Our road trip continued out of Melbourne northwards to Castlemaine, staying a couple of days with good old friends and exploring the surrounding gold rush towns of Maldon, Daylesford, Hepburn Springs, Kyneton and Trentham. Thanks to the 19th Century gold rush, these small towns reflect the enormous wealth that was created here, with fine mid 19th Century buildings and grand streetscapes, mostly wholly intact – apart from the cars and throngs of tourists that is, especially on a sunny spring weekend. We just sneaked in ahead of the forecast deluge that was about to descend on Victoria, causing widespread major flooding.
The Victorian Gold Rush of the mid 1800’s attracted worldwide fame, massively boosting the populations of the small towns and hamlets located around 120ks outside of Melbourne. With the exception of California, the gold output here was greater than any other country on earth, extracting a whopping 1,898,391 kg of pure gold between 1851 and 1896, turning the fledgling colony of Australia into one of the richest countries in the world! One of the most famous of the goldfields was in Castlemaine, the Forest Creek Diggings, which attracted thousands of hopefuls from around the globe, turning a once sleepy hamlet into a massive tent city with seemingly endless gold to be found, so common in fact that it was easily found near the surface.
“The reports of large quantities of gold being found have become so frequent, that it is now looked upon as quite common; but I think the present find will throw all former ones in the shade. Yesterday a lump of pure, clean gold free from quartz, was obtained from the surface near Messrs. Fortnum & Edmiston’s new tent, weighing 60 ounces.” – The Argus, 29th November 1851
Castlemaine is a particularly fine and prosperous town, peppered by old gold fields, though long devoid of any gold – or so they reckon, such was the scale of digging and panning done here.
The town is incredibly well served with an eclectic arts scene, cool galleries, an excellent art museum, local merchants and fine food providores, breweries, cheese-makers and a vibrant crafts and vintage market – any wonder then that so many people are moving here from Melbourne with one section of society in particular, LGBTQI+ conspicuously represented. When we were there our hosts talked of one specific group called ‘The Alluvians’, the gay men’s social group which seems to have satellites for every interest in town, including walking groups, nude walking groups, dog walking groups, car rallies, camping, picnics, pool parties, pub nights, bingo and trivia nights, choir (even, would you believe, a Brazilian choir), amateur dramatics, bowling, card evenings, boot scoot, bush dancing and of course, the annual hoedown. I get the impression our dance card would be pretty full if we lived here!
After Castlemaine we tracked across country Victoria towards Beechworth through the most spectacular lush green countryside with hardly a car on the road – passing over plenty of already swollen creeks and rivers – a sign of things to come, as not two days after passing through, this whole area was severely flooded.
Beechworth is another superbly intact old gold mining town, making its fortune between 1852 and 1857, at one point so rich that one prospector, Daniel Cameron, rode a horse shod with solid gold horseshoes down the main street. The town is also linked to the life and times of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang, the infamous bushranger of the 1870’s. Beechworth is rich Ned Kelly country – from the courthouse which held Ned’s committal trial to the gaol and lock up which held him as prisoner – not to mention the many pubs that he was very familiar with such as The Hibernian and Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel.
Our long journey home took us up into the Snowy Mountains via the Alpine Way – a switchback climbing road through the stunning high country of Victoria (The Man from Snowy River) to the Scammell Spur Lookout with Mt Kosciuszko (mainland Australia’s tallest mountain at 2,228m), just hidden behind the near ranges. From there across to Thredbo and down to Jindabyne and further down to Queanbeyan and Canberra (for the night) and finally home. Another fantastic road trip happily completed. Where next? Stay tuned…