January 10 saw us travelling to Fryerstown, near Castlemaine, to attend our friend ‘Trina’s 60th Birthday party.
The goldfields around this area were the richest alluvial gold fields in the world. They were discovered in 1851 (the same year in which Victoria gained independence from the Colony of new South Wales). The discovery of gold was a very significant event in Victoria’s history. It fuelled a massive influx of immigrants, a building boom and by 1860, Melbourne was one of the richest cities in the world. Many of our grand public buildings were built on the wealth of that time.
By the end of 1852, 90,000 newcomers had flocked to Victoria in search of gold. Within a decade the population of Australia had trebled, and from the 1850s to the 1880s the bulk of Victoria’s swelling population lived in the area of the gold fields. The bustling settlements in the area had names such as Drunkard’s Gully, Fryer’s Creek, Cranky Ned’s Reef, California Gully and Murdering Flat. These are now long forgotten. Now, the towns like Maldon, Chewton and Fryerstown are smaller, quieter and suffer the modern malaise of most country towns in their battle for income, employment and services. Larger cities such as Castlemaine, Bendigo and Ballarat are strong enough to maintain a solid future. In these locations, mining advanced from the original alluvial operations to deep lead underground mining. They are now all significant tourist centres.
The legacy of the gold rush era is evident in boom time architecture in Melbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat. In the little towns throughout the gold fields, buildings, ruins and relics of the gold rushes are everywhere.
Trina’s party was held in the Burke and Wills Mechanics Institute Hall in Fryerstown. This little town now has a population of around 400, but in the days of the gold rush, it had a population of over 15,000 people. (Probably just as many pubs as grog shops as well). The town built the hall as a commemoration of the expedition led by Robert O’Hara Burke, a local police superintendant from Castlemaine, who aimed to cross the continent from south to north.
These pictures show some of the scenery and sites of the goldfields today: