If I could turn back time and be a fly on the wall at any period in Australia’s history it would be around the turn of the 20th Century. In the time around 1900, Australia was approaching federation, the country rode on the sheep’s back and had just come through a major shearer’s strike. The timber cutting industry in the hills around Melbourne were thriving. The railways serviced many rural towns and the gold rush had driven Melbourne into becoming one of the wealthiest cities in the world.
One of the towns that would have ben alive and bustling at that time was Walhalla. It originally had a population of around 2500. It now has a permanent population of about 20 and has come out of an extended period of being almost a ghost town into a thriving little tourist centre.
The town is built along the steep valley of Stringer’s Creek. Ned Stringer, the alias of a released convict was the first person to find gold there in 1862. Over 72 million ounces of gold were extracted from the initial alluvial diggings and the later deep mines that were dug to follow the gold rich seams into the hills. One of the mines, the Long Tunnel Extended Mine, is still open to visitors.
It was a balmy day last Saturday when we drove from our favourite B&B at Newborough, arriving just in time to see the narrow gauge ‘Goldfields Railway’ leave its terminus by the Thomson River and wind its way back up the valley back to Walhalla. The local people have restored a section of the line that used to go all the way to Moe. It used tb driven by little narrow gauge steam engines, but these have now all been purchased by the Puffing Billy Railway in the Dandenong Ranges. I remember (from my bushwalking days) that at one time there was only one girder remaining on the bridge. Not being game to walk across this with the river 10 metres below, I opted to wade across the knee deep river and get my feet wet.
It was a lovely day on Saturday and a very pleasant day on which to enjoy a coffee in the little cafe by the re-created Star Hotel and across the road from the rotunda which was once the home of the miner’s ‘Mountaineer Brass Band’. Just down the valley was the fire station which was built across the creek, as there was no other flat land near the centre of town.
A walk up to an old timber tramway line gave as a view across the valley. This is the start of the Alpine Walking Track which travels 665 kilometres to Tharwa, just south of Canberra in the ACT. I have walked on various sections of this track, but to do the total length would require a walk of around six weeks carrying packs with tents and food.
We had lunch in another cafe at the other end of the main street and were farewelled by a Piper playing his bagpipes high up the hill on the buttresses of one of the old mines. He was really welcoming the guests attending a wedding in the town, but we imagined that he was wishing us farewell.