Summer Days in Central Victoria

The early days of January are a good time to get away for a few days and we have just spent the last few nights at the RACV Resort at Creswick. We last stayed there with Cathy and the girls a year or so ago.

The resort is on the local golf course and was developed by a local businessman with the hotel initially being managed by Novotel. It’s a sad story that went ‘pear shaped’ for everyone. The original property was developed at a cost of about $130 million but the owner had his finance withdrawn during the GFC for supposedly defaulting on the loan repayments. The finance company then went broke. The business was in receivership for some years and was sold to the RACV for just $20 million in 2015. It’s a good place for families and there is a lot to do in the local area. Whilst we were there, the weather was in the high 30’s C  and it was quite hot. 

We took a circuitous route from home via the town of Heathcote which is on the eastern edge of the old gold mining area of Central Victoria. Along the road are some large granite boulders. I remember one being graffitied with the words ‘Pucka Sucks!’. Pucka, short for Puckapunyal, was the name of the large army base further up the road where I did my recruit training in the first few months I served in the army doing my National Service. Everytime that I drove past that boulder, I used to think to myself ‘how true!’.

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This area is mostly sheep and wheat country (apart from the rocky bits) and at this time of the year, the grass is golden yellow and very dry. It was originally opened up during the gold rush of the 1850’s and then later when more families moved into the area to take up farming. There are lots of little settlements around the district that are signs of previous habitation such as Muckleford where there is now a disused railway station in the middle of nowhere and an old one-teacher school that now serves as a community hall. It saw its last pupil in 1947.

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A few miles up the road from Creswick is the old gold mining town of Talbot. Gold was discovered here by a shepherd in 1851but was not originally reported for fear of prosecution for gold digging. A series of gold rushes started in 1852 when two other men found gold at nearby Daisy Hill. Enormous finds were made at this location. Nuggets weighing from 5.0 to 8.3 kg were found and some holes yielded from 7.8 kg down to 370 g of gold. By March 1859 there was an estimated 15,000 people at the rush until it subsided in 1860. Talbot had made rapid strides in its development as a town. In 1864 it had a Court House, borough offices, seven schools, a street of good shops, two breweries, churches, two soap and candle factories, sixteen hotels, coach services and general carriers, as well as a number of crushers. Most if its current buildings date back to that time.

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Further north is the bigger regional city of Maryborough. It too, was a gold town and has a very impressive Queen Anne style station. One of the myths about this town is that the station was actually designed for the town of Maryborough in Queensland and built in the wrong place. But this is not really true. The whole of Victoria was booming in the 1880s when the station was built and Victoria then had what they called the Octopus Act in that a huge network of railways was to be built right across the State to link everything up. At the time, every city and tiny town in Victoria was trying to get a railway in their town. Maryborough had great visions of the city becoming the centre of railways like the big railway towns in England. At its peak, Maryborough had about 150 people working on the locos, and the workshops consisted of fitters, boilermakers and assistant mates, And, of course, they had a large number of gangers. One gang would go out to Talbot, one gang would be working on the Avoca line, another gang would be working on the Castlemaine line and another working on the Mildura-Donald line. Overall, there were about 1000 people working here for the railways. Now, there are just two trains each day – one in the morning and another in the evening.

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Our driving through the local area took us along many back roads and past many little farming communities. Some places only had a pub, or a general store.  Many farms had quaint shearing sheds and out buildings that are still used for some purpose. I didn’t envy any of the animals in the hot paddocks

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 As we meandered home, we came across the little town of Fryerstown where our friends Robert and Trina spend many weekends. We couldn’t pass by without calling in and we found them just setting out for lunch with a coupe of neighbours to the pub in Caslemaine for lunch. We couldn’t refuse their invitation to join them, so we tagged along to the Railway Hotel to eat. It’s quite a ‘gastro pub’ with good food and a nice wine list. I had tried to eat there once before but it only serves lunch on weekends.

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Castlemaine was my Grandmother’s home town and the house in which she lived as a girl still stands in Lyttleton Street (number 98). At the top of the hill is a memorial to the ill fated Burke and Wills expedition. This expedition of 1860-61 was the first to cross the continent from south to north but most of the members perished on the return trip at Cooper Creek. Robert O’Hara Burke was the local police superintendent so there is a close relationship between the town and the expedition.

Apparently Burke and Wills were members of the ‘Officer Class’ of the day. They had little experience in the bush and very limited skills in bushcraft. The expedition consisted of 19 men. It took an enormous amount of equipment, including enough food to last two years, a cedar-topped oak camp table with two chairs, rockets, flags and a Chinese gong – the equipment all together weighed as much as 20 tonnes.Their initial progress was slow because of bad weather, and not helped by the fact that they also carried seven tonnes of firewood with them. On their first full day of trecking, they only travelled about five miles.