages and a swimming pool, and the area has been the most popular picnic spot in the park since 1920. The kangaroos are unbelievably brazen, despite strict warnings not to feed them. Be warned that during the summer and school holidays, all campgrounds and facilities are quickly booked out; be sure to check about accommodation before planning an excursion here.
Since Aboriginal habitation of the area dates back thousands of years, it is not surprising that the Grampians are the site of numerous examples of Aboriginal art. Rock art at least 2000 years old has been substantiated, and more than 4000 different motifs have been recorded. Next to the Halls Gap visitor centre is Brambuk Living Cultural Centre (t 03 5361 4000; open daily, 9.00-17.00), organised and operated by the Aboriginal communities of this region. (Note: Contemporary Aborigines in this part of the country are known as Koories; the term is also sometimes applied to urban Aborigines in other areas of Australia, although not so readily used by the people of the Central Desert, Western Australia, or the Northern Territory.)
Along with permanent exhibitions of Aboriginal art and artefacts, the centre also provides the best introduction to the rock art of the park and surrounding area; the community makes every attempt to protect sacred sites and to preserve the fragile art from too much tourist intrusion. The Brambuk Centre has also been instrumental in returning Aboriginal names to the park's topographical features. Of the 60 known rock sites in the park, only about six are advertised as available for public view, among them Billimina and Wab Manja, near the Buandig camping site.
Outside the park, on the Pomonal Road, 11km south of Stawell, is Bunjils Shelter, a major Aboriginal site. Bunjil is the creator-spirit of the Aborigines of this region. The trail to the shelter is well marked with explanatory signs that describe the Bunjil story.
Travel on to Stawell, a pleasant country town (population 6700). Tourist information: 54 Western Highway, t 03 5358 2314. At this point you are entering the gold country proper. By the end of the 1850s, more than 60,000 diggers had descended upon the fields between Stawell and Ararat; by the 1860s, alluvial gold was gone, but Stawell sustained its prosperity until the end of the century through newly opened quartz reef mines such as Deep Lead to the north of town. Radical miner John Wood, whose socialist ideas about ownership of property and division of church and state found great favour with the newly arrived diggers, began his career here.
Memorials to gold now exist, both at the alluvial fields of the Mount Pleasant Diggings to the west of the Western Highway; and at the Reefs Gold Memorial in Stawell itself, on the site of the first quartz mining in 1856. But Stawell's greatest claim to fame is the Stawell Easter Gift, one of the most lucrative foot races in the world; the prize money for the 120m race is currently about $100,000. The first race was run here in 1877, when a group of prominent citizens organised the Stawell Athletic Club and offered a prize of $200. Now the event attracts some 20,000 visitors and many participants from all over the world. The event traditionally begins in Central Park, site also of the Stawell Gift Hall of Fame (t 03 5358 1326; open by appointment only), commemorating those athletes who have been involved in the event.
Along the Western Highway
Travel south on the Western Highway 14km to the little town of Great Western, site of the oldest vineyards in the district and today home of Seppelt's Great Western (t 03 5361 2239; open daily 10.00-17.00, tours Mon-Sat, 10.30, 13.30 & 15.00), makers of champagne-method wine. Winemaking was first introduced in this region in 1863 by Frenchmen, the Blampieds and Jean Pierre Trouette.
A Western Vineyards Tour covering 110km and several wineries begins here. (For information and maps of this tour, contact the visitor's information centre in Melbourne, or the tourist office in Ararat, t 03 5355 0281). The Seppelt's tour is especially interesting as it includes a tour of the underground cellars built by gold-miners over 60 years; they were begun in 1868 by the founding vintner Joseph Best and continued under Hans Irvine in the 1880s and 90s. Irvine really established the area as a champagne-producing region. The cellars provide over 6km of rack space. Also in the area is Best's Concongella Vineyard, another winery founded by Henry Best in 1868 and continued by his son Charles into the 1920s, when it was purchased by the great wine-maker Frederick P. Thomson. Tastings and sales are, of course, available here, as at all the other wineries in the region.
Continue 17km into Ararat (population 8200), so named in 1841 by the first settler Horatio S. Wills, 'for like the Ark, we rested here'. Wills holds the dubious honour of being the first squatter to use strychnine to kill dingoes. Gold was discovered here in 1857 by Chinese prospectors, hence the name of the find, the Canton Lead. On the site of this lead is a life-size sculpture by Dorothea Saaghy of a Chinese miner. However, the gold here quickly dwindled, and by the 1860s, Ararat returned to sheep-farming as its major occupation.
The town has several bluestone municipal buildings of
note from the late 1800s. The Ararat
Gallery (t 03 5352 2836; open weekdays, 11.00-16.00,
Sun & holidays, 12.00-16.00), on Vincent Street, houses
an excellent collection of fabric and fashion, centred on
the Collection of Lady Barbara Grimwade, a Melbourne
socialite who donated her own gowns of the 1950s-80s in
1991. Also included is a collection of Japanese packaging
and paperworks. On the corner of Barkly and Queen Streets is
a funny little collection of Aboriginal artefacts, household
appliances, and photographic equipment in the Langi Morgala
Museum (t 03 5352 3117; Tues. 10.00-15.00, weekends
One of the weirdest tourist attractions in Ararat is J Ward, on Girdlestone Street (t 03 5352 3357; open Sun and holidays, 11.00-15.00), formerly the institution for the criminally insane; it now gives tours that display all those gruesome implements of psychiatric treatment over the last 100 years.
On Golf Links Road in town is One Tree Hill Lookout, which offers a tremendous view towards the Grampians and of Mt Langi Ghiran (an Aboriginal word for the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo).
At Maroona, 19km south of here, was the property of radical politician and poet J.K. McDougall, Labor member of parliament 1906-12, during which time the National Party leader Billy Hughes deliberately distorted McDougall's poem 'The White-Man's Burden' to discredit his socialist politics. The shabby tactic by Hughes so inflamed public opinion that McDougall was tarred and feathered by some war veterans.
Continue on the Western Highway, passing through the tiny mining town of Buangor, which consists only of a general store and a Cobb & Co. staging station.
Established in 1853 by Americans Freeman Cobb, John
Peck, James Wanton and John Lamber and purchased in 1859 by
James Rutherford, the company dominated Australian inland
transport for 70 years and provided horse-drawn carriage
service until 1924. The company used American coaches in
contrast to the prevalent English imports because the
Australian road conditions required the leather-sprung,
cradled design for stability and comfort. Similarly distinct
from the English black body, the Concord-manufactured bodies
were bright red with gold and floral ornament.
The company passed into Australian hands relatively quickly. After the Victorian goldfields had access to railways, the company moved to New South Wales where it again first served the goldfields, then the rural settlers. As the railways were extended, Cobb & Co. moved its routes farther inland. In the 1870s, the firm harnessed 6000 horses daily and travelled nearly 45,000km per week. The country's affection for the firm was furthered by its generous treatment of its drivers who were themselves often near legends. Legendary driver Cabbage-tree Ned (Edward Devine), who drove the English cricketers during their famous 1862 tour, was buried in a Ballarat pauper's grave before a public subscription caused the erection of a suitable tombstone.
Restored coaches can be seen at the Queensland Museum, Vaucluse House in Sydney, and the National Museum in Melbourne, and other smaller venues in Victoria and New South Wales.
A further 21km south along the Western Highway is Beaufort, birthplace of another radical poet, Bernard O'Dowd in 1866. At Lake Goldsmith, 15km south of here is the twice-yearly Lake Goldsmith Steam Rally, one of the biggest meetings of steam-powered machines in the country (usually about 300 of them).
Travel another 48km to reach the grand Victorian town of Ballarat.
centre is located at the corner of Eureka and Rodier
Streets (t 03 5320 5741) in Eureka, about 2 km east of the
city's historic commercial areas. A second information
centre is open at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, about a
block north of Sturt Street, one of the city's main
thoroughfares, three chains wide and tree-lined. In
the median (the landscaped dividing area between the
traffic lanes of the street) is the delightful Titanic
Memorial Bandstand, erected in 1915 with an elaborate hipped
roof and Titanic weather-vane. The bandstand is an
indication of the street's pleasure building programme and
its aspirations as the city's centre for social festivities.
Three blocks west on Sturt Street in the median strip is the
Queen Alexandra Bandstand, constructed in 1908 with iron
filigree decorations and a more delicate appearance. This
median strip also includes a number of memorial statues,
including the inevitable monument to the Scottish poet
Robert Burns (Australia is said to have more Burns monuments
than Scotland). The statue's sculptor John Udny came from
Italy and sculpted the piece from Carrara marble.
At 11 Sturt Street is the Union Hotel, erected in 1863 and in relatively original condition, making it an important example of gold rush period building. Its first-floor French doors once opened into an iron balustraded verandah. Further along is an 1891 shop, designed in a Flemish style and covered with decorative blue glazed tiles, a distinctly Australian Art Nouveau element.
On the north side of the street, the equally colourful Camp Hotel, built in 1907, is covered in green tiles.
To the east of the centre, at 115-119 Sturt Street, is the Mechanics' Institute, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1869; the present façade was added in 1878. The interior includes a fine staircase. The institute's Library still functions as such, while the rest of the building is now occupied by a cinema. Next door is the former Unicorn Hotel, parts of which were erected as early as 1856, making it one of the town's oldest hotels. The building is now considerably altered, but its two-storeyed verandah with ironwork is one of the only remaining examples in the state.
The intersection of Lydiard Street South and Sturt Street was known as 'the Corner', for it was here that the most frenzied trading took place during the boom days in the offices of the share brokers, and where major gold discoveries were announced. The National Mutual Insurance Company Offices of 1905, on the western side of the corner, demonstrates the ostentatious ambition of the Ballarat town fathers. While the proportions of the building have been ruined by first-floor modernisation, the Venetian Gothic design of architects J.J. and E.J. Clark can be seen in the trefoil arches of the upper floors. These same architects designed Melbourne's City Baths, and had originally included here a huge ceiling dome similar to their work in Melbourne.
In the same block on Sturt Street is Ballarat Town Hall. As in so many other Australian towns with grandiose aspirations, this public structure became the focus of much architectural and civic wrangling. Initially conceived as a plain utilitarian building in the 1860s, by 1868 the City Council decided to conduct a design competition, then promptly rejected the judge's choice and settled for separate architects for exterior and interior. The resultant building is an amalgamation of the designs of J.T. Lorenz, H.R. Caselli, and Percy Oakden. It was completed in 1872 at a cost of £18,000; the four-storey tower was added in 1912. The town fathers were immensely proud of this awkward conglomeration when it opened and were disappointed when visiting English dignitaries were unimpressed. Of greatest interest are the preponderance of giant Corinthian columns, its Palladian form, and its rectangular interior stairway.
From here, it is easy to walk back to Lydiard Street
North, the location of the most substantial early commercial
buildings. The entire length of Lydiard Street was first
surveyed in 1851 and named after a police officer on the Mt
Alexander diggings. The northern end's importance grew with
the establishment of the railway station above Mair Street
in 1862, thus prompting the erection of several hotels and
commercial warehouses in this section.
On the northwest corner of Sturt and Lydiard Streets are a cluster of banks' buildings, all designed in the 1860s by prominent architect Leonard Terry. They are considered to be the most important group of buildings in Ballarat, speaking to the confident commercial prosperity of the town's early days. While Terry used a variety of styles and a mixture of Tuscan and Corinthian orders, the group presents a unified integration of rustication and arched fenestration.
Further north on this block is The George Hotel (t 03 5333 4866), still operating as a hotel. A hotel occupied this site from 1853 and was an important social centre, with some of the only fashionable dining in town. The present building was erected in 1902; its three-storey ironwork verandah is unique in Victoria.
Immediately across the street are the most significant 19C public buildings. At no. 6 Lydiard Street is the former Mining Exchange, built in 1887 to replace the exchange that had been on 'the Corner'. In keeping with its pivotal role in Ballarat's economy, the building was a formidable construction by architect C.D. Figgis, featuring a grand main hall with Tuscan arcading and elegant natural lighting, and an elliptical entrance arch. The building now houses antiques and collectables, but the architecture is relatively intact.
Next door is Old Colonists' Hall, built in 1887 on the site of the early gold escort stables; it is now owned by R.F. Scott & Co., leading suppliers of fishing and shooting equipment. Its elegant upper-storey iron balustrade complements the adjoining verandah of the Alexandria Tea Rooms, with its unusual iron panels with a radiating pattern. The tea rooms were originally the club rooms of the Commercial Club.
At 40 Lydiard Street is the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
(t 03 5320 5858; open Mon-Fri, 9.00-17.00, free), the
first provincial art gallery in Australia, designed for this
purpose in 1887 (with renovations in 1927 and 1967). Leading
parliamentarian Alfred Deakin officially opened the building
on 13 June 1890 amidst great fanfare. Initially the main
galleries were upstairs, reached by ascending an impressive
stone stairway. The important historic paintings are still
on the first floor, while the ground floor galleries are
used for changing exhibitions.
The gallery's collection is an important one, emphasising the full spectrum of Australian art. One section on the ground floor is dedicated to artworks associated with the Eureka Stockade, the centrepiece of which is the Eureka Flag itself. Surrounding it are the only known eyewitness drawings of the rebellion by Swiss digger Charles Doudiet, recently purchased from Canada. The gallery also has a long affiliation with the Lindsay family, renowned Australian artists, who originally hailed from nearby Creswick (the Lindsay Gallery includes the family's Creswick sitting room); the collection of drawings and prints by the Lindsay artists is extensive.
Upstairs the rooms include some of the early monuments of Australian painting, not only Eugen von Guerard's view of Old Ballarat in 1853 and Walter Withers' Last Summer (1898), but also J.C.F. Johnstone's delightful Euchre in the Bush (c 1867), a folk-art depiction highlighting the ethnic diversity on the goldfields, and, of course, many of S.T. Gill's famous watercolours from the gold rush era. As part of Victoria's regional gallery scheme, in which these institutions concentrate on specific special collections, the Ballarat collection also contains a small but impressive number of medieval manuscripts.
Heading north to Mair Street and one block east is the
crooked Camp Street, so named because the first Government
Camp was installed here in 1851. Here are some splendid old
buildings: Pratt's Warehouse on the corner of Mair Street,
the Greek Revival Freemason's Hall (now Electra Hall) of
1872, the 1887 Trades Hall, and the bluestone Old Ballarat
Police Station, also from the 1880s. These are now somewhat
overshadowed by the imposing State Government Offices built
From the corner of Lydiard and Mair Streets and along the next block north are several early commercial warehouses, evidence of the mercantile activity engendered by the railway. Most intact is J.J. Goller & Co. Warehouse, erected in 1861-62, its rusticated façade and window quoinings reminiscent of early Chicago warehouses. At the end of this block opposite Market Street is Reid's Coffee Palace, built in the 1880s at the height of the Coffee Palace vogue. While much of its exterior has been lamentably renovated, the interior still includes the original hand-painted ceiling.
Across the street on the corner of Mair Street is the
former Ballarat Palace Hotel of 1887 (now an insurance
company), notable for its original exterior with crisp
details and proportions. In marked contrast on this side of
the street, further north at Ararat Street, is the
flamboyant Provincial Hotel, built in 1909 by P.S. Richards,
on the site of an earlier hotel of the same name. It is a
remarkable if clumsy example of eclectic Edwardian design,
with its orientalist towers and Romanesque arched balconies.
At this point the railyards begin. The railway station itself represents the central position played by Ballarat in the growth of Victoria's provincial rail system. The main building was constructed in 1862, when an indirect line from Melbourne reached the city. The platform shed covered three railway tracks and extended sixteen bays along the platform. By 1889, when the link between Ballan and Bacchus Marsh finally created a direct route to Melbourne, the southern entrance building, with its impressive clock tower-devoid of clocks!-was completed. Trains from Melbourne and other parts of Victoria still arrive at this station.
Lydiard Street South properly begins at the junction of
Eyre and Armstrong Streets and continues to Sturt Street.
Interestingly, this corner is the site of Ebenezer
Presbyterian Church, with the former Gaol and Supreme Court
next door. The church is a Classical Revival structure,
erected in 1862 to a design by H.R. Caselli; the ornate iron
fence which surrounds the church, manse and hall was added
in 1892. The remnants of the gaol next door on Lydiard
Street South, as well as the former Supreme Court Building,
are now part of the Ballarat School of Mines grounds.
When the gaol was built in 1857, it was one of several gaols constructed in the Victorian countryside in response to the need for prison accommodation once the hideous prison hulks (in Port Phillip Bay) were removed. As with the other prison buildings in the state, the design was based on the Pentonville system, with a central hall and radiating wings. Now only the gateway, flanking buildings and guard tower remain.
The adjoining Supreme Court building, from 1868, consists of a public room and a central court room with flanking offices. Its façade is similar to any number of Commonwealth country courthouses of the era. Further north is the original building of the School of Mines and Industries, a central institution in Ballarat's social history since 1870. Founded by members of the Mining Board to provide all-rounded practical education of use to the mining industry, the school soon gained a reputation for the excellence of its training in engineering, metallurgy, chemistry and geology.
To the right at Dana Street is the Ballarat Club, representative of the town's ambitious striving for English sophistication. Formed in 1872 and in this building since 1888, the purpose of the club was to uphold upper-class English values. Historians of the social life of the era point out that the club did not allow membership to tradesmen, women, Jews, or Catholics. The predominant entertainment in the club, after eating, drinking, playing cards and smoking, was betting. The building, by C.D. Figgis, is one of appropriately restrained elegance.
On the opposite corner of Dana Street is further evidence of genteel society, in the cluster of churches, most notably the former Wesleyan Church by architects Terry and Oakden (Terry seems to have specialised in the ecclesiastical buildings of the non-conformist denominations, while Oakden served the needs of the Anglicans and Catholics). Thus begins the most public block of the street up to Sturt Street and 'the Corner', dominated by two of the most historical structures in the city.
On the east side is the former Academy of Music, now the Royal South Street Memorial Theatre, and the scene of some of the most boisterous events in Ballarat's social history. Here was an annual music competition for which Ballarat was well known in the late 19C. Opening in 1875 with an operatic production of La Fille de Madame Angot, the building also saw performances by Dame Nellie Melba, Gladys Moncrieff, and Harry Lauder; future prime minister James Scullin won a debating championship here when a young man.
Architecturally, the building has been substantially renovated, first in 1898 by the famous theatre architect William Pitt. This remodelling extended the seating capacity to 2000 and saw the addition of the Art Nouveau interior decorations and a double balcony, which still survive.
Across the street is the grandest hotel associated with
the gold rush era, Craig's Royal Hotel (t 03 5331 1377). The
building stands on the site of the town's first licensed
hotel, opened in 1853 by Thomas Bath. In 1857 this modest
timber building was purchased by Walter Craig, and by 1862
he had built the grandiose southern wing, in an Italianate
style. Over the next 40 years the hotel expanded,
incorporating a variety of architectural styles and
culminating in the ostentatious corner tower in 1890. Many
original features remain, especially the elegant stairway,
the dining room pilasters, and a fantastic bar surrounded by
painted stuccowork. The entrance is still flanked by
original gas lamps.
Historically, Craig's has many important associations. The poet Adam Lindsay Gordon ran the livery stables here in 1867; the cottage in which he lived behind the hotel has been re-erected in the Ballarat Botanic Gardens. Famous guests included Queen Victoria's sons, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales, and Mark Twain. At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, officers of the Confederate ship, the Shenandoah, were fêted here, while they supposedly recruited men for their cause (although it appears more likely that they were just having a rip-roaring good time). In 1911, Dame Nellie Melba began a tradition of singing operatic arias from the Grand Victorian Balcony for the people in the street below.
Sturt Street travelling east from Lydiard Street makes a
loop around a shopping mall to become Victoria Street or the
Melbourne Road. This is now East Ballarat, where the diggers
lived and where construction was far less organised and
stolid than in West Ballarat. The roads are less regulated,
with small streets that simply emerged from the growing
Turn south on East Street to Barkley Street, and turn left into Barkly Street (named for Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of Victoria 1856-63). At this juncture on both sides of the street are major brick structures of the early period. On the right is the East Ballarat Library (now a branch of the School of Mines), erected in 1867 by J.T. Lorenz and C.H. Ohlfsen-Bagge, an innovative engineer-architect much taken with polychrome brickwork. Across the street is the East Ballarat Fire Station, the brick tower of which was constructed first in 1864 to house the fire bell.
At the corner of Barkly and Princes Streets is the elegant Synagogue, built as early as 1861 by T.B. Cameron-evidence of a sizeable Jewish population in early Ballarat; Jewish author Pinkus Goldhar, in fact, wrote a story, 'The Last Minyan' (1939), set among the community here. The building follows the pattern of European Orthodox synagogues, although the exterior is a Classical design with Tuscan columns. It is one of the only 19C synagogues remaining in Victoria.
Gold-mining in Ballarat ~ Eureka Street
Turn south on Princes Street to Eureka Street, location of many historical attractions. Here were the actual goldfields and the miners' settlements, and here the Eureka Rebellion took place. This section was strongly identified with the Irish community, and a Catholic chapel was erected as early as 1854.
West towards Main Street is Montrose Cottage (t 03 5332 2554, phone for an appointment), the oldest stone cottage in Ballarat, built in 1856 of bluestone by Scottish stonemason John Alexander. It has been restored and is now an elegant bed and breakfast.
About a km further up Eureka Street is the supposed site of the Eureka Stockade (t 03 5333 1854, 9.00-16.30)). At the time of writing, this spot was being reconstructed, although all indications are that the site itself will consist only of a small commemorative obelisk. Across the street is the Eureka Centre, telling the story of the rebellion through a series of computer screens. The surrounding gardens were set aside as a commemorative in the 1870's.
At Fussell Street, turn south to the Ballarat Wildlife Park (t 03 5333 5933; open daily, 09.30-17.30), 16 ha, replete with all the expectable Australian fauna.
Turn west on York Street, then follow the signs south on Main Street to Sovereign Hill Gold-Mining Township (t 03 5337 1111, open daily 10.00- 17.00). As an open-air museum re-creating an 'authentic' 1850s gold-mining town, Sovereign Hill does as good a job as any of these kinds of endeavours, with everyone dressed in 19C costumes and using original machines and equipment. You can pan for gold, walk down a re-created main street, and visit a mining museum with actual tunnel tours. There is even a Chinese village, although at last count no Chinese were included amongst the historically dressed guides. Overnight accommodation is even offered in a re-created Government Camp.
At night a sound-and-light production, 'Blood on the Southern Cross', recounts the Eureka story (it requires separate booking and an additional fee). The entry fee is (as with so many other tourist venues in Australia) rather steep, but Sovereign Hill makes a good attempt to give one value for money. Opposite the venue itself is the Gold Museum (open weekdays 09.30-17.20, Sat 12.00-17.20); admission here is included in the township's entry fee. A thoughtfully designed building allows a view of the hills and gullies of Ballarat where the gold was found. The exhibitions themselves are quite spectacular in terms of actual minerals displayed, and include a good history of gold and minting, as well as a social documentation of Ballarat and Eureka.
If you enter Ballarat from the west on the Ballarat-Burrumbeet Road, you pass by a 23km Avenue of Honour, containing 4000 trees commemorating the soldiers of the First World War. It ends at an Arch of Victory, erected through the fund-raising efforts of the women employees of E. Lucas & Co., makers of women's underwear. The arch was opened in 1920 by the Prince of Wales. From this point, it is a short distance further to Lake Wendouree Botanic Gardens on Wendouree Parade (t 03 5320 5135). Turn north on Gillies Street to reach the gardens and its conservatory. The lake is on the site of what was Yuille's Swamp; by the 1850s it had been consolidated into this lake, and by the 1860s boating clubs and other amusement centres began to develop. At the same time, the adjacent police horse paddock was converted into the botanic gardens.
The real heyday of the area was the 1880s, when genteel ideas of leisure activity led to the establishment of picturesque walks, the installation of paddle steamers, and the erection of picnic pavilions. Elegant Victorian villas surround the lake. The gardens contain a Statuary Pavilion, erected in 1887 and filled with sculptures imported from Italy (Ballarat is known as Victoria's 'city of statues'). These had been donated by wealthy Ballarat bachelor Thomas Stoddart, one of several prominent citizens who sought to elevate Ballarat's self-image. Also in the gardens is the Begonia House, centre of the city's annual Begonia Festival each February/March. The house is now the Robert Clark Conservatory (open daily 09.00-17.00), an elegant new greenhouse that recently won a design award from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. The grounds also display several trees that are now on the National Trust's Register of Significant Trees. Most striking are the California redwoods, difficult to grow in Australia; they commemorate the historical ties between the Californian and Victorian gold rushes, and the number of American diggers who arrived here in the 1850s. It should be noted that, conversely, Australian diggers brought eucalyptus trees-now ubiquitous in the US state-to California in 1856.
The Ballarat Vintage Tramway (t 03 5334 1580; open 12.30-17.00 weekends and holidays) also operates at the botanic gardens, the last vestige of the city's previously extensive tram system. The lake was the venue for the rowing events at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and one still finds Olympic athletes training here.
As a city with grand Victorian-era aspirations, Ballarat of course set aside prime land for the construction of imposing churches. To the west of Doveton Street (Glenelg Highway) on Sturt Street are several: on the southern corner of Sturt and Dawson Streets is St Patrick's Cathedral, for which construction began as early as 1857, but work halts delayed its completion until 1891. In the 1860s, the main design was conceived by J.B. Denny, local architect in thrall of Puginesque Gothic Revival; elements of Pugin's ideas are evident throughout the cathedral complex, a characteristic that makes it unique in Victorian ecclesiastical design.
Opposite the cathedral on Dawson Street is the former Baptist Church of 1867 (now Church of Christ), a marvellously intact example of classical Roman revival design, quite similar to the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne. Across Sturt Street on the northwestern corner is St Andrew's Kirk, another formidable structure that took more than 30 years and several architects to complete, from 1862-89. Overall, the impression is of Norman detailing and Presbyterian sobriety (it is now a Uniting Church).
A block north on the corner of Dawson and Mair Streets is the former Congregational Church, an 'eclectic Gothic' monument of the 1880s. Finally, it is interesting to see at Neill and McCarther Streets, in an area of residential buildings, a set of three churches of the same congregation, built at twenty-year intervals as the congregation outgrew the last building.
Ballarat to Bendigo
From Ballarat, you might decide to travel north on the Midland Highway (A300) to the other great gold-town, Bendigo; there are also train connections between Ballarat and Bendigo, and from Melbourne. En route, the rolling countryside is dotted with small towns that owe their existence to the presence of gold in the nearby rivers and hills, and each is rich in historic buildings, tourist attractions, and has information centres which provide walking tours and detailed descriptions.
18km from Ballarat is Creswick, home of the famous Lindsay family. The author and artist Norman Lindsay based the descriptions in his Redheap novels on the town, referring to it as 'one of those eruptions of human lunacy called a mining centre'. The books were banned in the town for their unsympathetic portrayal of recognisable residents. Lindsay's father, the town doctor, was present at the birth here in 1885 of John Curtin, the famous Labor Prime Minister during the Second World War. A granite monument commemorates Curtin as a native son. The present Creswick Historical Museum (t 03 5345 2845; open Fri and Sat 11.00-15.30), in the 1876 Town Hall on Albert Street, displays many artworks by the Lindsays and other regional artists, and provides historical background on the area.
Creswick is also home to the Creswick Woolen Mill (t 03 5345 2202, daily 10.00-17.00), the only surviving industrial scale woolen mill in Australia. It is at the end of Railway Parade, about 2 km from the Town Hall, left on Williams off of North Parade.Daylesford and Hepburn Springs
A further 27km north on A300 are the twin 'spa towns' of
Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. In the region are numerous
mineral springs; 50 per cent of Australia's mineral water
sources are located here, and the residents have been
bottling water since 1850. Tourist information: 49 Vincent
Street, t 03 5348 3707. A daily bus/train service runs from
Melbourne, and also has weekday buses to Ballarat,
Castlemaine and Bendigo. Ashuttle bus between Daylesford and
Hepburn Springs runs eight times a day, weekdays only. The
area developed quickly as a fashionable health resort, only
an hour's drive from Melbourne. Initially, gold discoveries
here encouraged the arrival of European diggers: at
Daylesford Swiss-Italian tunnellers, and at Hepburn Springs
some 20,000 Italians by the 1860s. Consequently, much of the
early architecture bears a resemblance to Northern Italian
and Tyrolean models.
By the 1890s, the region had the elegant air of a European spa, evident in the Hepburn Springs Spa complex (t 03 5348 8888), originally constructed in 1895 and renovated in 1991. Today renewed interest in natural health therapy has made the area a centre for alternative lifestyles and New Age crafts (and excellent bookshops!). Each April since 1987, the Daylesford Spa Festival is held. In Daylesford is also the Convent Gallery, corner of Daly and Hill Streets (t 03 5348 3211), a lovely arts-and-crafts centre in a restored 1892 convent which is also known for its restaurant. The town has the requisite Historical Society Museum and botanic gardens (at Wombat Hill).
Daylesford is also the site of the Scottish Highland Gathering in the first week of December, like several of these celebrations people describe it as the largest Scottish gathering outside of Scotland. In July, the region's Swiss-Italian heritage is celebrated at the Mid-Winter Festival.
From Daylesford, continue north 40km to Castlemaine
(population 7450), one of the major centres for gold-mining.
The Mt Alexander Goldfields were here, whose gullies
produced some of the richest alluvial yields in the world.
Castlemaine was initially the administrative centre for all
of the goldfields and site of the government camp. Tourist
information centre: Duke Street; t 03 5471 1795.
Daily trains operate from Melbourne to Castlemaine and on to
Bendigo and Swan Hill.
Today Castlemaine is known for its substantial number of gold-era buildings, and most especially the Market Hall (t 03 5472 2679) on Mostyn Street, designed as if it were a Roman basilica, complete with Tuscan portico and a statue of Ceres, Roman goddess of the harvest, on top of the entrance. It was used as a market until 1967, and is now a museum.
The Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum (t 03 5472 2292; open weekdays 10.00-17.00 and weekends 12.00-17.00) contains some excellent Australian paintings, including Frederick McCubbin's Golden Sunlight (c1895) donated by Dame Nellie Melba, and works by Margaret Preston. The Theatre Royal (t 03 5472 1196) on Hargraves Street is touted as one of the oldest theatres in Victoria, one where the notorious Lola Montez played to rowdy and adoring miners. Today, it serves as a popular cinema and restaurant.
The gallery is also the caretaker for a superb historical house and gardens, 'Buda', 42-8 Hunter Street (t 03 5472 1032; open Wed. through Sat 12.00-17.00, Sun and holidays 10.0017.00). The house was originally in the style of a British-Indian bungalow with wide verandahs, built for Colonel John Smith, but it was purchased in 1857 by noted Hungarian silversmith Ernest Leviny, who named it after his native city and extended the rooms considerably to accommodate his large family. While the present exterior appears rather shabby, the house's treasures are the beautiful gardens and the interior rooms, lovingly maintained by Leviny's five daughters with fine examples of their father's silver work. Each spring, an Annual Garden Party continues a Leviny tradition; the gardens are considered among the most important in Victoria.
Castlemaine also has one of the oldest provincial botanic gardens, at Downes Road along Barkers Creek (t 03 5471 1705), begun in 1856 with many plants provided by Melbourne's famous botanist Ferdinand von Mueller. The town is also famous as the original home of Queensland's XXXX Beer; it was first brewed here by Irishman Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. When Fitzgerald moved to Brisbane in 1887, he took the name and the recipe with him; hence the 'Castlemaine' on every Queensland bottle today.
The area around Castlemaine is dotted with picturesque
towns and remnants of old diggings, and the countryside
boasts an abundance of tranquil country bed and breakfasts.
18km northwest is Maldon (population 1110), voted in 1965 by
the National Trust as the 'First Notable Town in Australia'
for its well-preserved overall streetscape. It has
subsequently served as an ideal stage-set for historic films
and now is filled with tea-rooms, antique shops and cottage
gardens. The buildings are quite 'authentic', offering small
storefronts of 1850s and 1860s. Tourist
information centre: High Street; t 03 5475 2569.
The road to the town travels through hills with a distinct geology, and evidence of mining tailings appear in the landscape everywhere. The Historical Museum (t 03 5475 1633; open by the volunteer staff, Fri. to Wed. 13.30-16.00 ) has quaint and informative displays, and the Castlemaine and Maldon Preservation Society run steam trains along an old section of track on Sun., Wed. and holidays (t 03 5470 6658).
Gold was discovered here in 1853 by German prospector John Mechosk, who located several other major finds. Once the rich alluvial fields were depleted, enormous quartz reefs were discovered, and continued to produce until the 1930s.
From Castlemaine 48km west on the Pyrenees Highway
(B180) is Maryborough
(population 7800), another country town growing out of gold
diggings. It certainly had delusions of grandeur if the
railway station is any indication. It is worth visiting just
to see this grandiose structure, 400m long with marble
dressing-tables in the toilets and oak and walnut panelling.
Legend has it that the design was actually produced for
Spencer Street Station in Melbourne. On his famous tour of
Victoria in 1895, Mark Twain described Maryborough as 'a
railway station with a town attached'. Tourist
information: Alma and Nolan Streets, t 03 5460
North from Castlemaine 40km on the Calder Highway (A79/A300) is Bendigo (population 70,000). The train from Melbourne and Castlemaine also travels on to Bendigo. If 'grand' describes Ballarat, 'proudly prosperous' describes Bendigo, more low-key and less touristy than its southern neighbour. Tourist information: 51-67 Pall Mall; t 03 5444 4445; freecall 1 800 813 153.
The first gold discovery here occurred in 1851, when Margaret Kennedy, the stationmaster's wife, allegedly made a small find. Initial alluvial mining quickly died out, but plentiful reef mining began in the 1860s. Ultimately, over 35 reefs would be discovered in the vicinity. Improved mining methods allowed Bendigo to continue as a gold producer into the 1950s.
The town itself was first called Sandhurst, but popular opinion finally led to the official adoption of the goldfield name Bendigo in the 1890s. The name, popular tradition maintains, was the nickname of a shepherd who had become a local prizefighter and emulated 'Bendigo' Thompson, a famous English fighter of the time. The name itself is a corruption of the Biblical Abednego.
In his humorous novel, Illywhacker (1985), Peter Carey's hero Herbert Badgery gives a poetic description of Bendigo which captures the impression it must have given to 19C eyes:
I have heard people describe Bendigo as a country town ... These people have never been to Bendigo and don't know what they are talking about ... if there are farmers in the streets, dark cafes with three courses for two and sixpence and, in Hayes street, a Co-op dedicated to Norfield Wire Strainers and Cattle Drench, it does not alter the fact that Bendigo is a town of the Golden Age.
Early aspirations for Sandhurst to be a grand British
provincial town are evident in the naming of streets. The
surveyor Richard Larritt called the central square Charing
Cross and its intersecting street Pall Mall; a bit north of
here on View Street is the information centre. The park
Larritt planned to the north of Pall Mall was later called
Rosalind Park, after the character in Shakespeare's As You
At Charing Cross Square is Alexandra Fountain, built in 1881 by noted architect W.C. Vahland and named for Alexandra, Princess of Wales. At the time the town was proud of its reputation for polished stonework, and the fountain gave an opportunity to employ local talent. From here you can begin a Heritage Walk with accompanying brochure available from the information centre.
This square was originally known as View Point, because it overlooked Bendigo Creek. The town's early prestigious banks were located across the street, as can be seen in a row of buildings on the northwest block and leading up View Street itself.
View Street North is lined with public buildings of the Victorian era, some of them carefully restored and preserved and others in various states of renovation. The elegant Union Bank (now ANZ Bank), no. 45, built in 1876 with Corinthian columns and bluestone pedestals, has been restored to its original state, to complement the stupendous Masonic Hall and Temple, further north on the west side, no. 52. The architects of this impressive structure were Robert Getzschmann and W.C. Vahland (not surprisingly, they were both freemasons and Vahland was Grand Master of this lodge); the majority of prominent early buildings in town were designed by this prolific architectural team. The main building, with its perfectly proportioned Corinthian portico, was completed in 1873. The interior contains ornate plasterwork with Masonic symbols and above every window a depiction of Tubal Cain, the Biblical metal-worker. In 1890, the building becamhttp://www.bendigotourism.com/e the Capitol Theatre; next to the Melbourne Town Hall, it was the largest hall in Victoria. Originally part of the ground floor and the basement were the Masonic Hotel, known as the 'Shades'; a faded sign at the back still bears witness to this establishment, although the hotel was delicensed in 1922. The hall is now the Bendigo Regional Arts Centre, which opened in 1991; it has a year-round programme of artistic events and community activities.
Next door is the Bendigo Art Gallery (t 03 5443 4991; open daily 10.00-17.00). The original structure was a polychrome brick Orderly Room built for the town's Rifle Brigade, again by Vahland and Getzschmann, in 1867. This building was covered over in the 1950s by the unfortunate façade. Plans are apparently afoot to retrieve the original façade, although this may be wishful thinking on the part of the gallery's curators. The interior gives evidence to the original building's pleasant proportions.
The gallery's collection is a jewel in the crown of Victoria's regional art gallery system. Not only is there a good selection of Australian paintings, but also a substantial number of 19C English and French paintings, especially of the Barbizon School. Most of these works were given to the gallery by Dr Neptune-Scott, a local surgeon, and by some of the gold-wealthy citizens of the community.
On the northern side of the Arts Centre Building is Dudley
House (t 03 5434 6100; open weekends and holidays,
14.00-17.00), Bendigo's oldest government building. It was
originally the offices of surveyor Richard Larritt, who
moved in 1854, having already laid out Bendigo's street
plan. The building now houses the Bendigo Branch of the
Royal Historical Society of Victoria, and contains period
furnishings and historical documents.
At no. 28 View Street is Temperance Hall, another Vahland and Getzschmann structure of 1860, now a Chinese waxworks museum. Note to the north of the building an old wall sign indicating the 'Births and Deaths Registrar Office' with finger pointing up the passageway.
From Charing Cross, travel northeast on Pall Mall, the central business district. At no. 18 is the Beehive Store, site of the earliest trading exchanges in the city. After a fire gutted the first structure in 1871, this handsome building was erected by Charles Webb, architect of the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne.
In the next block, on the corner of Williamstown Street and Pall Mall is the Shamrock Hotel (t 03 5443 0333), centre of Bendigo's social life from the town's earliest days. As early as 1854, a restaurant with entertainment hall was located here; as the Shamrock, it had one of the first liquor licenses in town. The Irish owners, Billy Heffernan and John Crowley, made a fortune presenting first-class entertainment and good dining; the goldfield comic Charles Thatcher, a popular entertainer of the period, appeared here nightly. By 1860, they had built a new hotel and theatre, designed by the ubiquitous team of Vahland and Getzschmann. It was lit by gas throughout and had a bowling alley in the basement. The present building was erected in 1897 for new owners; the architect this time was Philip Kennedy, who had trained in the Vahland offices. No expense was spared in the opulent design, and the hotel boasted electricity and hot water. Every distinguished visitor to Bendigo stayed here.
In 1898 the Australian Natives Association, the most powerful social organisation in the country, met at the Shamrock and agreed to support Federation of the Australian colonies. In 1975, the hotel was threatened with demolition, until it was rescued by the State Government to the tune of $2,300,000. It is still a centre of social life, with good restaurants and accommodation.
Across the street from the Shamrock on Pall Mall is the Post Office, as ambitiously grandiose as so many other Victorian post offices. The building, designed by G.W. Watson, is identical in external details to the Law Courts next door, also designed by Watson. This one was completed in 1887 at a cost of £50,000. The clock tower contains bells to chime the hour; these have been a source of some civic controversy over the years. Dame Nellie Melba, staying across the street at the Shamrock, apparently complained vehemently about the bells when she visited in the 1900s.
At Pall Mall and Bridge Street along Rosalind Park is
the Conservatory, an 1898 structure with a cast-iron
framework. It was so derelict in 1981 that it was almost
demolished. It has now been restored, with elegant woodwork
in the interior. In Rosalind Park itself are several
interesting buildings. The former Supreme Court Building,
first erected in 1858, was rebuilt in 1865, and is now the
gymnasium for Bendigo High School; the high school, first
known as Central School and also in the park, was built in
1877. Next to the old court building is the Bendigo Gaol, a
grim old 1860s complex still in use.
At the junction of Pall Mall, Bridge and Mundy Streets, Pall Mall becomes McCrae Street. In the first block are several old hotel buildings, as well as another Vahland and Getzschman structure, the former Mechanics Institute and School of Mines (now part of the TAFE), built between 1864 and 1889. The institute's octagonal library is worth a look; its domed ceiling includes a 'Sunlight' by T.J. Connelly, an American whose lamp store provided such illumination for all of Bendigo's public buildings. The Connelly Store operated from 1860 until 1985, and the business's building still exists on the corner of High and Forest Streets.
Bridge Street was initially the location of Bendigo's substantial Chinese community, and here, at nos 5-9, is the Golden Dragon Museum (t 03 5441 5044; open daily 09.30-17.00), an excellent tribute to Chinese culture in the goldfields. The central exhibit is the Sun Loong Dragon, at 100m long and requiring 52 carriers the longest imperial dragon in the world. Since 1892, the Bendigo Chinese have paraded a Loong dragon in the town's annual Easter Fair parade, still a major civic event. The present 'new dragon' was made in Hong Kong and has been paraded since 1970; the older Loong dragon is also on display. Other museum exhibits give a good picture through artefacts and costumes of the daily life of Chinese during the goldfield days. The museum has recently added classical Chinese gardens with arched bridges and temple, and is developing more extensive exhibition halls.
Further out of the centre of town, at Emu Point, site of an early Chinese encampment, is the Chinese Joss House (t 03 5442 1685; Wed., Sat., Sun 11.00-16.00) on Finn Street (the word 'joss' derives indirectly from the Latin 'deus' for god). The Talking Tram tour from Central Deborah Mine, which also stops at the Tram Museum en route, ends here.
Built as the Chinese Masonic Hall in the 1860s of hand-made bricks, it is painted a traditional Chinese red and consists of a central main temple flanked by an Ancestral Temple. It is the oldest functioning joss house in Australia and is dedicated to General Kwang Gung (c AD 300), revered for his wisdom. While the house is operated by the National Trust and is open to visitors, one should remember that it is still an active place of worship rather than a tourist attraction.
The area to the southwest of Charing Cross developed into a prosperous residential neighbourhood; in the early days, it was called Belgravia, with allusions to fashionable London. Many of the wealthy merchants' and miners' villas still remain here, as well as substantial churches and other public buildings. Pall Mall now becomes High Street.
The area bordered by View Street, Rawson, Vine, and High Streets contains several good examples of these fashionable buildings from the late 19C, including All Saints Old Cathedral, on the corner of Forest and MacKenzie Streets, showing the signs of erratic building phases between 1855 and 1935. On Forest Street towards High Street are exemplary residences. Bishopscourt, no. 40, was in the 1870s the home and surgery of Paul MacGillivray, resident surgeon at Bendigo Hospital; it later became the Anglican bishop's quarters, hence the name. Across the street, no. 57 is 'Illira', built in 1886 by architects Smith and Johnson for a wine merchant, with lovely cast-iron verandah and balcony. Next door, no. 22 is a more modest residence of 1864, with unusual arches and French windows.
Around the corner on MacKenzie Street is 'Euroma', an example of Vahland and Getzschmann's domestic style, built in 1870 for miner-financier William Tipper and purchased in 1874 by George Lansell of 'Fortuna Villa' fame. Its cavity wall construction is a feature adapted by later local architects.
On the corner of Wattle and High Streets is Sacred Heart Cathedral. Conceived in the 1890s on land acquired in 1855 by Bendigo's first parish priest, Rev. Henry Backhaus, the cathedral was not completed until 1977, by which time stonemasons had been brought in from England and Italy to finish the work as it was meant to appear in the original plans.
A few streets further west on Don Street, and six blocks north at Webster Street, no. 233 is 'Braeside', local architect Robert Getzschmann's own residence, built in 1871 as a timber cottage with decorative iron ornamentation. The area to the west of here around Old Violet Street was originally a German neighbourhood, evident in the 1866 Violet Street Primary School, another Vahland and Getzschmann project, which for years was known as the German School. Similarly, the Lutheran Church and School at Violet and MacKenzie Streets are the earliest-known examples of Vahland's work, from 1857. Services and classes were conducted in German until the First World War.
On High Street at Violet Street is also the Central Deborah Mine (t 03 5443 8322; open daily 09.00-17.00, offerring mine tours several times a day beginning at 9.30), one of the latest deep shaft mines to be opened (not until the 1940s). While it closed in 1954, it has been reopened by the Bendigo Trust to serve as a living monument to the town's mining history.
George Lansell ~ Fortuna Villa's first owner
Lansell was the best example of a goldfield success story, arriving from England as a brewery worker in 1853 and striking it rich in the 1860s when after shrewd investments he purchased for £30,000 the claim to New Chum Reef at Victoria Hill, where this villa now stands. Lansell mined here to a depth of 900m and earned over £180,000 from this reef alone. (A 'new chum' was the term given to new arrivals on the goldfields, or inexperienced diggers-like an American greenhorn; the term appears in many guises throughout the Victorian goldfields.)
In the 1870s, Lansell made a trip to Pompeii, and on his return had a replica made of Pompeii's Fortuna fountain. The conservatory contains a set of etched windows of Australian scenes and animals, completed in Italy by artists who had never seen the scenes or animals themselves. As the architectural historian Mike Butcher says, the villa 'could not possibly be described as harmonious', but it shows 'a house which may have lacked an overall plan but not money'. The house is now owned by the Australian Army, but is open to visitors on Sunday afternoons.
There is both an above ground exhibition of mining
history, as well as an underground mine tour, with hardhat,
mining lights and descent into the second of the mine's
seventeen levels. Not a tour for claustrophobics, the
experience is fascinating nonetheless.
From here, you can catch the Talking Tram Tour to the Chinese Joss House, 8km away in North Bendigo, with several stops along the way.
Between Lily and Booth Streets on St Barnard/Chum Street is 'Fortuna Villa' (check with the tourist information, in the past it was open most Sundays), an extravagant mansion, begun in 1869 by mining magnate Ballerstedt and extended over the next 40 years as the home of 'Quartz King' mining boss George Lansell.
The district around Victoria Hill is known as Ironbark, and still contains architectural remnants of its early history. One of the most pleasant is Goldmines Hotel, on Marong Road (Calder Highway). Another Vahland and Getzschmann structure of 1872, the hotel is still owned by the original family, the Sterrys. David Sterry arrived in Bendigo in 1853, and gained his wealth from the Victoria Reef, a mine across the street from this hotel. He built a hotel on this site as early as 1857. The present owners should be acknowledged for their efforts to preserve the building both internally and externally, allowing no contemporary advertising on the façade.
North of Bendigo on the Midland Highway in Epsom (c
10km) is Bendigo
Pottery, the most historical of several ceramic
factories in the region. It was founded in 1858 by
entrepreneur George Duncan Guthrie, who recognised that the
superior clay in the soil here would produce exquisite
pottery. After his death in 1910, production of sewer pipe
and tiles kept the plant going. Today, fine pottery is again
produced in the salt kilns, and the distinctive dinnerware,
particularly in white and blue, is still stamped with the
The Victoria-New South Wales border is largely
determined by the Murray River's course. The Murray River is
Australia's longest river, flowing for some 2600km, mostly
towards the west. It was first named the Hume by explorer
Hamilton Hume, when he saw it in November 1824, but it was
renamed by explorer Charles Sturt in January 1830 after
Secretary of State for the Colonies, Sir George Murray.
The river's basin has its catchment on the western slope of the Great Dividing Ranges generally south of Sydney. The source of the Murray itself is in Victoria's Alpine National Park. At Corryong in Victoria, it is only a few metres across in midsummer. By Albury/Wodonga, on the New South Wales-Victoria border, a succession of smaller rivers have joined it, making a river of substance.
The lovely Murrumbidgee River rises near Kiandra in the Snowy Mountains and meanders over 2000km to join the Murray near Balranald in Victoria. Its progress is initially southeast, then it makes a giant northward loop through the ACT and then finally westward; it is joined by the Lachlan River from central New South Wales a short distance before its junction with the Murray. The Darling River from west-central New South Wales joins at Wentworth near the Victoria-South Australia border. Once in South Australia the Murray flows south to Lake Alexandrina and into Encounter Bay on the southwest side of the Fleurieu Peninsula east of Adelaide.
The Murray's initial appearance is like that of the Murrumbidgee: steep inclines, forested gorges and occasional open grassy valleys. Casaurinas thrive along the banks and in the seasonally dry floodplain. Beyond Albury/Wodonga to the west the land around the river becomes quite flat, allowing the river to meander, form billabongs, fill and drain swamps and marshes. Here the river red-gum is the predominant tree. From about Swan Hill to the South Australia border, the Murray passes through mallee scrub. Once past the border its source is marked by limestone cliffs and remarkable twists and turns. At the entrance to Lake Alexandrina these cliffs are 30m high.
River-boat trade on the river from its source reached as far north as Albury but rail lines to the agricultural centres brought this lengthy extension to a halt by the end of the 19C. For a short while in the mid-19C, Echuca in Victoria became the second busiest port in the state after Melbourne. Recently, the pleasure of vacationing on a Murray riverboat has been rediscovered. House boat rentals, day cruises, and river trips are available at Albury, Cobram, Echuca, Swan Hill, Mildura, Wentworth, Renmark, Mannum, Murray Bridge and Goolwa.
Albury/Wodonga has been described in the section on the Hume Highway.
Cobram (population 3650), 140km west of Albury on the river, is a small town with large, sandy beaches along the river. Its Australian Yabby Farm is the largest in the country. Yabbies, by the way, are freshwater crayfish prevalent throughout Australia. Although richer than their marine cousins, they are easily caught and prepared. The light-coloured Euastacus armantus yabby is native to the Murray and may reach 40cm excluding their pinchers. Tourist information: Station and Punt Streets; t 03 5872 2132.
Echuca (population 8500) at the junction of the Murray
and Goulburn Rivers, was founded by Isaac White, who first
operated a punt service across the river, and by eccentric
ex-convict Henry Hopwood, who took a greater interest in the
settlement by operating a punt, building a pontoon bridge to
cross sheep destined for the Victorian goldfields and
opening a hotel. Tourist
information: Old Pumphouse, corner Heygarth and Cobb
Highway, t 03 5480 7555.
At one time, Echuca was Australia's largest inland port, leading to its designation as the 'Chicago of Australia'. The Port of Echuca and its red-gum wharf, built in 1864 and at one time a mile (1.6km) long, has been restored; a variety of paddle steamer and other boat tours depart from here. Echuca is a great place from which to begin a Murray River Cruise. The Star Hotel, now the Port Visitor's Centre from which visitors obtain passes to enter the Wharf district, has an underground bar and escape tunnel. The Dharnya Centre (t 03 5869 3353) in the nearby Barmah Red Gum Forest presents the traditional life of the area's Aboriginal population.
Swan Hill (population 8830) c 157km north of Echuca
along the river, was named by explorer Thomas Mitchell when
he camped here in 1836. The nearby black swans had disturbed
his sleep. This was the farthest point Francis Cadell
reached on his pioneering steamer voyage up the Murray in
1853. The local history museum, the Pioneer
Settlement (t 03 5036 2410; open daily, 09.30-16.00),
is a reconstruction of a pioneer community, with buildings
brought from all over the state; it operates as an 'open air
museum' with evening performances and daily tours by
costumed guides. Tourist information: 306 Campbell Street; t
03 5032 3033.
The town's multi-cultural population-both Italians and Aborigines are here in large numbers-is reflected in the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery (t 03 5036 2430; open weekdays 10.00-17.00, weekends 11.00-17.00), which specialises in Aboriginal and folk/naive art.
Mildura and Renmark
In the heart of the mallee, Mildura (population 22,300) in Victoria and Renmark (population 4260) in South Australia owe their establishment to irrigation. Mildura is 558km northwest of Melbourne, at the junction of the Calder and Sturt Highways. Tourist information: Langtree Mall, t 03 5018 8380.
Following a serious drought in the 1880s, prominent parliamentarian Alfred Deakin visited the United States to study its irrigation systems. While in California he persuaded brothers George and William Chaffey to examine the Murray as a possible source for the first major irrigation system in Australia. Their achievement in the late 1880s and early 1890s saw the region blossom and brought thousands of settlers to the area. The historical significance of this achievement is chronicled in novelist Ernestine Hill's Water into Gold (1937) and by Mildura native Alice Lapstone, in Mildura Calling (1946).
Mildura is currently a wine grape and citrus centre. The name 'Sunraysia' for this region and its produce originated in a competition started in the 1920s by writer and newspaperman C.J. de Garis; sultanas and raisins grown here were said to be 'Sunraysed'. De Garis then founded a local newspaper called the Sunraysia Daily.
Mildura is a pleasant agricultural town. The Arts Centre
(t 03 5018 8330; open daily 10.00-17.00) is located in W.B.
Chaffey's 1890s home, 'Rio Visto' on Cureton Avenue,
overlooking the river. The building of red brick had
extravagant appointments, with jarrah woodwork,
stained-glass windows and Italian tiles. The collection
centres around the donations of senator and publisher R.D.
Elliott, and contains mostly British and Australian
paintings. The ground floor has several murals by Sir Frank
Brangwyn. The gallery is especially proud of its Degas
pastel (1890) and a 1924 sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein.
Mildura can also be proud of its local tennis courts. In
1998, the Davis Cup competition was played here, to
overwhelming praise for its excellent grass surface.
Given the majesty of the Murray at this point, it is no surprise that Mildura's great attraction is a variety of river cruises. A special treat is the opportunity to rent a houseboat, for lazy meanders on the river. Many of the trips on offer can be arranged through the tourist office.
Renmark is 143km west of Mildura, over the South
Australian border and at the centre of the Chaffey brothers'
irrigation area. Charles Chaffey's wife, M. Ella Chaffey,
set a novel, The Youngsters of Murray Home (1896), here.
Their home, 'Olivewood' (t 08 8586 6175; open Thurs-Mon,
10.00-16.00, Tues 14.00-16.00), built in 1887 of
horizontally placed mallee logs, is now a National Trust
information: Murray Avenue; t 08 8586 6704.
The river at Renmark is particularly enchanting. Many of the boat tours on the river end their cruises here. The Renmark Hotel (t 08 8586 6755) overlooking the river's bend was established in 1897 as a public trust in a successful effort to suppress local bootleg liquor trade. It was the first communally owned hotel in the British Commonwealth. It is still an impressive structure, with three storeys of verandahs in the original section and beautifully situated across from the river's most expansive turn.
Also on the river here is the PS Industry (t 08 8586 6704; open weekdays 09.00-16.30, Sat 09.00-15.30, Sun 12.00-15.30), a restored paddle steamer now opened as a museum. Still powered by steam, it makes regular river trips.
The Renmark Rose Festival held in October centres on Rustons Rose Garden, Moorna Street (t 08 8586 6191; open Sept-July), filled with more than 50,000 bushes with more than 3000 varieties. The garden also has a large number of flowering trees, iris and day lilies.
At Upper Ferntree Gully, take Old Monbulk Road 5km to Belgrave to take Puffing Billy (t 03 9757 0700), an antique steam train 13km to Menzies Creek and eventually to Emerald Lake Park (t 03 5968 4667), part of the original Nobelius Nursery, in the 1900s the largest nursery in the Southern Hemisphere, founded by Carl Alex Nobelius, a relative of Alfred Nobel. The park now consists of several kilometres of walking tracks, interspersed with freestanding plaster murals depicting the region's history.
From Upper Fern Tree Gully, you can take Mt Dandenong
Tourist Road north to Olinda and Mt Dandenong. Along the
route are many popular picnic grounds and forest reserves
known as the haunt of lyre birds. Near Olinda is the National
Garden (t 03 9751 1980; open daily 10.00-16.30), with
brilliant floral displays and walking trails. Olinda is also
the site of the Edward Henty Cottage, one of the many
properties of Victoria's first settler, see p 361.
At Mount Dandenong, the range's highest point at 633m, is the William Ricketts Sanctuary (open daily 10.00-16.30), the legacy of inspirational eccentric artist William Ricketts (d. 1993). From the 1930s, Ricketts began to create an outdoor 'church' dedicated to the spirit of Aboriginal mythology and love of the land. His clay sculptures-most of them based on the real likenesses of Aborigines he knew-are fitted into the ferns and forests, surrounded by grottoes and springs gushing forth from sculpted concentric circles, a sacred symbol among Central Australian Aborigines. Ricketts hoped to encourage harmony and unity among the races, and lamented the lack of understanding of Aboriginal culture. The sanctuary was most prominently featured in comedian Billy Connolly's video tour of Australia.
From here, continue to take the winding Mt Dandenong Tourist Road some 10km to connect to the Canterbury Road and Dorset Road, then to Lilydale on the Maroondah Highway. The Lilydale Museum, 39 Castella Street (under renovation and closed for the time being ), contains the only permanent exhibition to Australia's famed operatic prima donna, Dame Nellie Melba, who lived in the area at the end of her life.
The Maroondah Highway then leads 22km through beautiful eucalyptus forests to Healesville, a popular tourist destination because of its winery tours and native fauna sanctuary (t 03 -5957 2800, open daily 09.00-17.00). Originally part of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reservation, the sanctuary includes excellent facilities to view Australian fauna; it was here, in 1944, that a platypus was bred in captivity for the first time. The centre does significant work towards the preservation and care of Australian native species.
19km northwest of Healesville is Toolangi, site of
Arden, home of C.J. Dennis. Here Dennis wrote many of his
books, including his classic The Sentimental Bloke (1915),
made into Australia's first great film in 1919. The C.J.
Dennis Singing Garden and Tea Rooms, 98 Main Road (t 03 5962
9282, open Sat-Thurs 10.00-17.00) were developed by Dennis
and his wife, with great shows of rhododendrons and
Back at Healesville, you can continue on the Maroondah Highway through forest ranges to Alexandra, a tidy little country town formerly known as Red Gate Digging. 26km east of here is Eildon, site of Lake Eildon, Victoria's largest man-made lake. At this point, you are only 138km northeast of Melbourne.
Continuing northwest on Maroondah Highway it is 69km to Mansfield, which is at the edge of the Victorian Alps and location for the 1982 filming of the movie, The Man from Snowy River. The road proceeds eastwards 48km to Mt Buller Alpine Village, the most developed ski resort on this side of the Snowy Mountains. The first ski lift here was installed in 1949, and as it is only 250km from Melbourne, it is the most popular spot for weekend skiers. From Mansfield, route 153 continues as the Midland Highway into Benalla and the Hume Highway.
The area was named in honour of New South Wales Governor Sir George Gipps (1791-1847) by the Polish explorer Paul Strzelecki (see box), who traversed the area in 1840. Strzelecki was heralded as the white discoverer of Gippsland, but in 1839 Scottish explorer and settler Angus McMillan (1810-65) had already entered the region from the north with an Aborigine of the Monaro region, Jimmy Gibber, and eventually, with the help of Aboriginal trackers, managed to cross the country to the sea at present-day Port Albert.
Because of its dense vegetation and teeming wildlife, the region was much favoured by indigenous people; the Aborigines were mostly of the Kurnai tribe, while around Western Port were the Bunurong group of the Kulin tribe. The Kurnai were studied extensively by Lorimer Fison and A.W. Howitt in the 1880s, with many of their legends published in popular editions.
Because of McMillan's early reports about the region, the first European settlers were Highland Scots speaking Gaelic; many Gaelic words persisted in local vernacular, and place-names demonstrate the predominance of Scottish settlement. The development of the region was particularly valuable as a source for rich arable land, and early clearing led to the establishment of flourishing dairy farms, for which much of the region is still known. Indeed, three internal geographical divisions identify the region: the dairy land of South Gippsland, the central plains of East Gippsland, and the mountainous timberland of the northeast. The southern section also was a major coal-producing area (at Wonthaggi, South Gippsland's major town, the State Coal Mine offers guided underground tours) and the coastline, with its many lakes and marshlands, quickly became a holiday destination for all Victorians. The author Hal Porter describes the scenery of the southern forests as 'Pre-Raphaelite stuff', while Anthony Trollope described the region favourably in his Australia and New Zealand (1873).
Paul Edmund de Strzelecki
Paul Edmund de Strzelecki (1797-1873) was born in Poland, and had an adventurous life exploring in the Americas and the South Seas before his arrival in Australia in 1839. His use of the title of count was an unsubstantiated affectation, but he was certainly trained as a scientist, a skill he put to work in his exploration of Australia. While exploring New South Wales in 1839, he discovered gold, but was persuaded by Governor Gipps to keep it secret for fear of unrest caused by such an announcement in the penal colony. Years later, when the gold rush began, he felt compelled to verify his early findings to prove that he had successfully carried out his tasks as a geologist.
In 1840 he set out from Sydney to explore the inland territory en route to Port Phillip and Tasmania. On 15 February of that year he ascended the highest peak in the Snowy Mountains, naming it Mt Kosciuszko in honour of the great Polish patriot. He then made a treacherous journey through dense scrub to reach Westernport, surviving only with the aid of Aboriginal companions who could provide food. By the end of May he reached Melbourne, where he was hailed as the discoverer of this important territory. He then went on to Tasmania, collecting specimens and exploring unknown regions of the island. His physical descriptions of Tasmania's geology and topography remained the standard reference for 50 years. By 1845, he was back in England, where he worked with relief societies to appease the suffering caused by the Irish famine. Late in life he worked with Caroline Chisholm to assist emigration of poor families to Australia. His name is commemorated in several locations throughout Australia, most notably in the Strzelecki Ranges in western Gippsland.
From Melbourne, the greatest tourist destination in this
region is Wilsons Promontory in South Gippsland, 230km from
the city. The train from Melbourne goes as far as Fish
Creek, some 60km away; it is best to arrange a tour here, or
have your own car. To reach this rugged rock, the
southernmost tip of the Australian mainland, travel from
Melbourne via the South Gippsland Highway (route 180)
through Leongatha; at Meeniyan, take route 189 south c 60km
into the Wilsons
Park (t 03 8627 4700). The Tidal River entrance
includes a National Parks Office, with excellent displays
and tourist information. The park also offers a variety of
overnight accommodation, from camping to bunk houses and
holiday flats; most facilities centre around the Tidal River
area, and all are booked out well in advance of school
holidays. Call to make bookings. The 'Prom', as it is
locally called, was named by Bass and Flinders after
Flinders' friend, London merchant Thomas Wilson; it had
originally been known as Furneaux's Land, for Tobias
Furneaux, explorer of this region and captain of one of the
ships on Captain Cook's second voyage. The area became a
national park in 1908, now one of the most popular sites for
bushwalkers and holiday-makers.
The dominant features of the region are the enormous granite crags, the highest of which, Mt La Trobe, rises to 754m. The park contains more than 80km of walking-tracks of varying lengths and over all kinds of terrain. The beaches here are of white sand with rugged mountains in the background. At the southern tip of the park is a lighthouse, built in 1859 as one of the most important markers for ships around the coast between Sydney and Melbourne. In Nathan Spielvogel's 1913 novel The Gumsucker at Home, the rock dominates: 'Looking south I saw Wilson's Promontory, like a crouching lion, far more imposing than Gibraltar.'
Return to the South Gippsland Highway at Foster and head east into the Gippsland Lakes district which begins at Sale, about 160km from Foster. From the 1860s, the Gippsland Lakes, centred around Port Albert, served as an important shipping centre, allowing for the opening of the interior as far as present-day Sale. The railway link (which extends to Bairnsdale) from Melbourne to Sale opened in 1879 and led to the demise of the water shipping trade.
From Sale today you can easily reach the Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park (t 03 5144 1108) and the start of the amazing Ninety Mile Beach, a stretch of sand between the lakes and the ocean that provides a great location for seaside holidays. The dominant activity around the lakes is fishing, fishing, fishing-both along the coast on the beach, and in deep-sea fishing boats out to sea. Tourist information: Central Gippsland Tourism, 8 Princes Highway, Sale, t 03 51473247.
On Princes Highway (Highway 1) c 22km east of Bairnsdale en route to Lakes Entrance is the turn-off to Metung (population 425), a charming village built on a narrow strip of land next to Lake King on Reeve Channel, one of the primary entrances to the inland waterways. Naturally, this location makes Metung an ideal spot from which to begin boating cruises; many companies here offer all types of boat hire. The major industry in the village is Bull's Marine Industries, begun in the 1870s by pioneer Captain James Bull, who in his paddle steamer Tanjil explored the waterways before the entrance was cut.
51km from Sale is Bairnsdale (accessible by train), the agricultural centre of East Gippsland. Settled by Archibald McLeod in the 1840s, the name supposedly derives from the fact that the settlement was soon teeming with children or 'bairns'; but the name of his property was originally 'Bernisdale', after a place on the Isle of Skye.
In town is St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral, built in 1913. In the 1930s, an Italian labourer, Francesco Floreani, who had studied art in Turin, painted trompe l'oeil murals and ceilings throughout the church. Also of interest is the court house on Nicholson Street (open daily), dating from 1894, with gables and towers reminiscent of Loire châteaux; the stonework, however, depicts Australian flora and fauna.
At Lakes Entrance, 34km from Bairnsdale, the Ninety Mile
Beach ends; a small footbridge here allows visitors to walk
over to the surf beach. Lakes Entrance has one of the most
active and productive fishing fleets in the state. In the
summer, the town and surrounding area is overrun with
holiday-makers, and consequently quantities of tourist
activities, including numerous cruises that take the visitor
to destinations throughout the fascinating inland waterway
system, one of the biggest and most interesting in
Australia. From Lakes Entrance it is also possible to
arrange for all varieties of fishing trips. Tourist
information: corner Marine Parade and The Esplanade, t
03 5155 1966.
Nyerimilang Park (t 03 5156 3253; open daily, 09.00-16.00), 10km northwest of Lakes Entrance, was originally a homestead taken up in 1884. The present house, set in formal gardens, was built in 1892 by Frank Stuart; it is open to the public. Nyermilang derives from an Aboriginal word meaning 'chain of lakes'; the Aborigines here were Tatungolung, part of the Kurnai group. The park offers spectacular views of the channel and neighbouring islands.
10km east of Lakes Entrance is Lake Tyers, part of which is an Aboriginal settlement. Founded as a mission in the 1860s by John Bulmer and his wife, who stayed for 50 years, the 1600 ha settlement was the first area in Australia to be returned to the resident Aborigines under the groundbreaking Aboriginal Lands Act of 1970, precursor of the current Native Title Act.
From Lakes Entrance the Princes Highway continues east
through the central plains of Gippsland, much of which is
now industrialised in places around Orbost. Orbost itself
has a rainforest centre on Lochiel Street (t 03 5161 1375;
open weekdays, 09.00-17.00, school holidays 10.00-17.00),
with good displays on the kinds of rainforest environments
in Victoria. Tourist information: Nicholson Street, t 03
From Orbost, you can travel 58km north to the little town of Buchan, at the foot of the Snowy River National Park, noted for its limestone caves. The caves are covered in stalactites and stalagmites, evidence of the fact that the land was covered by sea 400 million years ago. Regular tours of the caves are given year round, with more frequent trips offered in the peak season.
The road north from Buchan travels along the Snowy River, through landscape made famous in Banjo Paterson's Man From Snowy River; it offers an adventurous route all the way to Jindabyne in the heart of the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. The scenery at places such as the lookout at Little River Gorge, about 65km from Buchan, is stunning. As much of this road is unsealed, and many parts impassable in winter, be sure to check conditions before setting out.
At Orbost, the Princes Highway continues east through forests on each side. Cann River has long been a favoured fishing resort. Strong local Koori associations are expressed at Nulluak Gundji Cultural Centre (t 03 5158 6261) immediately west of town. The Cann Valley Highway continues north to the New South Wales border, where it becomes the Monaro Highway. The road offers a lovely forest-and-mountain-meadow alternative route to Cooma and on to Canberra in the ACT.
If you continue on the Princes Highway from Cann River to the New South Wales border, a nice side trip is to take the 8km road to Mallacoota Inlet, the last stop in Victoria before crossing into New South Wales. The inlet village is surrounded by 86,000 ha of Croajingolong National Park (t 03 5158 0263). As the last stop in Victoria, Mallacoota is tremendously popular as a holiday retreat for people from both states, and can be quite crowded during summer and school holidays. The inlet provides some stunning scenery, with calm beaches on one side and the wild surf of Bass Strait on the other. You can also take boat trips out to the small islands off the inlet, now nature reserves.
From Bairnsdale, you can take the Omeo Highway (B500) 120km north to Omeo (population 285), in the heart of the mountain-cattle country. Tourist information: Day Avenue; t 03 5159 1679.
In 1834, the explorer John Lhotsky wrote of viewing from the Snowy Mountains a vast plain to the south that the Aborigines called Omeo, believed to mean 'mountains'. The region was settled as early as 1835, when James McFarlane took up a pastoral run, pre-dating McMillan's explorations. More squatters arrived in the 1840s, and gold discoveries in the 1850s and 1860s caused Omeo to become one of the roughest frontier towns in the country. 'Rolf Boldrewood', author of Robbery Under Arms (1881), was believed to be a magistrate here in the 1860s; in his novel Nevermore (1892) he recalls the district as lawless where 'the worst villains in Australia are gathered together'. In The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859), author Henry Kingsley incorporates real bushrangers and thieves of the region, such as the infamous 'Bogong Jack'. Members of the Kelly family and horse thieves such as Thomas Toke also operated in the mountains around Omeo. The cattlemen of this High Country were of course heroicised in the 'Man from Snowy River' legend and stories made popular by author 'Banjo' Paterson. The Octogon Bookshop on Day Ave has a good collection of book on local and regional history for sale.
Today, the town is still a centre of Victoria's 'high country' cattle industry; the Omeo Calf Sales every March are a major event, bringing buyers from all over the world. The area also marks the beginning of 'brumby' territory: wild horses, some of which are rounded up each year (see Longford, Tasmania for an explanation of brumbies). Annual rodeos attracting national audiences are also held throughout the area. In the centre of Omeo is A.M. Pearson Historical Park (t 03 5159 1232; open daily 10.00-14.00), which includes an 1892 Romanesque-style court house which is now a museum. It was designed by A.J. MacDonald, who also built the Bairnsdale court house and the post office at South Yarra in Melbourne.
A 100km scenic drive south of Omeo through Cassilis,
Swifts Creek and Ensay passes through the old gold-mining
areas, dotted with old mine tailings and timber and
weatherboard cottages. Alternatively, you could continue
north into the Bowen Mountains; 29km northwest is Anglers
Rest, a great fishing retreat and site of The Blue Duck Inn
(t 03 5159 7220), dating from the 1890s and an important
roadhouse along the gold-fields. The area has abundant
walking trails with some breathtaking mountain scenery.
Route 195 continues north from here 128km, some of it unsealed road, through Mitta Mitta in a picturesque river valley near Dartmouth Dam and on to Tallangatta (pronounced Tal-LAN-gatta, while nearby Wangaratta emphasises the first syllable!) on Lake Hume.
Route B500 from Omeo to Ovens Valley
Another route from Omeo is to take the Tourist Road west (C543) towards Mt Hotham in the Dargo High Plains; 56km along is the Mount Hotham Alpine Resort, surrounded by the Alpine National Park (t 03 5755 1577). The resort provides some of the best downhill skiing in the country. Tourist information: Hotham Heights, t 03 5759 3550. The area is also the home of the rare mountain pygmy possum, Australia's only alpine mammal; many walking trails provide opportunities to appreciate the park's flora and fauna. Be sure to check on road conditions before venturing on any of these roads in the winter; many will be closed.
Continue on B500 10km west, where the road continues
north as the Alpine Highway, 41km to the old-fashioned town
of Bright (population 1675) in the Ovens Valley. Tourist
information centre: Delaney Avenue; t 03 5755
Originally a pastoral settlement explored by Hume and Hovell in 1824, Bright became the centre of alluvial gold-mining in this region in the 1860s. This popular holiday destination is known for its impressive displays of autumnal foliage, the result of the planting of thousands of deciduous trees along its avenues in the 1930s. Walnuts and chestnuts are also grown and harvested here. Every April, the Bright Autumn Festival brings thousands of visitors to the town. The historical museum (t 03 5755 1356; open Sept-May, Sun 14.00-16.00, school holidays Tues, Thurs and Sun 14.00-16.00) in the former railway station highlights district history, and the Bright Art Gallery on Mountbatten Avenue (t 03 5750 1660) sponsors a prized art competition to coincide with the Autumn Festival.
The town is the starting point for many excellent walks, all signposted with triangular markers. One of the nicest is the 5km Wandiligong Walk, beginning 2.5km south of town and ending at the tiny village of Wandiligong, registered on the National Trust for its landscape features and picturesque buildings. It is also the location of Wandiligong Apple Orchard, said to be the largest in the Southern hemisphere.
6km further west on route B500 is Porepunkah, a pretty settlement known for fishing and hiking. It is also associated with Pearson William Tewkesbury, who made his fortune in gold here in the early 1900s, when alluvial gold was still present.
Pearson William Tewkesbury
Pearson William Tewkesbury was born in nearby Yackandandah in 1867. After working as a watchmaker in Sydney, he came to the Ovens River and made £1 million by dredging for gold. He then went on to establish in Sydney and Melbourne motor hire services in the 1910s, and in the 1920s the famous Yellow Cab Co. In 1920 he also produced the first film version of Robbery Under Arms by 'Rolf Boldrewood'. He was a great entrepreneur, raising more than £20,000 for disabled servicemen during the First World War by raffling the 'Kitchener Flag' bearing signatures that he had collected of Allied war leaders and other famous men. He bought the Oriental Hotel in Melbourne, where he lived until his death in 1953.
At the junction of Porepunkah, another road travels south 21km to Buckland, site of a notoriously gloomy gold-mining valley. In 1857, the Buckland Riot directed against Chinese miners took place here; the event is commemorated in the Australian-Chinese Museum in Melbourne.
Back on route B500, you can enter Mount Buffalo National Park (t 03 5755 1466), site of Australia's first ski lift in the 1930s. The park has well-organised walking tracks, over 140km of them, with brochures available at the Visitor's Information Centre. It is also one of the summer homes of the bogong moth, an incredible creature that migrates thousands of miles from Queensland every year to spend the warm months in the rocks of the Alpine valleys; they arrive in the thousands in October. The moth was considered a great delicacy by the Aborigines, who would visit this area and other parts of the Snowy Mountains to have bogong feasts in the summer.
From Porepunkah, travel 23km on the Ovens Highway (still route B500) to Myrtleford (population 2850), the major town in the Ovens Valley and a centre for the growing of hops, tobacco, and walnuts. One of the most prosperous growers in the region was William Pan Look, a Chinese businessman whose store was razed during the Buckland Riot; by the 1890s, he and his sons had cultivated over 600 ha of tobacco and hops. The town has some lovely picnic spots, and on the highway just north of town is The Phoenix Tree, an enormous sculpture created out of a red gum tree by local sculptor Hans Knorr. Knorr also was one-time owner of Merriang Homestead, a beautiful old property 6km southwest of town with wrought-iron verandah and hand-made bricks. At the time of writing, it was closed to the public.
It is always a surprise to find such a tidy and well-preserved town as Beechworth (population 3250), with its many imposing 19C honey-coloured granite buildings, tucked away at 550m altitude and seemingly removed from civilisation. V/Line has bus service to Beechworth from Wangaratta and Bright; the closest train connection is Wangaratta, with runs to Albury, Adelaide, and Melbourne. A local bus also travels daily to Albury/Wodonga.
The twisting road from the Ovens Highway is itself quite charming, with views into the fields and valleys that make it clear this was an area where gold was found. Indeed, gold was discovered at nearby Spring Creek in 1852; by 1857, some 400kg of gold left Beechworth for Melbourne every fortnight, and in 14 years, a total of 1,122,000 ounces (31,800 kg) of gold were mined here. At its height, Beechworth had a population of 42,000 and boasted 61 hotels and a theatre. The writer Henry Kingsley was here in 1854; part of his novel The Hillyars and the Burtons (1865) was set in the area. Most significantly, Robert O'Hara Burke, leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in the 1860s, was Beechworth's officer-in-charge of police from 1856 to 1859, a fact commemorated in the Library and Burke Museum (t 03 5728 8067; open daily, 10.00-17.00) on Loch Street, which includes Burke memorabilia, along with gold-rush artefacts. The Tourist Information Centre can provide a detailed brochure of walking tours.
The Ovens Highway from Wangaratta to Wodonga is known as
'The Kelly Way', demonstrating that this region is Ned Kelly
country (see also p 245). Beechworth's other great claim to
fame is that both Ned Kelly and his mother were jailed here
in the 1880s, in the Beechworth Gaol, built in 1859 and
still used as a prison (mostly for prisoners involved in
reforestation projects). The gaol is part of a group
public buildings constructed 1857-59 at the northern
end of Ford Street; hence the uniform appearance. The group
includes the Courthouse (t 03 5728 8065; open daily,
10.00-16.00), Police Station, Survey Office, and Forest
Office along with the gaol.
Other significant public buildings along Ford Street include banks; the Rock Cavern, where the information centre is located, used to be the Bank of Victoria. Further along is the Bank of New South Wales, designed by Robertson and Hale in 1856, which includes an elaborate coat of arms at the corner entrance.
For goldminers, of course, the most important buildings in town were the hotels, a number of which still survive. The most impressive is Tanswell's, privately restored with lovely ironwork, dating originally from 1873. It still operates as a hotel and restaurant, as do the historical Hibernian Hotel on Loch Street and the Nicholas Hotel on Camp Street. Regular visitors also make the Beechworth Bakery on Albert Street a regular stop for its hundreds of cakes and breads.
From Ford Street, take Camp Street west to Last Street and Murray Breweries (t 03 5728 1304; open daily, 10.00-16.00). Begun in the 1860s by George Bilson, the brewery produced beer until the 1950s; but it was also known for its cordials and aerated waters. It still produced them from nearby spring water. The cellars are now a museum, with a fascinating history of the aeration process.
Going out of town towards Wodonga, you will pass through the Golden Horseshoes Monument, a reference to a famous event during the gold-rush days. At that time, the miners were divided between the 'punchers', the dry diggers, dressed in moleskins, and the 'monkeys', wet miners, dressed in black woollen trousers. The rivalry between them was so intense that they fielded different candidates for parliaments. In 1855 the Monkeys' candidate, Cameron, paraded into town on a horse shod with golden horseshoes. They have been a symbol of the town ever since.
Also leaving town, on the right of the Golden Horseshoes Monument is the cemetery, including two Chinese Burning Towers, evidence of the number of Chinese miners here in the 1860s; as many as 500 Chinese graves are found in the cemetery behind the towers.
From Beechworth, you can take several routes towards
Wodonga; one takes you through Yackandandah, a National
Trust classified gold town, with attractive verandahed
streets (population 480). Tourist
information: Court House, 27 High Street, t 02
6027 1988. Known locally as 'Yack', it was the childhood
home of Australia's first native-born Governor-General Sir
Isaac Isaacs, and the birthplace of Pearson William
Tewkesbury, founder of the Yellow Cab Co.
From here take the Kiewa Valley Highway (C527) north east and join the Murray Valley Highway (B400) east to find Corryong on the border of New South Wales and at the foot of the Snowy Mountains and Kosciuszko National Park. The road passes by, at Tallangatta, Lake Hume, which, if the water is low, looks spookily like a Surrealist painting, with lots of dead tree stumps sticking out of the surface water and with yellow hills behind.
Corryong (population 1274) is 77km from Tallangatta and
is towered over by the boulders and granite ridges that mark
the beginning of the Snowy Mountains. The area is true
bushman's and cattleman's country, and indeed, 'The
from Snowy River' Museum, 103 Hanson Street (t
02 6076 2600; open Sept-May, daily 10.00-16.00) in the
centre of town commemorates the life and resting place of
Jack Riley, widely believed to be the inspiration for
'Banjo' Patterson's famous poem. Tourist
information: 76 Hanson Street, t 02 6076 2160.
In December, a folk music festival, celebrating the Australian folk ballad and other forms, takes place at nearby Nariel Creek, and in March the Annual Corryong High Country Festival offers a first-hand look at the life of the high-plains cattlemen.
From here, you can take a breathtaking drive into Kosciuszko National Park, past the most impressive construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, Tumut Ponds Dam, and on to Cabramurra, the highest township in Australia. See Snowy Mountains section, New South Wales for more detail.