I have just spent the last three days with 24 fellow members of my Probus Club in the towns of Castlemaine and Maldon. We had a wonderful time exploring this historic area of Victoria together.
We first met up for lunch in Malmsbury – buying a roll or pie at the bakery and then enjoying each other’s company in the nearby botanic gardens where we ate our lunch. These gardens are one of Victoria’s earliest regional botanic gardens and have a wonderful collection of trees and shrubs along with an ornamental lake. The Dutch Elms in front of the lake were planted as a memorial to soldiers of the first World War, 1914 – 1918.
The Melbourne to Bendigo railway line runs by the end of the road near the gardens and crosses the Malmsbury Viaduct. The Viaduct is a large brick and stone masonry arch bridge over the Coliban River. It was erected as part of the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway between 1858 and 1861 so it is now 150 years old. At the time of its construction, it was the largest masonry arch railway bridge in Victoria. It is still in use today carrying trains from Melbourne to Bendigo and beyond.
We soon left for Castlemaine and spent some time following a self guided walking tour around the town. Castlemaine is well known to most Australians but doesn’t have the same name recognition as the major gold towns of Ballarat or Bendigo. It has many fine heritage buildings, wide streets, an impressive botanic garden and an outstanding art gallery. The original gold rush settlement was known as ‘Mount Alexander’ or ‘Forest Creek’ but its name was eventually changed to Castlemaine. It where my maternal grandmother was born, and lived until she married.
Our base for this trip was the National Trust town of Maldon. Most of our group stayed at Maldon’s Eaglehawk Motel and were impressed with its cleanliness and room decor. It is in a quiet location and away from noisy traffic. I am indebted to the new owners for their assistance in arranging accommodation for our group.
Maldon was the first Victorian town to be classified by the National Trust. This occurred in 1966 and reflects the town’s remarkably well-preserved historic streetscape with its wide verandas, flagstone paving, old-fashioned shop fronts, quaint cottages with attractive gardens, and its many stone buildings of the gold mining era.
The town’s has a genuine historic feel. There is an absence of ostentation and many of the shops reinforce the charm and historical appeal of their exteriors with interiors that have a nineteenth century charm.
Three of us, including me, stayed at a nearby group of cottages as there were not enough rooms at the motel for our entire group. It was a great place to see the night sky. We were blessed with three days of clear balmy weather and the stars stood out vividly.
On our second day, we had plenty of time to explore Maldon. We came across historic buildings like this old parsonage, miners cottages and the local grocery store that was built in 1859.
The streetscapes provide wonderful photographic vistas. Once the cars have gone in the evenings, it’s quite possible to believe that you are looking at there town in its gold rush era days.
There are many old mining relics near the town. The North British Mine with its quartz kilns is one example. This was the largest, most profitable and longest operating mine in Maldon. It was the last major mine to close, when its operations ceased in in 1926. The surviving structures are apparently the most comprehensive set of mining foundations in Victoria.
The nearby Mt Tarrengower has a superb lookout at the fire watching tower. The fire lookout box on the top level of the tower is manned for approximately 125 days over the summer months. The person (or fire spotter) on duty scans the landscape for smoke and reports any signs to the fire authorities. The viewing distance from this tower is up to 100 km in all directions. Most fire spotters become long-time occupants of the tower. In its first sixty years, this tower has been manned by only five different spotters.
In the second afternoon of our trip, we had a pleasant ride on the Goldfields Railway. This steam powered train runs through the Goldfields of Central Victoria between Maldon and Castlemaine. It runs on Wednesdays and Sunday. It was quite some fun to remember our childhoods and pull the carriage windows down to see out across the countryside.
Our dinners were both at the old Kangaroo Motel in the Main Street of Maldon. The Kangaroo Hotel has been a local pub for over 150 years. Throughout the 19th century, the pub has held held Balls, Concerts and Gatherings, accommodated Cobb & Co. passengers, and was used as a part-time morgue and butcher shop. It is now run by two sisters – Dawn and Donna and they gave us some excellent service and hospitality.
We were all out of our accommodation by 10.00 am this morning and travelled back to Melbourne over different routes. I returned through two other small towns – Clunes and Creswick. This entire central region of this state was once bustling with gold miners seeking their fortune (1850s) and the towns still retain much of their original streetscapes.
Clunes is regarded as the best preserved 19th century historic town in the country. It is a smorgasbord of historic buildings and Fraser Street, the commercial centre, is wide and elegant, full of 19th-century shops with original store-fronts and distinctive verandas. Historically it can fairly claim that it was the site of Victoria’s first gold strike.
Creswick is another well preserved historic gold mining town that boomed in the 1850s and slowly evolved into a popular and attractive rural township servicing the surrounding district which is known for its forestry, grazing and agriculture. It is characterised by a broad main street, ancient volcanic hills, a substantial number of impressive historic buildings and extensive bushwalking areas. We stopped at a cafe for lunch before returning home.
I was home by mid-afternoon with some conceptual plans in my head for another trip later in the year.