We’ve taken a few days off to spend at the old goldfields town of Creswick, near Ballarat. It’s nice to get out of Melbourne although the city sprawl is now so large that it took us well over hour. to feel that we had reached the end of suburbia.
It’s easy travelling along the Western Highway that goes all the way to Adelaide although, as is our style, we would prefer to take some of the back roads and explore intersting towns and villages along the way. There are quite a number of these little towns that werer once on the highway but now bypassed by the four-lane freeway. The local people are much better off for this. Not many travellers ever stopped to contribute to the local economy but the old main streets of these little towns were clogged with a continuous flow of traffic.
These little villages all have an interesting history – all connected with the gold rush of the 1850s.
Ballan is a township in a rural hinterland 70 km north-west of Melbourne on the railway to Ballarat. The Western Freeway bypasses the town The Werribee River and two tributaries are nearby and the town has a well stocked supermarket and a superb little bakery that is a good stopping place for coffee or a sandwich.
In April 1838, Robert William von Stieglitz [1816–1876) took up a pastoral run on the Werribee River’s right bank. He named it Ballan. His brother John Lewis von Stieglitz (1809–1868) occupied the adjoining run, Ballanee. These brothers were some of the first European settlers in the Port Phillip District.The Wadawurrung and Wurundjeri, however, are the traditional owners of the land surrounding Ballan.
The township of Ballan was surveyed in 1850 and named after von Stieglitz’s run. Gold was found in the area in 1851, which brought an influx of prospectors during the Victorian Gold Rush. The Ballan Hotel dates from the gold rush period in 1851. The town became an important staging point for stage coaches travelling to the Ballarat goldfields. The post office in the township opened around September 1853. Ballan Primary School was established on 8 January 1855.
The first Mechanics’ Institute in Ballan was built in 1861, with the current Mechanics’ Institute built on land purchased in 1881, although the façade was demolished and rebuilt in 1922. The building houses the library for the town and a community centre.
Until 1889 there was no complete railway connection from Melbourne to Ballarat via Ballan because of the steep grades at Bacchus Marsh. When the connection was finally made however, the population of Ballan declined, not recovering until the early 1900s.
During the 1980s-90s Ballan’s population doubled, and a range of fabrication industries and transport services had been established in the town. There are three hotels, Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches, State and Catholic primary schools, a caravan park, a swimming pool, a recreation reserve, several sporting clubs and a golf club. A memorial hospital was built in 1966. Moorabool shire council is headquartered in the former Ballan shire office, and the local historical society is nearby in the former court house.
Nearby Gordon is another rural township around 13 kms to the west of Ballan and closer to Ballarat.
A man named George Gordon settled in the area in 1838 with a 30,000 acre stock farming run which was known as “Gordons”.
The locality came to prominence in 1858 when gold was discovered five years after discoveries at Mount Egerton, Around this time, the town prospered because it was located at the main road junction to these goldfields.
Known as Gordon’s for some time, the settlement was a collection of huts with a post office and a court house, until a township was surveyed in 1860. A sawmill (1863) provided timber suitable for town buildings, coinciding with farm selections being taken up, often by Irish settlers. An early Catholic church was opened in 1864 (on the site of the future public hall), and a more substantial replacement was built in 1875, west of the town.
A school was opened in 1873, and a Catholic school in 1884. Between 1879 and 1886 Gordon was a terminus for the railway from Ballarat. (As I mentioned, the line from Melbourne to Ballarat was via Geelong until a connection from Gordon to Melbourne via Bacchus Marsh was completed in 1889.) The completion of the line to Melbourne somehow coincided with a decline in mining, and Gordon’s prosperity came to depend on agriculture. St Patrick’s church was built in 1888.
At the peak of its boom, the town had as many as eight hotels, with banks and several stores. The local railway station on the Melbourne – Ballarat railway opened in 1879 and closed in 1981.
The post office is one of the most charming buildings in the Main Street with its high gable and embedded clock. The first post office was first opened in 1858 with the town becoming known as Gordons in1887
With the cessation of commercial mining in 1910, the town began to decline. But since the 1990s, Gordon has experienced a revival due to the tree change phenomenon with its large semi-rural blocks, quiet rural aspect and its proximity to Ballan, Ballarat and the railway to Melbourne.
We detoured through the tiny village of Millbrook. It is situated in rich farming land which has supported numerous Irish-Catholic families who formed a strong Catholic community around Gordon.
We couldn’t see any trace of it but Millbrook’s name arose from a flour mill built in 1870 beside the western branch of the Moorabool River, where the village was laid out. The river there is nothing more than a trickle and as equally hard to see as the old mill site. However there is an enormous wind farm nearby with dozens of windmills that the ‘greenies’ would claim to play havoc with the local bird life. Perhaps their noise as they rotate also sends local farmers and cattle insane.
Near the turn off to Creswick, we drove through another small town – Bungaree. It is another of the towns that is sign posted on the highway but which we have always bypassed. It has a population of 302.
Similar to the other towns we visited, Bungaree’s Post Office opened in 1863. One of its big claims to fame is that it is home to the Bungaree Demons, who play in the Central Highlands Football Netball League.
More signicasntly, it made a contribution to Australian Folklore when the poem ‘Cocky from Bungaree’ was published in 1942. The poem / ballad tells about life on a farm near here.
The cockies, or cockatoo farmers of Australia, were the poorest of the poor. They are so called because their main crop – an involuntary one – was the cockatoo – and you can’t even eat the damn things. Even worse off than the cockies were the traveling labourers who worked for them.
After a day of interesting exploration, we arrived at our destnation, Creswick, where we will stay for the next three nights.
Creswick is a well preserved historic gold mining town which 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.
The town is surrounded by thick pine and eucalyptus plantations, many of which were first established when the Victorian School of Forestry opened here in 1910.
A number of historic buildings that serve as a reminder of the town’s gold mining history line the streets of Creswick. There is the post office (built in 1862), former town hall (1876), former Bank of NSW (1861) and several other public buildings and churches. At the corner of Albert Street and Raglan Street is a bandstand which dates back to 1897.
We will do some more exploring over the next few days.