Exploring the Northern Grampians

Stawell is known as the gateway to the Grampians, so today we decided to visit two locations that have a deep history but are not as well known as the normal tourist spots in this mountain range.

Along Mt Zero Road, near Rosies Gap is a quarry that is famous for the cream coloured sandstone that was used in the building of some of Melbourne’s grand buildings – The GPO, Parliament House and Treasury Building are just a few of them.

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Quarrying can be done either by blasting rock and then processing the resulting chunks of rock, or alternatively by using a ‘Dimension Technique’ in which the  stone is extracted by laboriously sawing it out in big blocks. The Grampians sandstone quarry at Heatherlie  was probably the last remaining dimension sandstone quarry in Victoria and was operating on and off for over 150 years. .

The quarry, opened in the 1860’s and after periods of boom (1880’s) and bust eventually closed in 1938. Mt Difficult sandstone was so good, and the demand at the time so great, that in 1888 plans were drawn up to build a township called Heatherlie nearby. This was based on the expected local employment and revenues from the expanding quarry. House lots were pre-sold and the town even began appearing on maps. Unfortunately, the end of the gold rush and the end of the economic boom that accompanied it, meant that the town was never built. Demand waned and the quarry struggled on until, in 1938, nine years after the Wall St crash, it finally closed.

Now included in the Grampians National Park, a few rustic sandstone houses and sheds, built by the original quarry workers, have been re-roofed and the stonework has been repaired (though you can still see all the marks from the original stonemasonry hand tools in the stone). The old, steam driven machinery is there rusting away as well. It’s as if the 100 quarry workers just downed tools and never came back.

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After our visit to the quarry, we drove around to the other side of the Range to the Troopers Creek Camping Area. I was rescued from here by some kind campers after badly spraining my ankle on the top of nearby Mt Difficult on one of my bush walks.  I ended up clambering down the mountain with the aid of a stick, even down the gully of a large waterfall.  This camping area was closed for a number of  years due to bushfire damage but is now reopened in a much more organised and refined way.

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Continuing along the valley, we came across an area outside the national park with an obvious sign that many people were living in this area.

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We passed through the area known as Zumsteins. When our kids were little, we camped there but now, it is only a picnic area and camping is no longer allowed. I remember cooking sausages on a BBQ for dinner one evening when a fast diving Kookaburra snatched one right out of my hand. 

The area is named after a German immigrant named, Walter Zumstein who first visited this site in 1906 while working as a young beekeeper for Barnes Honey. In 1910, he established his own apiary, with 60 hives and a small timber cottage. He saw active service in World War I, and when he returned to Australia with his Scottish wife Jean, he decided to supplement their modest income by establishing a small ‘tourist retreat.

During the 1930s the couple built three pisé, or rammed earth cottages, plus a tennis court and a large swimming pool. Water for the pool was taken from the nearby MacKenzie River. Soil excavated to create the swimming pool was used to build the cottages. The couple remained at Zumsteins until the late 1950s, when they moved to Horsham. Walter and his wife were perceived as a gentle couple who, through hard work, had created an oasis that they loved and wanted others to enjoy too. Walter Zumstein died in October 1963. His ashes were scattered at Zumsteins.

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Behind the picnic ground is the McKenzie River on which Johann Zumstein had a swimming hole.

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Our second destination with some deep history was in an area of large granite boulders in the Black Range between Stawell and Pomonal.

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One of the boulders has a deep and protected recession in which an Aboriginal painting can be found. The shelter is named after Bunjil, the creator spirit in the mythology of the Wadawurrung and Koorie people, who are the traditional owners of the land where the shelter is located.

The Bunjil Shelter contains ancient rock art that is estimated to be over 6,000 years old. The rock art depicts Bunjil, as well as two dingos and symbols that are important in Wadawurrung culture. The shelter is believed to have been used for shelter and ceremonies by the Wadawurrung people for thousands of years. A nearby sign says “Bunjil created the land and the water, the plants and animals, the laws and the religion of the Koorie People”.

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Today, the Bunjil Shelter is a protected site that is managed by Parks Victoria, and access to the shelter is limited in order to protect the fragile rock art. Visitors can take a short walk to the shelter and view the rock art through a steel barrier, but entry into the shelter itself is not permitted.

We returned to Stawell and bought some provisions for breakfast. We also checked out the town’s war memorial. I have a regular coffee morning on Tuesdays with some other Vietnam Veterans. One of them, Peter Taylor, had a grandfather and father who were skilled stonemasons. They specialised in working with granite and have made pieces for many buildings and war memorials around the country. I doubt that the Stawell war memorial is one of their creations as it is the ‘standard’ statue of a soldier in a resting arms position on a stone base. 

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However, further along the street is a ‘Federation Commemoration’ with granite columns. This is the signature columnar ‘Taylor’ memorial. It was built in 1901 to commemorate the joining of Australian colonies into the federation that we now call Australia.

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