The weather on Easter Satuday was glorious. It was a typical Autumn day in Melbourne – balmy, no wind and bright sunny skies. I had just had the car washed and it seemed a very nice day to get a little out of town and enjoy the sunshine.
We knew that Keatings Hotel In the little central Victorian town of Woodend had good meals and that was where we headed for lunch. The pub is home to the Holgate Micro Brewery. Holgate beers are available in draught and bottles at the Brewery and you can buy a tasting ‘paddle’ of six beers to try. They are all brewed with 100% malt, real hops and sparkling fresh local water. The building may look a little plain from the outside but it has a friendly atmosphere inside. We were lucky to arrive at a time when a there were still a few free tables as just a little later the place was packed out. Each of the dining rooms, as well as the outside beer garden, were completely full. I guess that the Easter market on the next corner might have provided more than a few customers.
After lunch, we decided to visit nearby Mt Macedon as we hadn’t been there for many years. The town itself is quite special. There are a number of quaint shops along the tree-lined road that specialise in various types of local produce, a red brick hotel and a general store. As you drive up the road you can see glimpses of magnificent mansions through huge stone gateways and exotic European garden plantings that change colour with every season. Some of the gardens were open to visitors and the town was packed. It was impossible to drive up the main road without giving way to oncoming cars due to the number of vehicles parked along the verge.
There must have been some advertising / promotion within the Chinese community as the whole town was filled with Asian faces. People were picnicking under almost every tree – all with cameras out and taking photos of friends and family in strange poses.
We continued on to the summit of Mount Macedon to see the Memorial Cross that commemorates Australia’s war fallen. The view from the cross takes in the entire southern plain back towards Geelong and Melbourne. However, we couldn’t get anywhere near it. Both the car park and the overflow car parks were full and there were signs of parking rage as frustrated drivers drove around the car park circuit for another time. We gave uo and decided to return another day, although it will be hard to find one on which the weather is so nice.
Thirty two years ago, this area was devastated by one of the worst bushfires in living memory. Temperatures on that day (Ash Wednesday) in January of 1983 rose to over 40 degrees Celsius and the air moisture, or relative humidity, dropped to below 15 per cent. (By comparison, the average humidity on a summer’s day is normally around 40 per cent). Combined with strong winds, these were ideal conditions for a serious fire. In this Mt Macedon and nearby area, seven people lost their lives and 628 houses were destroyed. This fire burnt over 295 square kilometres locally and others on the same day burnt nearly 1.4 million square kilometres of land across the whole of the state. Most of Macedon and much of historic town of Mount Macedon was razed, including many heritage listed 19th century mansions and famed gardens. The freakish weather conditions created unique effects – a car was forced 90m along a road with its handbrake on, burning mattresses were seen hurtling through the air, steaks were cooked to well-done in deep freezers, road surfaces bubbled and caught fire and sand was liquefied to glass.
Thankfully due to enormous levels of community and government support, this town and many of the houses and gardens have now redeveloped and have regained their former glory.