Our Driving Tour to Mt Gambier and Broken Hill

Yesterday, we began a four week long driving trip around Western Victoria, a small part of South Australia and into Outback NSW. We are taking it slowly and doing a lot of exploring. Yesterday we took he whole day just to travel to Stawell- only 240 km from home. We will keep you updated with  our travels and any diversions we may make along the way.

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We were packed up and left home by 10.00 am, the car loaded with Jill’s mobility equipment and a couple of small bags of clothing. Our first stop was in Ballan where we visited the bakery and bought some cake for morning tea and sandwiches for lunch. We found a spot for coffee and our chocolate hedgehog cake in the local park and then drove on by-passing the city of Ballarat.

Ballarat has a long Avenue of Honour with 3,800 trees planted along the road leading from the commemorative arch at the north era end of the city. There is one tree for every local citizen killed in WW1 and it extends for around 22 kilometres. There is now a memorial bridge under the new freeway that bypasses the city at the far end of the Avenue. Some trees have been replaced over time, but they still have the original plaque with the name of the Serviceman underneath..


In the early afternoon, we came to Buangor, a tiny town the highway. It brought back some memories as Jill was once bridesmaid to her longest and closest friend, Sue Clark, with whom she started kindergarten in Stawell over seventy years ago.  Sue and her husband, were then managing a sheep grazing property at Ballyrogan, a nearby location. I first met Sue when we visited for a weekend just before we were married. Sadly Sue died after a long battle with cancer, only a few months ago.

Buangor has certainly declined since 1971. The pub that we visited has closed and it looks like the only bar is a part-time one at the cricket club in the park on the opposite side of the highway. They had some tables and chairs under cover so we sat there and ate our lunch before going on to explore more of the area. Just at the entrance to the park is an original Cobb and Co transfer station where horses were changed and travellers stayed overnight. The old pub was burnt downing a fire, but the stables are now used as the local hall.


You never know what you will find until you go exploring. As we passed the Buangor Cemetery, we saw a signpost that pointed to a specific grave so we decided to stop for a look. There, in the middle of a tiny cemetery in the middle of nowhere was the grave of General Sir Cyril Brudenell White. He was one of the founders of the AIF and rose to become Chief of the General Staff in France during WW1. He returned to Australia in June 1919 and worked on the future organisation of the Australian Military Forces. He retired in 1923 and was appointed Chairman of the Commonwealth Public Service Board, becoming responsible for overseeing the transfer of departments from Melbourne to Canberra. Upon retiring in 1928, he continued to serve on a number of business and charitable boards, including the Board of the Australian War Memorial.  In 1940 he was recalled to become Chief of the General Staff, but his tenure was short-lived. On 13 August 1940, General White was killed in an aircraft crash near Canberra airport. 


On reaching the town of Ararat, we spent an hour poking around some of the historical areas of the town. I don’t quite know what it is with this town, but it has a long involvement with people who are mentally disturbed.

Near the centre of the town is an old prison known as J Ward. The J Ward Lunatic Asylum, also known as the Ararat Lunatic Asylum, was opened in 1867 and served as a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane until its closure in 1991. The J Ward Asylum was originally built to accommodate the increasing number of mentally ill patients in Victoria but in 1887, it was repurposed as a facility for the criminally insane, and it became known as J Ward. J Ward was notorious for its harsh treatment of patients, with many inmates being subjected to electroconvulsive therapy and other forms of brutal treatment. The asylum was also known for its use of restraints, with patients often being strapped to their beds for extended periods of time.

Just out of town is a complex known as the Aradale Mental Hospital; also known as Aradale Asylum. The hospital was opened in 1867 and was one of the largest mental health institutions in the southern hemisphere at the time. It had a similar role as the asylums at Kew and Beechworth did in treating vernally ill patients The facility was designed to be self-sufficient, with its own farm, gardens, and workshops. Patients were expected to work on the farm and in the workshops as part of their therapy. I suspect it had a just as much value in keeping mentally ill people out of the community as it did in treating them. 

The old buildings now house a Polytechnic College and, without being on a tour, access is very limited. I could only sneak one photograph through the locked entrance gate. This place has a reputation for being the most haunted place in Australia. To me, it had the same foreboding atmosphere as other old mental hospitals that I have visited in various parts of the country.


A few kilotres further outside town is a large modern medium secure prison complex Initially known as HM Ararat Prison. It was opened in 1967, replacing the century-old Ballarat Gaol. Built at an initial cost of A$1.25 million, an ongoing redevelopment program has included a new external security fence, new kitchen and mess room, major industries complex, new accommodation and program areas, and a new visit centre.

Attached to this prison is the ‘Village of the Damned’. This secure village (complex) holds rapists and paedophiles who are considered too dangerous to ever be released. They are allowed into town when accompanied by two guards to go shopping o collect their social security payments but they must always were a GPS location anklet..

Continuing the theme of grand old buildings from the gold-rush era, we found the original part of of the Ararat Hospital which was built in 1866. They certaintly don’t build hospitals like this anymore.


It was only a final 23 kilometres to Stawell where we are staying for the next two nights. We stopped for a look at the Stawell Gold Mine. The current site was established in 1981, however mining has occurred on and around the site since the town was established in the mid 19th century. The mine now reaches a depth of 1.6 kilometres (around 1 mile) and apparently produces about eight grams of gold per tonne of rock. I was reminded that extraction industries like this are not at all sexy – just a noisy industrial environment with lots of dirt and dust.

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2 thoughts on “Our Driving Tour to Mt Gambier and Broken Hill

  1. ‘Evening Bruce & Jill
    Leaving for Stawell next week Bruce, may well follow your points of interest, unfortunately, will not make Broken Hill.
    Had an enjoyable coffee with Joe, Peter and Paul this morning.
    Keep the posts coming.

  2. Taking time to explore country towns rather than just driving straight through certainly revels so much of our colonial history.

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