Linda McElhenny reports:
Harry and Jill thought they would come up to Maryborough on Friday to check on a couple of things for the weekend. Ian, Anne, Brenda, Phillip, John, Greg, Noelene, Barry and I thought it was a good idea as well. Someone suggested “fish and chips” would be a simple evening meal and most agreed. A nice way to start the weekend.
Saturday saw the early birds meet the rest of the group in Creswick, where, lo and behold, a market was in progress. Harry allowed us some time to look around the market before we headed off on an historical walk around Creswick.
Alluvial gold was found in Creswick in 1852 and the town flourished. The population soared to around 30,000 and, of course, boasted some 37 pubs to quench the thirst of the miners. Creswick was luckier than most “gold towns” due to the discovery of a rich lead at what is now Bloomfield, some 5kms north of the town. Further shafts were sunk and the Berry Deep Leads were found. But getting the gold was hazardous. For the reason why, we need to go back many thousands of years to when the area was evolving.
Initially, the area was flat plains crossed by a number of rivers and creeks. The area then experienced volcanic eruptions which sent lava over the plains and covered the waterways with successive layers of basalt. These subterranean rivers held the gold and to get the gold, shafts had to be dug through the basalt into the river beds. As these rivers were still flowing, flooding was a continual hazard faced by the miners. A union movement grew to protect the miners. Eventually, after several deaths in the mines, limits were set on working hours, the standard of ventilation of the shafts was improved and the use of ladder ways in these shafts was implemented. These were won by the unions.
Gold certainly played a big part in the prosperity of Creswick and this can be seen today in the many beautiful buildings still standing and the grandness of its streetscape. The town had its own gasworks until electricity came in 1932.
Some well known people were born and raised in Creswick over the years. Artist/writer Norman Lindsay, John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia during World War II and Sir Alexander Peacock, a parliamentarian for 44 years, just to name a few.
As we walked around, we saw where the old gasworks was located, a stone cairn marking the home of the Lindsay family, the former Wesleyan Church and the Creswick Hospital, built in 1912 and now a nursing home. In our walk of some 2.5 hours we saw more notable public buildings, churches, old homes and business establishments. Two of the more notable were the Cosy Corner shop, the oldest surviving building in Creswick, dating from 1852 and Pasco’s Store, built in 1864 and operated continuously until 2008 by four generations of ownership.
After our walk, we headed off to Anderson’s Mill at Smeaton. This mill was owned and operated by the Anderson family for almost one hundred years through the boom time, the Great Depression and two world wars. It is a huge five storey bluestone building, complete with a massive waterwheel, outhouses and stables. Sited on the banks of the Birch Creek, it still looks rather impressive today, thanks to the restoration work done by the State Government. The mill closed in 1959 due to a number of reasons. The railway line bypassed Smeaton and the centre of the wheat growing area gradually shifted to the north and west. This made it harder for a small local miller to obtain regular supplies. The annual variation of conditions and weather played havoc with the local grain harvests. Without grain, the mill could not function fully. The buildings, now owned by the State, are now on the Historic Buildings Register.
From the mill, we returned to the Creswick – Clunes road past many old mining sites. These can only be noted these days by their large mullock heaps, although there are remnants of buildings at some sites. Back on the main road we took a short detour to the site of the New Australasian Mine and learned of the disaster there.
In 1882, over 1200 men were employed in the Creswick area mining the Deep Lead. But the work was dangerous. As mentioned previously, the lead was in underground rivers covered by basalt. Consequently, flooding from these rivers was a constant problem. The New Australasian Mine began in 1867 but struggled to make a profit and the mine and its plant was seized by the Bank of Australasia. In 1877, under the auspices of a new company, the mine began operating again and in 1878 sank a new shaft down into the lead. In 1882, a drive (a tunnel horizontal to the main shaft) was begun and was 2,000 feet long by December. On 12th December, two miners digging into the top of the drive, struck water. This water gushed into the drive trapping 27 miners. Feverish rescue efforts to save the trapped miners only managed to save 5 of them. The other 22 lost their lives. But the disaster lead to greatly improved working conditions and safety requirements for the workers after agitation from the unions and a subsequent inquest into the accident. Today, the mullock heaps and evidence of the main shaft can be seen, along with a number of information boards outlining the background and causes of the disaster.
As we continued on to Clunes, it was pointed out that the seven hills we could see on both sides of the road, were the remnants of the volcanoes which covered the area in lava so many years ago. Who would have thought we had volcanic eruptions in Oz?
A long awaited lunch was enjoyed at the Clunes Gardens, right in the centre of town.
Clunes was established as Victoria’s first “gold” town after gold was discovered in the Creswick Creek in July 1851. Interestingly enough, the gold was found by one James Esmond who later went on to become Peter Lalor’s lieutenant at the Eureka Stockade. Clunes grew to become, at one stage, the fifth largest town in Victoria. But by the turn of the century, the gold had run out and so had most of the population. The town lacks the splendour of Creswick. The shops are very old and dreary (circa 1870s). Some are still operating as the original businesses. The colour scheme is beige everywhere and seems to dominate the streetscape. Clunes, though, is one of the most original and intact gold towns in Australia. Most of the magnificent public buildings erected during the boom times have been preserved. We had a walk around the town and noted the old Post Office, police station, Methodist Church, St Andrew’s Church, Masonic Hall and Town Hall as examples of these old preserved buildings. The streetscape is still very much as it was in the 1870s and as such has been used as the background to a number of films and television programs. Ned Kelly and Mad Max are two well known productions which used the town.
During the period between 1880 and 1930, the bare hills from the gold mining were subjected to a tree planting programme by both public and private sectors. Within a generation, the ravages of mining gave way to the treed surroundings we see today.
On the way back to Maryborough, we detoured through the ghost town of Majorca, where gold was discovered in February 1863. A flourishing township developed and by 1866 had 250 general stores, billiard rooms, hotels and timber yards. However, it was very like an American Wild West town with lawlessness prevalent. Unfortunately, many of the buildings in Majorca were destroyed by bushfires in 1985 and only a couple of original buildings remain. Back at camp, we enjoyed a Happy Hour, then many of us adjourned to one of the local pubs for dinner. The evening was quite nice and ended a perfect day.
Sunday morning saw us set off to the Talbot market to find a bargain. The market is reputed to be the “best farmers market in Victoria”. I haven’t been to them all, but Talbot’s would certainly take beating. Half the market is farm produce and the balance is crafts and odds and ends. By 11.30 am, the group met and decided we’d had enough of the market and would head off to our lunch spot. A head count found we had a couple missing. A search party went out in different directions equipped with hand held CBs, all to no avail. We then tried Telstra’s facilities and found the missing couple stranded at the “Vintage Steam Rally” on the other side of town. They had caught a shuttle bus out there and were awaiting one to return. It was decided we would head off to lunch and the couple would follow when they could.
Lunch was at the site of the old Stony Creek Elementary school. The school began in 1865 and is notable for the interest the teacher, a Miss James, engendered in the children for gardening. She laid out rock gardens and flower beds and encouraged the children to tend them. One of the beds was laid out as a map of Australia and was used to educate the children about the fledgling nation. By 1902, the enrolments had dropped to ten and the school was closed in 1916. Nothing remains of the buildings except for a few bricks lying around, but the rock gardens, including the map of Australia, can still be seen. It was a lovely spot for our lunch break and a most suitable place to say our goodbyes. Some of the group headed back to Maryborough to look at a quilt exhibition, others head off for further exploration of the area, while the rest returned home.
We all had a great weekend. Thanks to Harry and Jill and, of course, the beautiful weather.
|Harry & Jill Richards – Trip Leaders
|Anne & Ian Blainey
|Sue & Craig Findlay
|Brenda & Phillip Johnstone
|Linda & Barry McElhenny
|Noelene & Greg Moore
|Helen & Chris Rogers
|Christine & Wayne Scholes
|Bonnie & Rod Tamblyn