The Richest Place on Earth #5

The Sailors Creek Circuit

18 January 2021, mid 20s again. 14.14 km

A classic walk. No self-respecting guidebook to walks in Victoria would leave it out. Easily accessible entry, comfortable length, but you don’t have to do it all. There are three or four places to get off and go back to the Hepburn Springs-Daylesford Road or more directly into Hepburn Springs. It’s straightforward. You’re just following Sailors Creek which you can do either side. I think the educated preference is for the eastern side: you get higher and the views are longer. Interesting features. Well maintained. Depending where you start and how far you want to deviate from the track, there are three, four or five mineral springs, two of which are sure to be running. The end, going in our direction, is the gardens and terracing surrounding Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa and, if you’re so inclined and have made a booking, the pools, the baths and the attentions of the Bathhouse itself.

We have arrived at a place, a pot of gold swathed in warmly non-discriminatory rainbow colours, which now makes its living out of your comfort and pleasure.

What to say? Queen Victoria memorial fountain, cnr. Raglan and Howe Streets. Erected in 1902 via public subscription including proceeds from a well-attended performance of H.M.S. Pinafore. Made out of rubble and concrete it was in a bad state of disrepair by 1991 and so we are looking at a copy about 30 years old, the male caryatids looking determined if a little unhappy to support their dish, the women simply resigned to their lot. In the background a hotel with cast iron lace, a period feature. But from here we are within striking distance of dozens of food shops or, as one might say in Daylesford, providores, and ambitious restaurants — we are looking towards Kadota, but as well The Lake House, Frangos, the Farmer’s Arms, Sault, Larder, Bistrot Terroir, and on — as well as some less aspirational but still mostly satisfying. Because we are in Daylesford, and that’s what you have in Daylesford.

And in Daylesford (with Hepburn Springs, although you’d never say it out loud locally, the northern suburb) you also have a sybaritic range of health spas, therapy centres, sanitariums, meditative retreats, masseurs, cosmeticians, and manifold operations promising to both excite and relax your senses, often at the same time. And then there’s the antique shops, the markets, the Convent, the lake, the botanic gardens. Both scale and style are right. As Alla Wolf-Tasker (Ms. The Lake House) says in a recent advertising supplement: ‘There are no large brands here. This is a region of small local makers and growers. When you visit local establishments, it’s often the artist, the restaurateur, the winemaker, the brewer, the baker saying hello’, or in the case of the Himalaya Bakery and Cafe the person making the corned beef and salad roll you’re going to eat at Breakneck Gorge.

Let’s get moving. The day will have gone and you’ll still be sitting at the all-day breakfast place thinking about whether you’ll have another short macchiato with almond milk on the side.

Our motelier (Hepburn Springs Motor Inn: rooms 7.8, service 9.9; more on her below) had driven us back into Daylesford and dropped us at the Town Hall, another one of those best-foot-forward gold era buildings. We strolled down Raglan St and got back on the Track at Tipperary Springs.

This is a good example of how well this track is waymarked. In 210 km I can think of only two places where the waymarking left any uncertainty. Pretty remarkable, and another incentive to try your hand for at least bits of The Track.

Tipperary Spring. ‘ … the best spring in the district, next to Hepburn.’

Quite effervescent with high levels of total dissolved salts, bicarbonate, inorganic carbon, calcium, sodium, potassium and iron.

In the clearing at Tipperary Springs is this striking tree which I am going to designate E. viminalis. When I consult my copy of Eucalypts of the Mount Alexander Region (Slattery, B., Perkins and Silver, and highly recommended) I find that viminalis is Latin for ‘like a willow’ and refers in this case to the way the foliage weeps. They are sometimes called ribbon gums, and here there are a plethora of bark ribbons. I also find that the common name, Manna Gum, is derived from white nodules exuding from insect holes in the bark which are, or perhaps were in the past, relished by Aboriginal people — manna.

But whatever it is, it’s a superb tree.

Looking back over the creek: a characteristic view. Heavily forested bank on the other side, the creek, somnolent, finding its way through the rocks. I think I like this walk best in winter when the valley is often full of mist and rain. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sailors Creek running hard, although it can as a picture below illustrates.

This is what it’s like where we are.

Unless it’s like this …

… with a cloud of everlastings floating down the hill. It would be Egg and Bacon if it were closer to Spring.

But wherever you look, closely, there is the prospect of something quite exquisite.

There are several reminders of gold along the way. The shaft (at left) of the old Mistletoe Mine is about 2m square, heavily fenced off and housed in a decaying corrugated iron shed. But, along with its tailings and mullock, it’s there, caged, moodily brooding.

Closer to Bryce’s Flat all the signs of diggings begin to appear, but they pretty much stop there …

Flagstones crossing the creek at Bryce’s Flat. Here for aesthetic reasons only.

… before starting again at the party trick of this stage of the walk, The Blowhole.

The area around The Blowhole had been closed for three years before the Victorian LABOR GOVERNMENT provided $250,000 to stabilise the area and build a new set of stairs and viewing platform. Now it’s open again, and just so you know who’s who and what’s what about opening the repairs, MARY-ANNE THOMAS, LABOR MEMBER FOR MACEDON gets in the front of the ‘Ballarat Courier’s’ pic while the Parks Victoria folk who have probably done or at least supervised and had a part in designing the work melt into the background. But unless you’ve got a very keen eye for the detail of khaki jackets, I’m not sure you’ll recognise Mary-Anne when you see her next. You might in fact consider this a picture of low-key banditry taking a rather static selfie in the bush. Anyway an excellent job has been done (and thanks Mary-Anne, AND DAN (LABOR)).

So what’s The Blowhole?

Just a bit further north, Sailors Creek seems to break into Jim Crow Creek and Spring Creek. The Jim Crow gully (at right, Raintree’s photo, 1854, devastation) was very heavily worked for gold and a group of miners, European and Chinese, decided there must also be gold to be found a bit south and that there was an attractive opportunity for getting at a creek bed which they could dry out. Sailors Creek takes a big loop right at this point, so to divert the water, they blasted and dug a hole through a rocky spur to make a much more direct route for the creek. That dry loop was very intensively worked over without much profit leaving behind The Blowhole as something of an oddity in Victorian goldfields mining, something now just to exclaim over.

I have never seen anything remotely like the situation at left, but it was flood damage that shook up the rock strata and maybe left this memento.

If you look at the water in this photo, in which intrepid photographer taking photo of tree trunk jammed in Blowhole has scaled cliff face, you will note just how fast the creek was flowing.

A lot of walkers get off the track at The Blowhole, but the northern section of the walk repays investigation. The gully walls get steeper and much deeper which does make the walking harder but, just for example, you can poke your head up over the lip of the gully wall (here called a gorge) and have a look at the Hepburn Recreation Reserve which you otherwise might miss. That’s important. Despite a score of visits to Hepburn Springs I never knew it existed. We also found a metre long brown snake sunning itself on the path before rushing off to its next appointment, and the backside of a rash of grand designs along Main Road including a 5-Star hotel (‘Clifftop at Hepburn’. Marvellous). Golden Spring was dry and being repaired, but just nearby was this superb creature. Fabulous or what? In his or her absolute prime.

To finish the day you cross the creek and climb up through the Baths. And, after that big pump up in the intro, it was actually quite hard to find anywhere to eat: in Hepburn Springs/ Daylesford! Outrageous. It’s the COVID.

Hepburn Springs to Vaughan Springs

19 January 2021, began round 20, low 30s by the time we got there. About 28 or 29 km.

[This particular map is not very helpful, although it may indicate a state of mind. The battery in my phone and hence the GPS conked out at the Porcupine Ridge Road crossing. I began conking out shortly thereafter. We finished near the second ‘d’ in ‘Guildford’.]

It began at 5.45am which is well before the time I start functioning. Hours before. A long day was ahead. The guidebook’s distance is 28 km and that’s plenty, but we always seem to wander a bit beyond official distances. It was going to get hot as well, so good to get as much distance under your belt by lunch time as possible. Plus we needed our car at the other end because we were moving accommodation from Hepburn Springs to Castlemaine. I asked the excellent motelier at the HS Motor Lodge if she would consider following me to Vaughan Springs and then bring me back so we could make all that work, and she most obligingly agreed.

And so it was we both drove off before the sun rose. The road out of Hepburn takes you up a steep hill past a thick assortment of 4- and 5-star hotels clustered for easy access to the Baths before topping out at a lookout, Jackson’s Lookout. There was a Track waymark right at that point. We were going to start the morning with a climb up to a lookout. Eeeeeeeeeeee. Then the bitumen swirled up and down through the gullies before meeting up with the Midland Highway which because of its seniority in the road world tends to have had its ups and downs ironed out. We veered left of Mount Franklin through paddocks with early sun just slithering over them, the noise of the cars enough to disturb the herds of kangaroos. The Mount with its odd basin haircut of pines loomed as a shadow. By the time we got to Guildford I was starting to think, mmm this seems a very long way. After we turned right and had dodged around a bit to get to Vaughan I was pursing my lips and breathing deeply. Hmmm … it was going to be a big day. This was all new country for us and I hadn’t really got a feel for its contours and distances.

And then something strange happened. We’d got past the Chinese Cemetery at Vaughan and some confusing Track waymarking (for the mountain bikers who also use a modified version of the Track) and had arrived at Vaughan Springs, and as we passed under the rustic arches at its entrance and followed the curves of the drive I thought, I’ve been here before.

Exotic deciduous trees, rotunda, two mineral springs one working, a weird fenced area which turns out to be a (very short) race track, toilet block with slate facing, 1920s recreation reserve masonry with thick thick mortar joints and not much attention to symmetry or style, a weir on a river, (in my memory, a big river), a paddling pool at its edge with 2″ galv pipe around the sides to hang on to … and that black box right in the middle of the picture. Because I think in that black box there is a miniature train, which had carriages which you could ride on. And 65 years ago my wish to go for a ride – only in a short circle mind you – was denied. Were all those memories so precise and sharp because of a perceived injustice? Quite possibly.

Vaughan Springs eh! Once known as ‘The Junction’, once a Chinese market garden with rich alluvial soil carried by the Loddon which runs through it, once a weekend venue for hundreds and just occasionally several thousand day trippers. Once, ice creams, footraces, egg and spoon contests, beauty contests, sack races, market stalls, queues to swing into the weir on the rope. Bloody hell. Was that where we were going to end up today? How amazing. Just as much history as the gold. I found a shady tree to park the car under and climbed back in with my driver. On the way back we discovered that she had been a senior administrative assistant of an education program I had begun, and that this experience had influenced her decision to leave Hepburn shortly to go to work in a remote Aboriginal community. As Henry James says: ‘Really, universally, relations stop nowhere.’

The return trip didn’t seem much shorter, although the kangas had got friskier and seemed to have multiplied. We were walking at 7.20.

The entry to this part of the walk is wonderful: through this gate, downhill to the bridge spanning the upper levels of the creek gully, and then onto the tarmac of the roads and car parks of the Baths surrounded by carefully tended lawns and gardens. It was a bit early to be testing mineral water so we ignored the springs and found the Goldfields Track signage on the fence line of the reserve, the manicured calm before something a bit more unruly.

Up through the Locarno Gully (below, which has its own mineral spring) on a track with quite a generous grade for a gain of 130m or so in a kilometre.

This area was burnt in the 2019/2020 fires which must have terrified Hepburn Springs and Daylesford. So close. Robert Walls was one of the people who had his house saved at that time.

We dodged off onto the little spur road at the top of the hill and climbed the lookout — doing The Track properly you see, later in the day we may have had quite a different idea — but the promised views were negligible, treed out. You cross the Back Hepburn road and edge along the Dry Diggings forest on a dirt road with Mt Franklin (Lalgambook) visible ahead to the north. It becomes a feature of the walk as you sidle past it to the east and then gradually look at it receding further and further into the southern distance. That happens in a day and provides a sense of just how far you really are walking. But Golden Summers or what?

We were heading for that swathe of bush in front of us, the Elevated Plains (which is a place name) part of the Hepburn Regional Park and were immediately back in the gully hill gully hill of gold country and almost equally immediately found ourselves following Beehive Gully: shafts, water races, mullock heaps all over the place. But most prominent was this poster child for The Eroded Landscape, 10-15m deep and running like some mini-Grand Canyon for most of a kilometre, trees, sometimes huge, dangling on the edges with most of their roots exposed.

Not beautiful, but unquestionably a spectacle, the sort that primitive versions of mining leave behind. Sophisticated modern versions offer something different: the problems are more carefully disguised.

Out past the Chocolate Mill on the Midland Highway and then backwards a kilometre along its side to the landmark snazzy letterboxes at the junction with Sawpit Gully Road. We seemed to have gone so far: but, one-fifth of the way. However Sawpit Gully Road, a gently undulating gravel affair for 3 km and then a pleasant dirt road after that, provided a chance to make up some time as well as things to look at because this was the land of the grand design, Toorak dreamings transported to the rural setting.

This house, either number 1 or number 2, was the only modest dwelling we saw on Sawpit Gully Road. I checked the property pages and it looks a bit like if you want 20 hectares or some such you pay north of half a million, and if you want a house on that block appropriate to the context you will need to think about beginning at three times that much. And you’ll need a dam about as big as a lake, and quite possibly your very own earth-moving equipment. An hour and a half from Melbourne where the mother ships probably are, what are you thinking?

We’re looking over the top of one of these with Mt Franklin in the background. (Just incidentally you can see the change in aspect I mentioned earlier. We’re a little bit short of due east now.) And we’re walking along a ridge between the Middleton and Tarilta Creeks, both of which would flow about as voluminously — and regularly — as Sailors Creek.

You’ve drunk the water, now see the hill: what spell has Mount Franklin cast?

“People also ask: Is Mount Franklin water from Mount Franklin?”

“The water in Coca-Cola Amatil’s Mount Franklin doesn’t come from Mount Franklin, as the name implies. Coca-Cola actually sources its water from various springs across five different states, one of which is in Queensland, more than 1800km from Victoria’s Mount Franklin.” To which could be added (from an academic study): ‘While the water associated with “Mount Franklin” brand lives on under the ownership of Coca Cola Amatil and has become nationally iconic and incredibly profitable to the Coca Cola company, no water has been extracted from the original site [about 10km north at the junction of the Midland Hway with Limestone Track] for approximately 35 years. The “Mount Franklin” mineral spring is no more and the area has become an overgrown and forgotten eyesore on the side of the Midland Highway.’ Another study: ‘In the late 1980s a water bottling company purchased [the land this spring is on], put a bore down into a saline aquifer and destroyed the spring. This was environmental vandalism.’

On another day we climbed to the top of Mount Franklin and wandered round its cone and, sure enough, saw no signs of tapping either spring or other artesian water. Even so I’m not sure why you’d want it to come from Mount Franklin. What is it about this modest mountain and its surrounds?

The on-line ‘Goldfields Guide’ says: ‘A gorgeous and peaceful campground rests within the scenic crater of an extinct volcano at Mount Franklin. Bordered by conifer forest, the crater has been decorated with ornamental trees such as Silver Birch, White Poplar, Sycamore and Californian Redwoods. A large, central lawn area is surrounded by a ring of campsites with picnic tables and wood fire barbecues. A toilet block and water tank/tap is located close to the entrance of the campground.’ All true. I can vouch for that. But would that draw you? There were 40 or 50 people camping or picnicking when we were there. Perhaps seclusion.

This Guide also notes that: ‘Mount Franklin was created by a volcanic eruption about 470,000 years ago. The crater … is one of the deepest in the Central Highlands. Lava flow from Mount Franklin and other volcanoes in the area had buried the gold-bearing creeks that would become the “deep leads” sought out and excavated by gold miners.’ And so that’s what a ‘deep lead’ is. I had wondered.

It seems to have always had some fascination for Europeans. Squatters called it ‘Jim Crow Hill’ connecting it — and its nearby creek — somehow with the racial segregation laws of the United States. It became Mt Franklin in 1843 after Superintendant La Trobe climbed it with Sir John Franklin, then boss of white Tasmania. Its eastern side in particular became a mining site in the 1850s until 1870, when the crater was set aside as a recreation reserve surrounded by another substantial area reserved as State forest. In a story on endless repeat in the historical cycle, deals were done to excise two large areas of the reserve for farming. Another repeat: this generated a public outcry which strengthened preservation (till today) of the remaining reserve. But introduced animals — first farm animals, later rabbits — destroyed much of the indigenous land cover. Then in 1944 a bushfire destroyed most of the remnant native vegetation and a decision was made to replant with the exotic species which are all too evident today.

This has a fairly precise parallel with the treatment of the indigenous population, the Gunangara Gundidj clan of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. Good evidence suggests that Lalgambook (‘smoking grounds’, suggesting immensely long contact) was an important cultural site and that frequent and large ceremonial gatherings took place there. How widely was that understood in 1840, … or today?

In 1840, the government took over Mount Franklin and the surrounding area for the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate Station. Initially there was to be an inner reserve of one square mile (258 hectares) on which ‘every effort was to be made to induce [the “protected” Aboriginal people] to engage in the pursuit of agriculture or other regular labour.’ This was within another area with a five-mile radius which was set up for the purposes of hunting which was explicitly anticipated to be temporary as the habits of diligent European labour took hold. The purpose of this, as with the three other protectorates established round the time was ‘to safeguard the natives from encroachments on their property, and from acts of cruelty, of oppression or injustice’, with a longer term goal of ‘civilising’ them. Ah, the irony, the irony.

Richard Daintree, 1858, Barkhut residences at Franklinford

And the customary sad story, rigid with inevitability, plays out. The hub of the protectorate was established at Larne-ne-barramul, ‘the place of the emu’, what is now called Franklinford just on the other side of the Midland Highway from the mountain. A homestead, church, school and several out buildings were constructed. One commentator thinks that ‘Franklinford provided a very important focus for the Dja Dja Wurrung during the 1840s where they received a measure of protection and rations, but they continued [as you might imagine, hindsight makes things so wonderfully clear] with their traditional cultural practices and semi-nomadic lifestyle as much as they could.’ From time to time there were at more than 200 Aborigines living at Franklinford, however, in 1850 when the protectorate was finally closed there were only 20-30 there. In the subsequent years only one family, pictured below, remained.

Richard Daintree, 1858, Franklingford

One of these dignified and composed people is Tommy Walker, the last Dja Dja Wurrung person at Franklinford who eventually walked off to Coranderrk.

Another sad story plays out via the man in charge, Assistant-Protector Edward Parker. He was appointed to this role from his home in London by people who were equally distanced, geographically and otherwise, from this reality. A history of his life and times (Holst, below) describes three phases of his identity:

  • vigorous but poorly informed idealism. An active campaigner against slavery, he trained to be a Methodist minister but violated the terms of his probation by marrying (albeit the daughter of a Congregational minister). After arrival in Australia he set up initially near Sunbury so he wasn’t too far from Melbourne and wrestled constantly with his employers about regulations, supplies, payment and the nature of his role. (Parker also spent time elbowing away Sievwright, another Assistant-Protector and former policeman, from pressing his attentions on his wife.)
  • learning about politics while fighting to set up and consolidate his operation. Among the endless other issues, the five squatters with adjoining ‘properties’ kept encroaching on the protectorate’s land or at least disputing its boundaries leading at times to violent altercations. Parker was slow to set up a school despite this being ‘of the highest priority’ (it began in 1849 and closed in 1864, a short life), but he was able to set up a semi-functional community. Two of his sons describe his relationship with his protectees as respect bordering on reverence. This is contested. He appears to have been scraping off quite a lot of money from the products of the protectorate (which included lime from the Franklin aquifer destroyed by Coca Cola) for his personal benefit. But …
  • he ended up a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, a magistrate, a fellow of the Royal Society of Victoria and the holder of a very extensive property once known as the Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate. In 1850 he was granted the pastoral lease for the land it occupied amounting to 62 square miles (16,000 hectares) as well as retention of its equipment, stores and stock. He occupied this land as his own for 25 years. In his will he described his occupation as ‘landholder’.

[To read more: Heather Holst (2008) ‘Save the People’: ES Parker at the Loddon Aboriginal Station Aboriginal History Vol 32]

A footnote: ‘On 26 May 2004 Susan Rankin, a Dja Dja Wurrung elder peacefully reoccupied crown land at Franklinford in central Victoria, calling her campsite the Going Home Camp. Rankin asked the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment to produce documents proving that the Crown has the right to occupy these lands. According to the 2 June 2004 ‘Daylesford Advocate’, local DSE officers admitted they “cannot produce these documents and doubt that such documents exist”.’

• • • • • • • •

After that long digression, back to the people puffing their way along the Track on an increasingly warm day. After crossing Porcupine Ridge Road we found ourselves in open forest busy with regrowth.

It would have provided a field day for identification of juvenile eucalypt leaves.

We were walking north through the southern section of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park at this stage. The area would be called Glenlyon even though we’re five or six kilometres from the town, like so many of these Central Highlands townlets, picturesque and attractive. We visited, really just for purposes of orientation, on the day 100mm of rain fell in a few hours. I didn’t know then that the town began its life as an experiment in Christian socialism. It’s better known these days for its wine.

Ruined hut, Brown’s Gully

Around the time we came to Brown’s Gully the signs of human intervention were becoming more pronounced, even to things like this, a pile of handily squared-off stone, in this case natural, in others the work of a chisel and a mallet. But these have been busy diggings.

Sebastopol Gully was not far ahead, like Forest Creek and Specimen Gully nearer Castlemaine, a very rich Mt Alexander digging. Also nearby is Italian Hill, Irish Flat and, perhaps as a necessary consequence, Fighting Gully. Claim jumping would be only one reason why altercations broke out in groups of men from all over the place tense with gold fever.

I wish I’d been more alert to this stretch of the walk. There was regular evidence of both vertical and horizontal mining, plenty of hills to climb just here, empty water races, heaps of tailings, eroded gullies. At one of the bigger digs, Tubal Cain mine, you find the old mine dam now full of reeds standing out from the rest of the landscape. (Tubal Cain, תּוּבַל קַיִן, descendant of the biblical Cain and, according to biblical record, the first blacksmith). I was too tired to chase up the other evidence of this venture.

The scenery changed quite regularly, and the Track allows 5-600 metres along (another) Sailor’s Gully Creek which was refreshingly cool and flat as well as being full of open shafts like this one.

The Guidebook says ‘you will find a long uphill section to Gurr Track with under two kms to go to Vaughan Springs’, … that would be approx 5mm less than two kms. That’s how it felt anyway.

It’s very hard to photograph ‘steep’ or ‘high’ so you’re just going to have to imagine it. But you might like to chafe your thighs a bit first, bash your feet around, stand on your tip toes in the sun and avoid any sort of liquid refreshment for a day or two. You’re just not as alert as you should be, more just one foot in front of the other. Even after we got onto Gurr’s Track there were things I should have been looking at that I didn’t see.

Plus there were quite a few false dawns in these last kilometres. I thought I could see the weir at Vaughan Springs several times before I was eventually walking across its wall. Long hot days can do that to you. But this too is some fabulous walk.

I got my head under this spring, the Lawson, and, ignoring its internal redemptive qualities, luxuriated in its bracing temperature. I got properly wet and thought, given that it is going to start in the mid-30s next day, we (meaning I) probably won’t want to walk the next 20kms into Castlemaine immediately. Not straight away. Not just then. We could just enjoy a day in another of these wonderfully interesting towns.

In the far distance under a tree is the small red Audi, unmolested and waiting. Just near the miniature train, just … well look, I should have been allowed … don’t you think, no but really Yeah I know I didn’t have any money but I was only six. Other kids were … not fair.

The Richest Place on Earth #4

Creswick to Blampied Road

11 December 2020, low-mid 20s and clear, a beautiful day. 19.01 kms

What a day! So many good ones, but this might have been one of the very best.

A very comfortable night at the Creswick Motel (highly recommended for those, like us, with unslaked addictions to country motels) before heading off just a little south of east, not necessarily the most obvious direction. Daylesford, the end of this stage is to the north, but we were going east to Mollongghip to make the most of the Creswick Regional Park before heading north into the Wombat Forest at Barkstead towards Rocklyn and Korweinguboora.

I’ve written all that just so I could type Mollongghip and Korweinguboora. My father used to occasionally say Korweinguboora (Ka-winjee-borer, he said; I wouldn’t know) simply for the pleasure of it. Very occasionally it would turn up on the news for its rainfall or degree of chill. But when via Google I investigate ‘How popular is the baby name Korweinguboora?’, I find not so much at the present time. But I do find that it is an Aboriginal word probably meaning ‘where the crane eats frogs’, and that would make perfect sense. We might even have seen that happening. On this walk we’ve walked through let’s say 15 places I’d heard of but had no idea where they were and 40 or 50 that I had never heard of. It has been a wonderful education in so many ways.

But we weren’t walking to Korweinguboora this day. Our destination was the corner of two roads … you can’t say in the middle of nowhere. People live there. There are two houses nearby, but let’s just say not much else. We were counting on the ever reliable Lord Rowland to find us, pick us up and bring us back for another night at the Creswick. To allay any distracting anxiety that was just what happened.

For the sake of interest we varied our route out of Creswick leaving via St George’s Lake Rd instead of along the creek as usual and the first thing we ran into was the heartland of Melbourne Uni’s Forestry School or, if you prefer, the School of Ecosystems and Forest Sciences of The University of Melbourne. This was established at Creswick, according to its long term Principal Bob Orr, because of ‘the damage done to this landscape during the gold rush era – with the land being dug up – that alerted people to the importance of managing the land and its resources in a responsible way.’ Excellent. Unstinting approval.

It turned out to be a hospital anyway.

1863. The Creswick Goldfields Hospital. Three wings surrounding a courtyard. A serious building set now, as you might imagine, in rather sumptuous arboreal surrounds. The Forestry School converted the 30-bed hospital into the School’s library in 1912 so the hospital idea is from the long rather than the short form of yesterday.

But one of its medical practitioners was Dr Robert Lindsay who arrived from Londonderry just one year after it opened. He and his wife Jane Williams, daughter of a Wesleyan missionary, had 10 children, half of whom became significant figures in Australia’s cultural topography: Percy, Lionel, Norman, Ruby and Daryl — artists and/ or writers. (I can only count eight children in this family photo. That would be often be considered enough. And you may have already noted the relative placement of man and woman.)

Norman (top right in the photo I’d say) — self-described ‘artist, etcher, sculptor, writer, art critic, novelist, cartoonist and amateur boxer’ — is probably the best known, and for The Magic Pudding as much as his intoxication with female flesh.

He wrote of his father: ‘He wears a tussore [stylishly coarse] silk coat and grey bell topper with a flowing puggaree [a thin muslin scarf of Sikh heritage worn for sun protection]. If I select a key word to describe his personality it would be the word ‘aplomb’. All his life he got into complicated situations, social, professional and domestic, and strolled out of them without ruffling a feather.’

Moving on to another version of culture, I wish to insert this photo here to recognise the critical importance played by the rider mower in the life of homo rusticus, and the number of times we saw this practice playing out. This was a special case because as he drove he was talking to a mate who couldn’t hear him. Plus there was a particular sort of tenacity about his style, a determination to get The Lot.

But we’re not out of Creswick yet.

Our first real destination was St George’s Lake which I’ve mentioned already. It has recently had its wall renewed and this is the result. We have rarely seen anyone anywhere on The Track, but in this case there was a dog walker nicely placed at the end of the concrete finger. We walked around the northern side of the lake which is always pleasant, and then we were off into the bush. Great walking this.

Four kms out of Creswick you come to this, a stile and bits of what has been quite a complex fence built by students from the Forestry School for a koala reserve. There’s another one of these near the top of Leanganook/ Mt Alexander which was just as successful. As a commentator says, after a week or so (of stocking the reserve) you could find plenty of koalas around here but anywhere except in the reserve. Anyone who has seen koalas climb would probably understand this.

This is an old track and carefully calibrated. I see diggers with wheelbarrows full of stuff just around the next corner on tracks like this. And I do. Their barrows have a small open metal wheel, no tyre of course, the pan is a worn wooden box which was once well made. They have an intent look on their face largely unconscious of their immediate surroundings, and they are going much faster than we do. These tracks wander because they are careful about staying close to the contour. Here’s an example. The track on the left is the track on the right negotiating its way round a gully. The Lerderderg Forest is full of tracks like this.

There actually hadn’t been much sign of diggings to this point, but then the country opens up a bit, the vegetation changes, you start crunching quartz under foot and the earthworks start appearing.

Down to the left from here are the cobbles and mullock heaps indicative of a busy field which pretty much stop as you get to Jackass Road. You have a choice now for a side trip to Eaton’s dam. There and back is not far, and it’s interesting and represents a formidable exertion of energy. I read somewhere that it had never held water — that would be a gold story too, and you can imagine it being the case with the sort of soil around here and the hand construction issues. You can’t always make a dam hold water; it takes a great deal of skill and knowledge. Anyway other sources say not only did it hold water …

but when it was breached (see above) in the 1930s, the consequential flow flooded Creswick.

It is also a good place for the first cup of tea.

A steady haul up the Wallaby Track which at this point is a heavily rutted dirt road, one of the very many in these forests. To the left are pine plantations and off to the right is Jackass Gully with a tributary of the Creswick Creek occasionally running through its crease.

And you come to a surprise. You’re not in the middle of nowhere, you’re scarcely out of town; but it doesn’t feel like that. So when you see this plaque tucked away under an elderly fruit tree, you can only wonder what could have been going on here.

And it is a surprise.

It is the site of the home of W. G. Spence who grew up here as a child, but seen here — in a rural version of the man in question — standing in the doorway. The plaque refers to his role as the Superintendent of the Creswick Presbyterian Sunday School but it is not for that that he is generally known.

He was aged eight at the time of of the Eureka Rebellion (1854), but it is claimed that it influenced him so significantly he made it his mission to organise mine workers into a union. Thus in 1874 Spence was among the mine-workers who formed the Amalgamated Miners’ Association of Victoria, an organisation which became the springboard for the real foundations of Australian unionism. After leading the merger with similar unions in the other Australian colonies to form the Amalgamated Miners’ Association of Australasia, he became the first president of the national Shearers’ Union which established 85 per cent of Australian shearing sheds as ‘closed shops’, accessible only to members.

He led the amalgamation of the miners, shearers and rural workers unions which produced the Australian Workers’ Union in 1894, remaining a senior office bearer until 1917 (as well as a federal parliamentarian from Federation until 1917). This was in the context of a collapse of the Australian (and world) economies in 1891 coupled with a massive attack on organised labour using the weapons of law and imprisonment. Charges laid included sedition, ‘unlawful conspiracy and inciting riots’. He must have had a backbone of steel and a (Presbyterian?) sense of purpose. None of which has answered the question, what were he and his family doing just here? Answer: he had a family that was looking for gold, and just a few hundred metres from the cottage.

From Spence’s cottage we turned right instead of left as we often do. New country for us, which opens into regrowth stringy bark forest with longer views north to pasture and in time a grand design: enormous dam with island, ducks, swans, a range of sitteries with differing vantage points mainly east, painted wooden fence (for the horses, very expensive and a lot of upkeep), stables. Almost certainly fabulous, but what do you do when you go there? A glass of first quality white wine at each sittery perhaps? But that’s in the evenings. Endless work perhaps, in the garden/ orchard/ vineyard/ olive grove? Or maybe inside on the computer wishing you had a better internet connection.

We saw quite a few of the these, including a whole long road’s worth which we will come to … but when the project is complete, when the dog has caught the car, what then? Try the beach?

We on the other hand were free as the breeze wandering down … country lanes we could say, but dirt roads assuming at least equivalent charm, between banks of everlastings and phalaris that had seeded from the pasture on the margins of the forest, herds of Angus to our left, hosts of crimson rosellas and carolling maggies to our right.

This House in the Bush (below) was a special case. You don’t often see such high order tree houses, actually constructed round the trees rather than by or in them. As well as somewhere to stick the kids this one might be for the evening glass of white wine. Might be. Probably not. Among other things I’m thinking of the mossies.

And then looking north over towards Newlyn and Scrub Hill a massive paddock of … what?

Cut flowers? No. Another sort of cash crop. Something to stop the mossies. These are Pyrethrum daisies.

‘The flowers are pulverized and the active components, called pyrethrins, contained in the seed cases, are extracted. This is applied as a suspension in water or oil, or as a powder. Pyrethrins attack the nervous systems of all insects, and inhibit female mosquitoes from biting. When present in amounts less than those fatal to insects, they still appear to have an insect repellent effect. They are harmful to fish [and cats], but are far less toxic to mammals and birds than many synthetic insecticides. They are not persistent, being biodegradable and decompose easily on exposure to light. They are considered to be among the safest insecticides for use around food.’

All news to me. There were a dozen or more fields of this scale.

This was one sign that we had moved from the sedimentary gold country to the startlingly rich volcanic soils of Dean and surrounds — spuds just here — and also that we were on a patch of 10-12 kms walking between paddocks, something I’d expected a great deal more of.

And pretty pleasant walking …

On our right heading north up the Dean-Newlyn Road were crowds of ibis and what I think were herons working over a swampy field (more correctly, I discover, a swamp), probably eating frogs! To the left hundreds, maybe a thousand choughs foraging in a crop. Myers Road offered an exhibition of the range of options for damming dry country, and we arrived at our destination, unexpectedly denoted thus.

Blampied Road to Sailors Falls

12 December 2020, another beautiful day. 24.76 kms

Next morning our hostess from the Creswick Motel drove us back to the exact spot we’d left the night before. When we say doing it properly that is what we mean. 200m down the road was this study in symmetry and pattern, a most beautiful thing.

Quite soon the Track veers off onto a dirt 4WD track full of steep angles. Off to each side Houses in The Bush began to appear through the trees. At the very modest township of Mollongghip, where ‘it snows most years’, it finally turns north beginning the long stages through the Wombat Forest.

It’s a strange stretch of landscape, apparently lacking in complexity but sometimes striking if not beautiful.

This is looking towards the sun mid-morning: absolutely motionless grey pool (it had rained a few days before, I’m glad to say there were several large pools full of tadpoles), silver flicker from the swaying of the bracken intersected by the black verticals of the young trees, almost but not regular. You turn around and the gingerbread and caramel browns and sprinkles of green re-appear. But the tree growth is still comparatively regular, and the understorey sparse. For kilometres burning off, seemingly so unnecessary, had left all the trunks blackened to a metre or two.

People keep tidying up the Wombat Forest. Or cutting it down. The reason it looks like this is because it is almost all regrowth.

This stretch of The Track is known as the Andersons’ Tramway Walk.

John, James and William Anderson left Scotland in June 1851 taking advantage of assisted passages for agricultural labourers and country tradesmen. While they landed at Adelaide they quite soon joined the rush for gold in Victoria. They dug at Castlemaine, Mt Korong and Bendigo and, it seems, made a good deal of money. With this capital they retired to Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, and set up as building contractors.

Their mother Sarah arrived in 1856 with her three younger sons Thomas, Robert and David. The older brothers had moved to Dean (through which in this story we have just walked) abandoning gold digging for timber milling, a new enterprise to supply the mining and building industries of Ballarat. Within 10 years the Andersons became the biggest saw millers in the Wombat/ Bullarook Forest with mills at Dean, Barkstead and Adekate Creek (just three of the 38 timber mills in the Wombat Forest in the late 1860s). By 1866 they had constructed 12 km of timber tramway with numerous bridges, cuttings and culverts at a cost of £9 000 and employed 60 men building tramways and felling timber in the forest and at the mill.

They built the tramway because they had stripped all the timber from Dean and its surrounds. The tramway itself was no small thing: the rails were laid on sleepers, deep cuttings, bridges. It was wide enough for two horses abreast to pull the wagons laden with logs. These horses were eventually supplanted by steam locomotives. At its furthest extent it ran from Musk Vale to Barkstead, 23 km. Below, a bit of what is left that we followed for a time.

Gib Wettenhall takes up the story:

All good things come to an end. No sooner had [the Anderson brothers] secured the two specially commissioned steam locomotives from a Ballarat foundry, pulling 3-4 train trips of logs into the Barkstead mill, day in, day out, than – surprise, surprise – the trees within their license area ran out, a mere 15 years since their start-up sawpit at Dean. 

So what did the Andersons do? They brought on a bush war, encroaching on the licensed territory of two other powerful sawmillers, Thomas Crowley and Patrick Fitzpatrick. This was to prove a fatal mistake. Crowley and Fitzpatrick had mates in the Victorian Parliament and they complained that the Andersons were ‘ravaging’ their forest. So, in 1879, the Andersons lost both their sawmill and tramway licenses and were forced to abandon Barkstead.

Or more correctly to shift their operations to Smeaton where they had established an equally ambitious flour mill still very much in evidence today.

In the interests of full disclosure, it is noted that one of these environmental vandals, probably David, is the great-great grandfather of my children.

But we were slow walking through here because the blood descendant of the Andersons kept finding things to look at on the ground: often tiny, various, remarkable.

The Common Fringed Lily, and, once we started noticing them, as well as being superb they were common.

This bloke and his dog get a run because he is one of the five people we saw on or near the track in more than 200 km. You probably can’t see him, but he’s over on the edge of Mullens Dam at what he called Barkstead and what the map calls Rocklyn with a yabby net cleaning out his traps. He also has a bucket half full of yabbies which he is ‘going to go straight through’.

Wombat Station, and a cup of tea. You can get here by driving along Rocklyn Road; I can’t imagine traffic would be heavy. The only sign of the town that used to be here (more than a thousand people at its peak), Wombat, is a culvert and a flat patch of land where a railway station once was. This — along with Broomfield, Allendale, Newlyn, Rocklyn, (Wombat), Leonard, Sailors Falls and Woodburn — was once a station on the Ballarat to Daylesford line. Now no more; now looking like this a short distance from the rotunda (an initiative of the Goldfields Track Association).

We follow the empty line for 5 or 6 km marveling at the feat of construction. Consider how many shovels full of earth and how many blows of a pickaxe to break rock it would have taken to make this. This is just one of the cuttings and not the deepest; one is 80m deep. And for every cutting there is a fill.

It might have been the time of day but I had quite a strong sense (confirmed later by a closer look at the map) that we were climbing, if only gently, most of the way to White Point Track where we got off the old rail line. But that was offset by a flurry of eight Monarch butterflies that we raised at the very beginning of this section of the track and which accompanied us for several kilometres, stopping when we did, getting going again when we did. Engrossing.

I was ready to get to our destination that night: Sailors Falls Winery, which makes fine wine — and should be patronised — but also has very pleasant accommodation.

I had spoken to Margaret McDonald, our host, about some dinner (yes, excellent wood-fired pizza) and breakfast (yes, brilliant range of exactly what we might want). We slept soundly in our neo-Tuscan villa.

Sailors Falls Winery to Daylesford

13 December 2020, same weather again. 11.23 kms

One reason Margaret and her husband Rob had been so good to us was that they were enthusiastic walkers themselves. They had walked in all sorts of parts of the world — Nepal and Peru suggested they had good legs — as well as having done the Goldfields Track themselves. ‘Over a year. A bit at a time. In a group. Mainly to enjoy the lunches.’ They’re the bits I remember. But after slightly baffling me with directions about how to get to the Falls and back onto the Track from here, she very generously offered to come with us and show us the way. We discovered without thinking too much about it that we had friends in common.

Somewhere tucked away under this foliage are the Sailors Falls, perhaps Fall this day. Later when we walking along the creek that feeds the falls I checked the flow in at about a litre a minute and I would say it was about that which was coming over the rocks.

But at the base of the falls area was this (at left) — the very first mineral spring we encountered. That was significant because we would come across plenty more. This area of Victoria has 80 percent of all Australia’s mineral springs. I like to check, and the water tasted as rusty as it looks. Strong on iron this one.

Sailors Creek valley was an infestation of weeds. Bad bad bad bad bad.

Blackberries mainly, but broom, some gorse, Scotch thistles plus plus plus. Blackberries can grow a centimetre a day and besides their ferocious thorns, they often establish a net or a web of branches which makes it impossible for native animals to follow their tracks. We saw a Landcare attack on them along Forest Creek outside Castlemaine which had been most successful so something can be done about them. But here, no good I’m afraid. In fact, bad.

It wasn’t all like that. There was just as much stringybark forest with very little ground cover. We walked along rutted 4WD tracks and near Musk Vale one surprise popped out. Her grin suggested that she hadn’t seen anyone else on the track that day either.

Then an interregnum.


We just stopped in the middle of the path and … ah … there was … ah, a dance class. Thursday. 11 o’clock. It’s a rule. Stop what you’re doing and dance. I think this might be the first time a participant in an African dance class has actually been on The Goldfields Track or, rather, that anyone on The Goldfields Track has participated in an African dance class. I mean, on the actual track. On the … Certainly the first time Melbourne Djembe has had a participant actually on the track.

I was, of course, full of admiration demonstrating this by finding a place under a shady tree to lie down. As I did so my phone rang. Don’t worry. I’m in it. I’m part of the digital world too. But it was our host from the Winery, Margaret’s husband Rob, and as soon as he said his name it all flooded back. We had been close colleagues once 35 years ago. And he had 30 minutes of fascinating stories to tell me and, in time I hope, much much more. The thrill of the unexpected. I thought it was great. And then the dance class finished.

The last few kilometres into Daylesford are not the best part of the walk, not till you get out of the blackberries anyway which is about when you get to Sutton Spring. You’re out of the woods there, onto the slate pavement, and the tamed world.

Two boys named Sutton sluicing for gold (you can’t escape this round here, there’s always a connection) found this spring in 1890. The info board says, ‘In 1900 a trench was dug into the sandstone’ — we are most certainly back in gold country — ‘and steps cut. A horizontal pipe was driven into the “eye” of the spring which remains in use today.’ I’ve often wondered how they do that. It mightn’t always work.

Anyway Sutton Spring, a) quite sulphuric, and b) the location of a long and very pleasant conversation with a young-middle-aged-ish European-Australian couple who looked incredibly fit and happy but who couldn’t quite figure out what we’d been up to and why.

Daylesford was just up a long hill. There we could get a vanilla thick shake, a cup of English Breakfast and a taxi back to Creswick where we would find our car. Just a bit short of half way.

Next time: a walk we’ve done quite a few times, but it felt different. The circumambulation of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs following Sailors Creek. Always good. Always better than you think it’s going to be. And then the glories of finding the way to the Mount Alexander diggings and Castlemaine. A strong and fascinating section.