The Richest Place on Earth #7

Specimen Gully to Harcourt North

12 February, 2021. A wet cool morning which cleared up to mid 20s. 16.37km

We started at Specimen Gully in misty rain.

When I asked the taxi driver to take us to the memorial for the discovery of gold she was nonplussed. I thought it was everywhere, she said. But she did know where Specimen Gully Road was and we had no trouble finding the right place.

The plaque says:

The first gold from the Mount Alexander goldfields was discovered in this gully by Christopher John Peters on 20th July 1851.

Associated with him were John Worley, Robert Keen and George Robinson.

This cairn was the gift of R. Owen Owens and was unveiled by him on 10th October 1931.

Ah my goodness. It was a bit like the experience of seeing and reading Captain Cook’s actual journals.

Look at it. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Where gold was found 170 years, four months and nine days before this picture was taken. Every millimetre of it worked over. It might have been the quality of the morning but I found my skin tingling with the gravity of it all. Or something. I’m not sure I have suitable words because those on offer seem to be about the condition — affected, moved, touched, struck, stirred — rather than the cause.

Memorial stone, cairn, Heritage slate hut.

I told the story in the first of these blogs. Whatever version you find, it’s the same, even the same words. It goes:

‘On 20 July 1851 gold was found near present-day Castlemaine, Victoria (Mt Alexander Goldfields) at Specimen Gully in today’s Castlemaine suburb of Barker’s Creek. The gold was first found by Christopher Thomas Peters, a shepherd and hut-keeper on the Barker’s Creek, in the service of [Dr] William Barker. When the gold was shown in the men’s quarters Peters was ridiculed for finding fool’s gold, and the gold was thrown away. Barker did not want his workmen to abandon his sheep, but in August they did just that. John Worley, George Robinson and Robert Keen, also in the employ of Barker as shepherds and a bullock driver, immediately teamed with Peters in working the deposits by panning in Specimen Gully, which they did in relative privacy during the next month.

‘When Barker sacked them and ran them off for trespass, Worley, on behalf of the party “to prevent them getting in trouble”, mailed a letter to The Argus (Melbourne) dated 1 September 1851 announcing this new goldfield with the precise location of their workings. This letter was published on 8 September 1851. “With this obscure notice, rendered still more so by the journalist as ‘Western Port’, were ushered to the world the inexhaustible treasures of Mount Alexander”, also to become known as the Forest Creek diggings. Within a month there were about 8,000 diggers working the alluvial beds of the creeks near the present day town of Castlemaine, and particularly Forest Creek which runs through the suburb today known as Chewton where the first small township was established. By the end of the year there were about 25,000 on the field.’

But that’s not it, is it? Christopher Peters — Chris, were diminutives in vogue then? I think he has to be Christopher — what does he know about gold? Unlike Hiscock finding his reef at Buninyong he wasn’t prospecting, he was tending sheep. He might have seen a glint in some quartz in the dry gully, somewhere he could have been dozens of times before. Specimen Gully is quite pronounced and runs for hundreds of metres. It could easily have been pyrites, fool’s gold. It’s not till you isolate a piece, try to bend it and it snaps that you can be certain otherwise. He would not have been formally well educated, but he could well have had a deep and thorough informal education, enough to be conscious of the possibility that what he was looking at was gold, possibly one surprise among the many that he encountered every day in this foreign land.

But what would he have thought? I’m rich? Or, just as possibly, I’m in trouble. A retired fossicker who recently found a 2kg nugget near Ballarat didn’t sleep for four days after his find, not so much disturbed by excitement as just disturbed. His life wasn’t going to be as it was. Christopher, quartz in hand, talks to his mates as they sit around their bark hut. July. Almost certainly quite cold and possibly wet. Their fire would be particularly smokey, inside as well as out. They’d be so habituated to the smell that they wouldn’t be bothered trying to wash it out of their clothes. Did he have a cup of tea? I think he would have, but I’m not sure if he would have had the stomach for the damper and mutton that was on the table.

Would they argue? Is it, or isn’t it? Who knows? Who could know? Was it Christopher? You would have to imagine that he was the most invested in the idea. But of course it’s an issue. They’re earning a few shillings a month while having contact with more than one squatter who seems to be making a good fist, and money, out of the new life. They’re conscious of class distinction, but already it’s not like it is in England. Already Jack has ratcheted several steps up the social ladder at the same time as his master has descended. Struggle is a great leveller. You could change your circumstances, and the medium was formidably simple: money. Nothing else. Just money. But still they laugh at Peters and the improbability of it all.

I think they would have gone for a look, maybe that night with a lantern. They wouldn’t have been able to help themselves. Is there any more there? When will we find out? How would we find out? I am thinking that John Worley might have been the smarty of the group, at the same time the most sensitive and the most conscious of the moment and impact of their discovery. He wrote the letter. But I think this night he would have been holding the lamp while Christopher got his chisel out and poked his way into the stone with increasing vigour and less care about the accumulating pile of cobbled quartz. ‘See?’, he might say. ‘It’s still there. It’s still running.’ They go back to the hut but no one sleeps. They talk sporadically all night.

Next day Robert Keen turns up with his bullock dray to haul some timber for fence posts back to the homestead. They tell him. He’s a mate but older and more mature than the other three. They respect his opinion. ‘What do you think Robert?’ He thinks. ‘Let’s get some tools.’ And then, after chipping out some more stone which still has those sparkling veins in it, ‘I think we should show Barker. It’s his run.’

As they go up to the homestead the four of them are gripped by anxiety each expressing it in their own way, Keen’s barely decipherable. Dr Barker meets them on the veranda. They’re not invited inside. ‘What?’ he says. ‘Give me a look.’ He looks long enough to give himself time to think, and one of the things he thinks is, I am making a mistake by spending so much time looking. My reaction should have been crisp and decisive. I should have just thrown it away immediately. ‘Fool’s gold Peters. Don’t you know fool’s gold? It looks a bit like gold, but you don’t find gold here Peters. There’s no gold here. Not in the colonies.’ He can’t keep the piece of quartz because it’s sort of theirs, so he throws it away, but not extravagantly. He has to measure between a short contemptuous throw that allows them to pick the stone up off the veranda and take it away with them and a long powerful throw during which he runs the risk of both executing the throw poorly and expressing his concern and uncertainty about the situation. ‘Now get back to work. I don’t want to hear any more about it.’ It is important that there is just a hint of geniality in his instruction — thanks for letting me play in this interesting game — because otherwise they’ll know it really is serious.

They walk off, each now convinced, if not equally, that what they have shown him is indeed gold. Of course they wait till they are out of earshot — Barker has gone inside, but probably not far so he can see what they’re up to — but then Christopher says quietly to Keen, ‘Can you find us some more tools?’ Keen says, ‘Yes.’

The homestead is on the creek (‘Barker’s’) at Harcourt North about 6km, a difficult 6km, from the find which in addition is about a kilometre and a half off the main track. There would be no special reason to go there. The four of them get a month’s digging in before O’Giles, one of Barker’s trusties, is sent to check just what is going on. There have been stories, and Peters and Worley haven’t been spending as much time near the homestead as usual. When he finds what looks like a busy camp, O’Giles says nothing but next day returns with Barker and six other men.

and that’s where we were, looking at the skeleton of a cow on the other side of the road, in the middle of history.

* * * * * *

What a day this was.

We’re up on the Barker’s Creek hill looking across the Faraday valley and its orchards to Mount Alexander (hidden in cloud) which from now on we are going to call Leanganook because that’s its name, the walk is called the Leanganook Track and we’ve already been calling lots of other things ‘Mount Alexander’.

Take 2 minutes 49 seconds to look at this. Click.

We’re going to climb up the well-rehearsed tracks on Leanganook up the southern side, sidling along the western side to the top, down east and then north to get ourselves to Sutton Grange Road where Graham and I have dropped our car. This is quite simply a great day’s walking. All day.

From Specimen Gully you climb up over the top of the hill where someone has built a house with somewhere near the last word in commanding positions. It’s well considered and not gaudy. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo. There seems to be a rather nice small stone house on the same property which Chinese purchasers or lessees can read about in their own language (租金 $260/周 on 2017年10月, 距离市中心106.55公里).

At the bottom of that valley is the Calder Freeway which you have to get across and there is a very helpful underpass for that purpose. A lot of attention has been paid to wildlife by the people who designed and built the Calder, much fencing, some crossings (not so many). I hope it’s effective. From the dirt roads on the other side we saw a paddock bounding with kangaroos. I counted 98, Myrna 86: the story of our lives really. There was a nice wooden crawl option for creatures with claws to get through the tunnel. To Faraday.

I’m not sure you can talk about Faraday without talking about Lindsay Thompson.

Lindsay Thompson was for a time Deputy Premier and the longest-serving minister (24 years) in Victorian parliamentary history. His parents were both teachers, his father dying when he was two and he was raised in difficult circumstances. However, he got a scholarship to Caulfield Grammar where he eventually became school captain and dux. This might surprise those of us who worked in education during his tenure (12 years) as Minister when his main quality seemed to be ineffectuality. He had also served for three years during the Second World War which was three years more than many of ‘us’ had.

But in 1972, my first year of teaching, the entire population of Faraday School, a teacher and six school children (all female), were taken hostage by a man called Edwin John Eastwood who demanded a $1m ransom to release them. Thompson personally took the ransom money to the prearranged site in Woodend. However the teacher and children had escaped from the van in which they were locked before that was necessary. Notwithstanding, he received a bravery award. Less well remembered is that five years later, after Eastwood had been released from jail he again kidnapped a teacher and a group of students, this time at Wooreen in Gippsland. Mr Thompson flew to Gippsland, again intending to offer himself in exchange for the hostages. But before he could do so, Eastwood was arrested in a shoot-out with police. The bravery of his intentions was again publicly honoured.

Once you get out of the tunnel you’re in the paddocks which was, this day, delightful. Then a series of dirt and gravel roads as you work your way across the foothills to the mount.

The highest point on Leanganook is only 744m above sea level, and it rises only a few hundred metres above the surrounding land, the fertile orchards and vineyards of Harcourt and Sutton Grange.

We’ve very definitely left gold country and its clays and gravels. These are rich granitic soils, and shortly, up the hill, we will get to the tors which provide clear evidence of this.

But first we need to climb over a stile

and follow our way along this easement which includes a simply magnificent red gum as well as the beginnings of the tors.

This pic is included for its characteristic qualities. ‘Yeah I know that’s what the waymark says, but…’

And then just up through the granite. Everyone takes the same pictures but it doesn’t mean they’re the wrong ones.

There’s a biggish set of steps in the middle rear of this picture which gets you up quite quickly.

Ed’s seat (seen here being used by sketch recorder) is made out of fence railings originally intended to provide an enclosure/reserve for koalas. We have already noted way back near Creswick how effective such things are for keeping koalas in, here as elsewhere. But this granite platform provides a wonderful view due west to Mt Tarrangower and Maldon.

You will notice the cloud breaking up as it turned into a warm clear day. The sketcher was being watched at the time.

Stone photos. They just get bigger and more sculptural as you climb.

And the highlight, what whitefellas call Lang’s Lookout, but the Dja Dja Wurrung would have a much better name for it.

At the very moment Myrna took this photo her phone went ping. It was Dan. We had plans to walk somewhere near the edge of that horizon over the next two days, but Dan said no. It was going to be a hard lockdown for the next five days and we were to go home and await further instructions. So that’s pretty much exactly what we did.

But on our way down we saw something that was going to be our constant companion for the next 20kms: looking decidely wonky as it often did, here is a tiny portion of the remarkable Coliban channel.

Harcourt North to Sandhurst Reservoir

12 March, 2021. Mid 20s, mostly overcast. 21.87km

OK. That’s it really. Val and Maya dropped us off at Harcourt North and we followed the Coliban Channel for 20km to the Sandhurst Reservoir. And it’s a channel, so you wouldn’t expect much up and down would you? No, and that would be correct. But it’s a prodigious channel; it’s a remarkable channel; it’s a channel that makes so much possible. And I had never heard of it. And even after its company for a day and 20km, I was still finding it odd.

In this context why does it matter? For that we’ll turn back to ‘The Argus’ 1862 study of the goldfields:

One of the essential requisites in gold-mining is a constant supply of pure water. Whether the miner is simply a tub and cradle man, or a puddler, or a quartz-miner, the command of water all the year round is equally important. …Around Castlemaine it is no uncommon thing for the labours of the puddler and the tunneller to be suspended for four months in the year, for want of water. The Loddon ceased to flow above Newbridge for many months last year, and along its bed whole piles of washdirt were accumulated from the tunnels, only to be washed away in the first of the winter floods. … On Bendigo the want has been seriously felt for years, and, unfortunately, it has not been remedied by the formation of the Bendigo Waterworks Company, whose artificial lake, situated at the head of Kangaroo Flat, supplies sufficient water only for the domestic purposes of Sandhurst.

Unfortunately, the rivers that flow through those older fields are intermittent. Taking their rise in the Dividing Range, and flowing northwards towards the Murray, they carry down immense bodies of water in the winter; but their volume gradually diminishes as summer advances, until at last they lose themselves in the great plains south of the Murray, leaving dry channels to mark where rivers have been; or they resolve themselves into mere chains of waterholes, from which supplies may be drawn by the miners, but at an expense which exceeds the profit.

After giving consideration to artesian water, which would have the added advantage of providing a geological profile of the area where the bore was sunk, he refers to two major schemes which had been mooted, but focuses mostly on one — the one which will cost, initially, £254,000, about $62m today.

The Coliban water scheme has now been before the colony at intervals during the last seven or eight years. The simple proposition is this—water for sluicing purposes is much wanted in Fryer’s Creek district, around Castlemaine, and on Bendigo. …

It is proposed to meet that want by forming an immense reservoir near Malmsbury, at the point where the railway crosses the Coliban. Here would be stored a large portion of the storm-waters that are now wasted in the winter floods, and while the volume of the river itself would not be seriously diminished, a quantity of water would be retained sufficient to meet the requirements of the districts already named, and give employment to 6,000 or 8,000 miners. …

It is proposed to carry this supply to Sandhurst, by way of Elphinstone, or the Gap in the Mount Alexander range, known as Major’s Pass, and thence eastward of Mount Alexander, coming into the Bendigo Valley north of the Big Hill tunnel, in an open aqueduct of fifty miles long. …

The main questions are three—first, Is there a necessity for the work being done ? second, Can it be carried out? and third, Would it pay for itself? As regards the first question, I may say that I met with no one who doubted the utility of the plan. It is admitted that there are hundreds upon hundreds of acres of auriferous ground all along the line of the aqueduct not now worked for want of water. … Nor would the water be useful for mining alone. Whether carried through pipes, or in open channels, to the distributing reservoirs, the construction of a few filters, and the connexion of distributing pipes, would make it available for domestic use.

That the work could be constructed, and would secure the calculated supply, there is still less doubt. … That the supply of water would pay a very handsome profit to the state, seems to be equally clear; though I should be disposed to insist on that argument less strongly than on the more important one—the good which the scheme, if carried out, would do to the districts directly benefited, as well as the colony generally.

And so it came to pass. The Coliban was dammed at Malmsbury and 70km of gravity-fed channels took its water north. This scheme was surveyed and designed in 1863 by Irish engineer Joseph Brady who did all sorts of other clever things as well, and water flowed for the first time into Sandhurst Reservoir at Big Hill on the outskirts of Bendigo in 1877. Prodigious.

I haven’t forgotten about the Romans or that the Zaghouan aqueduct in Tunis, now about 2000 years old and lined with opus signinum, a rammed mixture of broken ceramics and lime and still completely water proof, runs for 90km and with some adjustments remains operating, nonetheless … prodigious. Most of Bendigo and Castlemaine’s water is still provided from this source. The Guidebook tells me that the whole Coliban system now includes 20 reservoirs and more than 500km of open channels. Prodigious.

It was this sort of morning: overcast, the sun taking the game up to the clouds over on the horizon. For 5km or so, open on this side, the channel sidling along hills on the other. Red gum country, suffused this morning with birdsong and the heady smell of eucalypt blossom.

The water, about 30-45cms deep, was belting along in the channel. I dropped in a leaf which seemed to go about three times our pace. If that’s right, a bit of water, let’s call it Reg, which left Malmsbury promptly at 9 would be at Bendigo in time for a late lunch. But as we proceeded it was clear that there was both dawdling along the dug and weedy sections, and wild acceleration down falls and sharply angled races. So Reg’s actual movements would be slightly indeterminate, and it might be better if the lunch was wrapped and left in the fridge.

The channel turns corners, sometimes quite sharply. Not all the corners had bracing like this, but it would be helpful to keep the walls together in a situation where the soil, the weather, the vegetation and both the substance and motion of the water would be conspiring to open cracks.

I was interested in the daunting quality — and quantity — of the maintenance process. Here for example we have blackberries climbing in (and, just as it happens, looking back the way we had come, a useful cross section of the walking experience along the maintenance road).

But, also completely by happenstance, looking back down the channel is a new section — remediation completed in 2019 of 2.7km at six different sites at a cost of $4.6m. Although there were only two significant leaks we noticed, there seemed to be ample opportunity for more renewal. This concrete is 60-70 years old and can’t be expected to last like the Roman efforts.

A lot of the channel sits on the ground in these concrete troughs, but a certain amount of it doesn’t.

Some of it runs over rock and some of it is just dug through through soil and clay, and I did wonder about wastage and whether or not it might not be better enclosed to reduce evaporative loss and to keep weeds and wildlife out. We did find the bloated carcass of a dead kangaroo bouncing up and down on the wall of a low weir 10km further along. But then I thought of the cost. The Romans enclosed the Zaghouan aqueduct with large panels of sandstone, but they did have the advantage of slaves.

It also runs through two tunnels.

At the first of these, the Wirth, 623m long, there is is a very nice place to sit, a table made out of dressed granite with an equally suitable bench.

As we had a morning cup of coffee there, four very cheery and active older women came down the hill towards us, going onto the very short list of people we saw on The Track.

From the top of the hill there were good views south. Leanganook was obviously visible, but either here or on the next climb I am sure I could see Mt Franklin in the far far far distance.

Three kilometres along you come to the next tunnel, Brennan’s, 453m long, and the track breaks up badly over the hill. At the top we encountered the five cyclists some of whom were desperate to get off The Track. When we got over the other side we could see why, a very degraded and difficult zig zag descent which would have been a real nuisance on a bike. They had to ride, or walk, their bikes, for another 8km to get to any bitumen but a lot of that ride should have been a pleasure along a flat dirt road. They were from Bendigo and had planned an interesting route roughly following the Goldfields Track but on quiet country roads rather than The Track itself for a three-day expedition to Ballarat.

A bit of excitement at Woman’s Gully, and shortly after at Cuneen’s Gully, taking about 50m out of the altitude.

The country had changed by now too, shifting back to stringy bark and box. We were moving back into gold country.

An entry, but not sure to where, or what.

We found the reservoir, well down it seemed despite the best efforts of the channel which was still streaming into it. We found our way around the fence and through a tangle of tracks back to where we hoped our car would be, just near several sets of spectacularly layed rubber at the gated entry to the reservoir. And there it was. Hoorah.

Sandhurst Reservoir to Bendigo Central

13 March, 2021. Mid 20s again but overcast and very muggy. 16.75km

If you’re still with us, thank you for your patience. But this is it. Last day. The splendid Val has dropped us back where we left the car yesterday at the entrance to Sandhurst Reservoir, and it’s a short-ish leg into Bendigo, and therefore The End. And the walk is okay, but as is often the case of transitions into suburbia it’s not the walk of the century.

We’d got up early again, and this is the blazing Bendigo dawn.

I am sitting having breakfast on the balcony outside our motel room listening to the roar of endless twin cab maxis surging up and down the Midland Highway as the tradies go to work.

Scott Morrison would be proud.

This is where we are walking, dirt roads through the heavily tracked bushland of Bendigo Regional Park traversed with a lot of water races and more organised channels feeding and drawing from the reservoir we’d just passed and others. Classic Bendigo bush really. A sense of struggle. The patches of Ironbark come and go.

We had just walked through Map 32 of 33 in the Guidebook so the end was nigh. But first we met this fossicker in Golden Gully who said he was just as intent on cleaning up the bush as he was in finding anything of value. He hadn’t found anything of value but knew someone in Ballarat who had.

Diamond Hill is a landmark on the way in from the south.

Apparently it was called Diamond Hill because of the shape of a quartz bed in its summit. This is what’s left of that. In fact this area has been MINED. Did I read that 11 mines were built into the sides of this hill? I think I did.

But this was a cup of tea stop and 20 or 30m from the ravaged summit was a platform of tailings more or less transformed into a nice place to sit and do some more Angela Williams (do it everywhere!) School of Sketching.

It is possible that the most interesting thing about this point was that the view, essentially north, east and west, was full of trees. Just a few buildings obtruded.

It was not always thus.

George Rowe, 1858. The End of the Rainbow, Golden Square, Bendigo

* * * * * *

A quick digression. Bendigo. Odd name? Sure. From 1853 until 1891 the official name for the town was Sandhurst, after the British Military Academy for goodness knows what reason. But the locals, some of them anyway, had been calling it Bendigo since very early days of white intrusion.

But why Bendigo?

While one source says most assertively that it was named after a miner whose name was Ben Digo (mmm well… yeees), the received version is that the name came from the nickname of a shepherd who was also a boxer. And that that nickname was derived from the nickname of a famous English boxer — and Methodist local preacher — William ‘Abednego’ Thompson (at left).

Ah me. Keep following. Note it wasn’t Tom Myers who was called ‘Bendigo’. It was the nickname he gave to one his shepherds, whose actual name we don’t even know, who had a hut on the creek — so ‘Bendigo’s’ Hut on what became Bendigo’s Creek. But apparently we do know that ‘the shepherd with the nickname of “Bendigo” later ‘shot through to California when news of the gold rushes there reached Australia’. He wasn’t even around to appreciate his eminence. He ‘shot through’. Wonderful. People used to do that. Should be more of it.

Perhaps ‘Abednego’s’ pugilistic qualities were such that he could walk unaffected through fire (but then, why not ‘Shadrach’ or ‘Meshach’?). However to get to the naming of a Victorian country town we’ve got to make that step, then proceed to the next step, then the next tenuous step, then leap forward still teetering, then … .

More than anything else, this story might be about the randomness of the naming process and the way any collection of syllables can be attached to anything by popular usage. ‘The Bendigo Advertiser’, first published in 1854, never called itself anything else. A plebiscite to finalise the matter was held 28 April 1891 and resolved very much in favour of ‘Bendigo’. But Catholic churches in the region are still overseen by the Bishop of Sandhurst.

Recorded uses of the terms ‘Bendigo’ (red) and Sandhurst’ (blue) in local newspapers: 1800-1950

* * * * * *

An eroded anticline

Bendigo sits on 38 parallel waves of rock. The ripples, rising in anticlines where most of the gold was found, are about 300m apart for nearly 12kms, roughly east-west. The longer line ridges, often cut on the surface by creek beds, and attendant gullies run for about 30kms north-south.

In 1851 alluvial gold was discovered in many places here, especially along the Bendigo Creek. The Bendigo fields, mined above then below ground for 153 years, have been the most prolific of the eastern Australian fields and second only to the Boulder/ Kalgoorlie fields in WA in all-time Australian productivity.

Steam-powered machinery for reef mining and its products was being set up as early as 1855. By 1861 the Sandhurst mining district had 41,000 people spread through a score of mining settlements.

‘By the early 1890s [after two booms and two busts] the town was untidy, disordered, brash and with conflicting land uses right in the heart of the city. The early ethnic mining groups were overlaid by new social divisions of wealth and power. A wider range of housing appeared during the 1870s and 80s. The pattern of segregation was often a product of topography. The elite found hill tops to build on and cottages were found in low-lying gullies.’ (From a study for a Civic Heritage Overlay.)

And here it is in 1886.

This substantial painting was done by James Edward Meadows for an exhibition in London extolling the successes of British colonialism. In a previous blog I queried Von Guérard’s depiction of Ballarat on the basis that he was in Germany at the time he painted it, but at least he had spent time in Australia. Meadows never left England.

But, you know. Good job. Rosalind Park with a mine head and a crusher planted in it and the rather immoderate Post Office are in the foreground. The Shamrock and the Town Hall are there, as is the Alexandra Fountain down in the bottom right hand corner. You could never argue that Bendigo doesn’t have some grand building.

The Shamrock Hotel
The Town Hall
Camp Hill (Government) Primary School

It looked like a prosperous gold town as we walked through its suburbs. Gentrification had been hard at work through the miners’ cottages however low-lying the gully in which they were located. But we found this house, ‘Derwenter’, in Belle Vue Road just around the corner from Val and Col’s.

I’d say late ’60s, early ’70s. Exterior of very plain concrete block that has weathered nicely, and I think if we went inside we would find an architectural style that had created an interesting flow between the opened-up living spaces. Completely unpretentious and I imagine a very pleasant place to live. But its distinctive feature is the way the house has been absorbed into this wonderful native garden, simply an extension of the bush we have just been walking through. The major colour palate of the whole is limited, but with a staggering range of variation on those major themes. It is tended, but not over-worked. It would manage the weather conditions without intervention much better than a garden full of exotics. I thought it was great. Perhaps this should be one of the iconic photos of the walk: how to live with nature.

The Guidebook — my now outdated version of it anyway — says at the Railway Station we would find a Goldfields Track Entry poster on the city side of the platforms.

Not on the city side; not on the Quarry Hill side. We couldn’t find it anyway. But nothing daunted.

From the start we had imagined that the walk really finished at Bendigo’s crossroads, the heartland, where Pall Mall, the extension of Macrae Street, a portion of the Midland Highway, meets View Street part of Mitchell Street named after the Major, leader of the first white intrusion through this part of the world. He and his cohort travelled — some would have walked — about 2,800km, and one day would have followed the next. You might think that he was also heroically going through ‘virgin territory’, ‘bush-bashing’ as we say today. But I have no doubt he would have spent quite some time following ancient roads, no waymarked posts, but clearly marked in their own ways if you were smart and sympathetic enough to be able to read them. Without being especially aware of it, we would have been too.

The GPS records, the ones which begin each chapter of these blogs, say we walked 234km in 12 days over four months. We were interrupted by Christmas and COVID, but that pace and distribution allowed us to savour what was on offer and to learn more about it: to say ‘Korweinguboora’, to look askance at the Red Knobs and puzzle over the pyrethrum daisy fields, to wonder what happened to Mount Franklin’s spring water, to get that big view north from Leanganook and, as though finding a landscape from a dream, having that arrival at Vaughan Springs. It was impossible not to think about the land, and its various forms of management and exploitation. It was also impossible not to marvel at the evidence of the frenzy that the prospect of finding gold had generated. Gold … whatever that’s for …

Now that they can’t travel overseas, a lot of people are discovering more about where they live, and we’re two of them. In so many ways, it was good, very good.

The Richest Place on Earth #6

Castlemaine

20th January, 2021

It’s a bit hard to know where the major entry to Castlemaine is because of the variety of creeks, gullies and ridges of which it is composed and the way, following the creeks, it meanders out to include Chewton, Campbell and Barkers Creek. But someone has determined that the place to put a statue signifying entry is at the junction of Hargraves and Forest Streets with its chief aspect east towards the Melbourne (‘Mount Alexander’) road.

People say there is a higher proportion per capita of a) Ph.Ds, b) book clubs, c) unemployed clowns (professional), d) letter writers to ‘The Age’, and e) former teacher unionists in Castlemaine’s population than (why limit it?) anywhere else on earth. And why cavil? That would surely make it an interesting place to live. And read it how you like, but I’m pretty sure that this statue is a Doctor of Philosophy with a hipster moustache and beard imparting wisdom to his adherents while at the same time ignoring the chap at left caught in quicksand and, fist clenched in frustration, about to go under.

Another thing that Castlemaine specialises in is local historians, so it is to them you should turn if you want a serious and complete account of the town and surrounds.

Suffice it to say that it too is on Dja Dja Wurrung country. Squatters had already selected a great deal of the land round here before gold was discovered in 1851. (See more about that in the next blog). Dr William Barker (see?) owned the run where this occurred and left his name behind for the creek which runs north-south through the town roughly parallel to the major street also named after him. Europeans originally called the area Forest Creek after the creek which runs roughly east-west, and broadly defines the richest alluvial gold fields which have ever been discovered.

We are looking north over Forest Creek in this painting by Edwin Stocqueler, ‘Castlemaine from Ten Foot Hill’ (1858). It is interesting to note the number of brick buildings already erected. These things happen fast. Photos from the time (see Golden Point, also on Forest Creek, far below) indicate a much more blasted landscape. A little later, and only just a little later, ten or 15 years later, Castlemaine had its share of crushing plants, engine houses, shops and more orderly roads.

1865. I think this might be looking west along Hargraves Street, but that could be way off.

It had become Mount Alexander, somewhat confusingly for our purposes here, because shortly we are going to be climbing over ‘Mt Alexander’ some distance away. But anyway this is where the Mt Alexander Road which begins in Melbourne quite close to where we live was headed. Then in 1854, the local Goldfields Commissioner, Captain William Wright, renamed it ‘Castlemaine’ in honour of his Irish uncle who was a Viscount and possibly good for a quid or at least some career advancement. By choice, you’d change it to something different wouldn’t you?

There were ‘8000 people on the creeks’ by 1852, possibly the town’s largest ever population (7,500 in 1880; 6,757 in 2016). A gaol had been built there by 1853, another presence which has remained continuous. More crucially, the Castlemaine Football Club was established in 1859, making it the second oldest football club in Australia and among the oldest in the world. Ron Barrassi Senior (another one for you Kurt) came in from Guildford to play, and it was Dusty Martin’s last club before the Bendigo Pioneers and Richmond.

As a place to live, Castlemaine has great charms. You can see why immigrants from Melbourne are pushing up its property prices.

* * * * * *

After arriving at Vaughan Springs by foot we wisely decided to rest instead of the planned day on The Track — just to have a look around, a driving look around.

We began the day at Pennyweight Flat cemetery just out of town, an experience which I found deeply moving. The information board says: ‘1852-1857. This site is a rare surviving example of a Gold Rush cemetery. Shortage of water, contaminated water, poor diet and frequent accidents took a heavy toll of those who flocked to the diggings in search of their fortune. Those children who accompanied their parents and babies born on the gold fields were particularly vulnerable to the harsh conditions. Between 1852-57 about 200 bodies, including children and babies, were buried here at Pennyweight Flat on the fringe of the Mount Alexander workings.’

Walking round through the grey box looking at the graves, some marked and some not, many with a contemporary toy near the headstone, provided an acute emotional sense of how things might have been — more than anywhere else on The Track I think. I was very glad we went there.

Our drive continued through Fryerstown where we found this splendid piece of industrial archeology. Its plaque, erected by the Cornish Association of Victoria and the Rowe family with Cornish antecedents, says, inter alia: ‘The Duke of Cornwall’ Engine House erected 1869 for the Australian United Gold Mining Co. This plaque commemorates the Cornish heritage of the Castlemaine area, the engineers and miners and their families who with their skill and labour developed Victorian industries and communities.’

Chimneys like this with their voracious appetites helped to eat the local forests. The ‘engines’ could be used for many things. Later in this blog there is a description of one of the most common, providing the motive force for stampers (crushers) which turned quartz into ‘particles as fine as flour’.

We moved on towards Vaughan Springs. I wanted a more leisurely look at it, and also to check where the outlet track went. On the way we drove past Red Knobs, the product of a mining process known as hydraulic sluicing.

High pressure jets of water blast away large areas of earth to wash it down to be run through a sluice box. It was Arthur Bradfield and his sons George and Ray (one of whom is pictured at left) who blasted most of this hill away in the 1950s before being stopped by the Council because they were getting too close to the road. Ray Bradfield, now a local historian, has said they ‘made wages at Red Knob.

We also visited the Vaughan cemetery where we found this wonderful sculpture.

‘Portal’, created by local artist Jessie Stanley, has been here since 2015.

The cemetery also has a

but it is not the more renowned Vaughan Chinese Cemetery which is more or less over the road. This, however, is an important area for understanding Chinese participation in the gold rushes.

In 1861 ‘The Argus’, one of the colony’s newspapers, commissioned an inquiry into the state of the goldfields. ‘Two questions occupying a considerable share of public attention in the colony are whether the older fields are showing signs of exhaustion; and the second relates to the social condition of the miners engaged upon them.’ This inquiry was conducted over many months and became the prompt for and precursor to a Royal Commission. The product, written in brisk and lively language by J. Wilson & McKinnon, 78 Collins St East, offers the sort of detailed and luminous account which only eye-witnessing can provide. In its discussion of ‘Chinese on the Goldfields’ this document editorialises briefly about intercultural relations: ‘The conclusion at which I have arrived—that these people are a most valuable addition to our labourers on the gold-fields—is shared by all who look at the Chinese question, as it develops itself in Victoria, apart from the prejudices of race and the undefined and ignorant ill-will that is occasionally found to exist between peoples and tribes even not so remote from each other as Saxons and Chinese.’

Some extracts from the report on this topic:

“Guildford [a few kilometres from Vaughan, current population: 333] has long been the main Chinese village in the colony, some five or six thousand Chinamen, and one Canton woman, the wife of a travelled shipwright of that city, having formed the population of the ‘Camp.’

‘In this valley there had been rich alluvial diggings, but it had been well worked out by European diggers before the advent of the Chinese. Here the Chinese drew together, and, in large associated bands, they introduced the system of paddocking or benching (at left), stripping the [already worked] soil, taking out the wash-dirt bodily, and then restoring the ground to something like its first condition.

It is understood that many of these men were brought in by capitalists of their own nation, under contract to work for small wages for a fixed period, thereby gaining their emancipation. This, probably, was the case, but whether bond or free, ‘John’ [Chinaman, for some reason] was alike frugal and saving when he was out of luck or in debt, and equally enterprising and liberal when in good fortune.

‘Rapidly the camp grew, in regular lines of streets, narrow and primitive, but highly populous and busy … In the days of its greatest glory, ‘the Camp’ had its permanent theatre and circus performers, and in every street its temples devoted to Joss were numerous. All the arts flourished in it—down to the making of alloyed gold—as they did at home. The restaurants, the tea-houses, the gambling saloons, the cobblers’ stalls, the tailors’ shops, were as they are in Canton; and the student of Chinese language and literature, manners and customs, politics and laws, might have studied and graduated here as well as in Pekin [Beijing] itself.

‘There were shops for literature and shops for art; there were scholars to write your letters and interpreters to read them; there were doctors, and perhaps quacks, with peculiar rules of practice and medicines to suit—surgeons of whom it could not be said they did ‘too muchee sawee.’ At this period of its history, ‘the Camp’ was the frequent resort of strangers, who rambled through it, amused at the strange contempt the Chinese seemed to entertain for domestic comfort or privacy; the open, eager, constant, childish delight they took in their own forms of gambling; the simplicity of their faith in the divining rods of Joss; and the quaintness of all their motions, proceedings, and notions, their drama, their music, their song, their dress, and their banners. 

‘Of late, however, ‘the Camp’ has been greatly shorn of its glories, and become but the semblance of what it was three years ago. Maryborough has drawn away a large portion of its inhabitants; Ballarat has possessed itself of its circus and theatre; and a thousand or two of the last who deserted Campbell’s Creek are now to be found on the old lead at McIvor [near Heathcote]. …

‘They have their own benevolent societies. To their relatives in distress they are kind, though to strangers of their own nation they show an apathy as peculiar to the race as that which they exhibit for their own sufferings and distresses. Of their honesty as diggers, in the observance of the regulations laid down by the authorities, I might quote numerous stories, as creditable to them as the oppressions practised upon them by miners of other nations are discreditable to the authors of those outrages.’

The religion of the Chinese diggers was conducted in ‘joss houses’, temples where ‘joss’, incense, was burnt. These seemed to attract the particular ire of European diggers and settlers. Twelve of these were built in Castlemaine.

At left is one which was built at Ten Foot Hill and in May 1908 was the subject of litigation.

The background: ‘Between 30 and 40 years ago the Chinese of Castlemaine built a Joss house on a portion of section 144, which building was still standing, though not in its pristine glory. It had been continually in the possession of the Chinese by themselves, by exercising acts of control, and by custodians and caretakers, and during the whole of that period there had been no cessation of possession on the part of the Chinese. It was not the only Joss house, as there was another one not far from it. The Joss house was the Chinese temple. The Chinese remained in undisturbed possession until seven or eight years ago. Mr Williams acquired, or professed to acquire, some sort of occupancy to the land on which the Joss house stood and proceeded to fence in about two acres, including the building.’

Mr Williams was Edward David Williams, businessman and politician, enriched from selling groceries in Lancefield and Ballarat, with extensive gold-mining investments at Castlemaine, Campbells Creek, Chewton and Fryerstown, had interests in dredging companies, was chairman of the Castlemaine mining board and — in 1908 — was Mayor of Castlemaine.

He himself failed to get rights to the land adjacent to his property on which the joss house stood, so he put in an application on behalf of his wife. Then a further substituted application was made to have the land put up for sale. It was advertised in the Government Gazette under the heading of ‘Land, Site of improvements by E. D. Williams’. Shortly thereafter his groom, William Noland, was observed removing bricks from the joss house (over two months, more than one thousand) which were used in building stables for the Williamses. Then Noland was seen digging up the flagstones at the entry to the temple and removing them in a cart belonging to Williams.

Williams then suggested informally to the Borough’s Surveyor and Sanitary Inspector, Egbert Lock, that he might think about making an inspection of the condition of the joss house at least partly because ‘There were bricks loose in the walls.’ Lock inspected the place and reported to the Council on 27th December (1907), recommending that it be condemned as unsafe and insanitary. The Council determined to have the structure removed or made habitable. ‘The minute book (produced) gives a correct version of what took place, and the minutes of the meeting were signed by the Mayor’, ie Williams.

Williams then proceeded to fence the whole of the property. Evidence was provided as follows.

‘Shortly after starting the fence Lee Pack [the representative of the Chinese owners] came to Williams and said, ‘ You fence in the Joss house? ” Mr Williams replied, “Yes, I have taken up the land as a residence area.” Lee Pack— “You take Joss house ?” Mr Williams— “No, I don’t want the old Joss house.” Lee Pack— “How we get in ?” Mr Williams— “I don’t want to interfere with you; I will put a gate there (in the north-west corner) for you.” Lee Pack—”No ; we want go in through main gate near stables like always.” Mr Williams—”No; I don’t want you to go through that way.” Mr Williams then erected a gate near the corner of Greenhill and Preshaw streets [which no longer meet], but never gave them the key as he only had one key. He altered the gate afterwards to a smaller size, and the key being left in the lock on one occasion disappeared. The gate had been locked ever since.

— Thanks to the ‘Mount Alexander Mail’ of 10 May 1908

Although the joss house is no longer there — of course, perhaps — I can’t tell you the outcome of the case. But I can tell you that Williams didn’t have long to enjoy the products of his larceny. He died early in the subsequent year.

* * * * * *

Pursuing our tour we decided we would like another look at Vaughan Springs. It does have an odd magnetic quality about it.

The weir — so small, so shallow — had become an impressionist painting. It was hot enough for Myrna to swim and for me to lie in the shade. And that’s where we began from ten days later when we came back to the Track.

Vaughan Springs to Castlemaine (the ‘Cry Joe’ or ‘Look out! Cops!’ Walk)

30 January 2021, mid 20s again. 21.14 km

A taxi took us from Castlemaine to Vaughan. People seem to like to know these things. It was early and slightly crisp for the fine exit up through various levels of the Loddon valley, a really nice two kilometres. Low sun does have its aesthetic attractions.

Almost all the country between Vaughan and Castlemaine has been powerfully influenced by mining one way or another, and if you want to see the consequences in all their various glories, this might just be the right leg of the Walk.

You get to the Chewton road and you’re looking at yet another one of those profoundly eroded gullies. At the top of the next rise you find a horseshoe-shaped hummock of earth which has once been an improbable dam.

At Deadman’s Flat/ Irishtown the diggers appear to have wanted to scrape all surface material off leaving this exposed bedrock with its remarkable patterns.

You couldn’t argue that this wasn’t sedimentary rock —at left in layers of mudstone and sandstone perhaps — with these strong colours. In real life the material in this photo is about 200mm from top to bottom. It extended just like this over 20 or 30 square metres. Assume the colours to be more vivid.

It was not all beauty. An alluvial pit, 10? 15? metres deep just a short distance further along had been turned into an informal rubbish dump.

And you can get sights like this another kilometre along just over the Campbell’s Creek Road …

… degraded soil, hosts of blackberries, poplars alive and dead, introduced weeds and grasses — all a bit sad really just there.

And then Fryerstown which once had a population of 15,000, a lolly shop, a boot factory (still there in form if not function) and, reflective of local priorities, 25 hotels. The population at the last census was 228.

Two places of interest. The Burke and Wills Mechanics Institute (still being used; the board leaning up against the wall was advertising some community activity which has slipped my mind). Burke and Wills though … Like tens of thousands of others, they certainly did travel all the way up the Mount Alexander Road, but in the end they made a profound mess of things. They must have made quite an impression on the area or at least had a good local spruiker. The largest memorial in Castlemaine in one of its most prominent positions is for the expedition but primarily for Burke, the dullard nong who made most of the bad decisions. Ah well. The elegant building on the right is the old court house, now available for rental should you wish via Air BnB.

I have considered using this pic as the motif for the whole walk. No such thing is possible of course; it was too various. But it would nonetheless be a candidate. Castlemaine was awash in agapanthi, the ‘love (agape) flower’. Maybe they survive dry climates, and are pest resistant, colourful and easy to grow … in fact, unsurprisingly, yes and yes yes yes, but they are also notably non-indigenous. In New Zealand aggas are classified as an ‘environmental weed’ and only vigorous action by associations of gardeners has stopped them being added to the National Pest Plant listing (no propagation, sale or planting). They come originally from Africa but in several countries, Australia included, they are described as having been ‘naturalised’. I wonder in that case where they stand with taking the pledge. Still and all, without aggas Castlemaine and environs would be mightily diminished.

A couple of kilometres out of Fryerstown and well off road we came across these two blokes. They were memorable simply for being there. In 234 kilometres we saw one man digging for worms (Nerrina), one man yabbying (Barkstead), one man fossicking (Golden Gully), four (short distance) walkers and five cyclists keen to find a way to get off The Track (Sedgwick), two serious day walkers (Poverty Gully Race), and these two. That’s it. In 12 days of walking. They were also memorable for being so well equipped, so nice, so interested in us and what we were doing and the fact that they gave us everything they had found that day: a belt buckle (which could also have been a shackle), a dolls comb (maybe), two buttons (old) and (they said, see Heathcote Pursuit’s comment) a musket ball with a sprue from its mould. We found the stick pin nearby ourselves. Varena (Lithuania), the mushroom capital of Europe. Tell me what that was doing there?

And then Spring Gully mine which operated for more than 80 years beginning in the early 1850s.

It announces itself (walls, diggings, collections of ashlared stone) a kilometre or so before you get into the thick of it. But there could be more ‘mine’ here than anywhere else on The Track. Here are bits of the massive mullock piles … today, his and hers.

This is the stone wall of the loading dock from which quartz was tipped into the stamping battery which would have been related to the four now decomposing massive blocks of wood in the foreground. Just nearby are the remnants of a fallen chimney, piles and piles of bricks stamped ‘Northcote’. There is a deep shaft 50 or so metres away with, like so many of them, a peppercorn tree growing in it. Dust mitigation is all I can find for a reason.

But how did these crushers produce gold? I find this very interesting, but I can understand why others mightn’t. If so, skip to the photo of Myrna sketching on top of The Monk. Otherwise this is the account to be found in the 1862 Argus study of the goldfields.

“In a quartz-mill the stone is reduced almost as fine as flour, by means of stamps. They are arranged in batteries of four, five, and six heads, driven by steam, the stamps being lifted by means of discs on a cam, so arranged as to make the stamps revolve. They work in iron boxes, with false moveable bottoms, the stone passing in on one side by a slide—fed by the weight of the stone, or by a feeder, whose ear detects, by the peculiar sound of the blow, when more quartz must be thrown in. On the other side of the box is fixed an iron grating, perforated with about one hundred and eighty holes to the square inch. The crushed quartz exits through this grating onto a ripple table, spread out in front, over which the whole of the crushed material passes, carried down by warm water let into the stamp-boxes. In the stamp-boxes a small quantity of mercury is introduced, and in grooves in the ripple-tables more quicksilver lies, into which the gold drops as it passes.

Abundance of quartz having been brought up, the work commences, and proceeds night and day, the men employed succeeding each other in shifts of twelve hours. A battery of twelve stamps can process from 150 to 200 tons of stone per week, according to the hardness of the material and the weight of the stamps. If the crushing is for a party of miners, one or more of their number will remain in the mill during the whole process of reduction and washing [wouldn’t they just], sometimes making his bed on the cover of the ripple-tables, to ensure that no product of their labour be removed. The ripples are cleaned of their quicksilver in the same way, and the copper-plates carefully washed down. The whole of the mercury having thus been collected and washed out from the quartz is taken from the stamp box.

The quicksilver is lifted in some pounds weight at a time, and placed in a clean porous chamois leather cloth. The ball it forms is squeezed with a muscular hand, and the thin fluid oozes in small white beads through the skin, falling into a bucket placed below. 

More quicksilver is added from time to time, and squeezed, until the whole has passed through, leaving in the cloth a heavy white mass, called the amalgam”, varying in size according to the quantity and richness of the stone crushed. The amalgam is the gold-coated mixture with quicksilver, and contains more or less of the precious metal, according as the gold is fine or coarse —that is, minutely disseminated through the stone, or occurring in it in large pieces or in small nuggets.

The amalgam is then covered in a retort, which is placed in a good charcoal fire, with the mouth of the pipe led into water. A few minutes of the heat suffices to drive the mercury from the gold in the form of a vapour, which passes through the pipe and is condensed in the water, leaving the red gold in the retort in a discoloured, strange-looking mass, which an easy process afterwards refines into the yellow gold so eagerly sought after in civilized life. There is nothing more to do but carry it to the scales.

The whole process is extremely interesting to a stranger, whose ears are not deafened by the heavy monotonous beat of the stamps, and who can watch with unshaken nerves the action of the hungry iron giants, whose cravings for more food are insatiable. There is no prettier picture to be found on the gold-fields than a neatly-arranged quartz-mill, nestled by its sheets of water, under the shelter of the evergreen forest, with its white steam escaping, and evidences of life and labour around it. 

Just for interest: you can touch mercury, in fact you can drink it and it will pass through your system. But if you smell it … ‘the inhalation is likely to produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal’.

We climbed up The Monk a few hundred metres off The Track to have lunch. I think it is probably Tarrangower looming over Maldon on the horizon to the far left. I was hoping that it was Mount Franklin, after a short walk easily visible to the south from here — it is quite a landmark — but a long way away, suggesting how far we had come. At the base of this climb were the first I noticed of the very black ironbarks which begin dominating the forests nearer to Bendigo.

And then Poverty Gully Race: a spectacle of some proportions. It’s (mostly) very deep — the trench is anyway, about 1.5 – 2m — and it just goes on and on, a formidable bit of hand cut engineering. As noted above we met two people here, it was Saturday arvo, and both of them commented what a wonderful walk it is along the bank. The Guidebook says: ‘It contours tortuously for 2km around gully heads with a precipitous drop on the north side. Lots of rough patches with tree roots abounding.’ Might have been a bad day, although I must say I was glad to get to the reservoir, now full of exotic plants, which signalled not too far to go to downtown Castlemaine, iced coffee and a lot of water, at Tog’s Place.

Big day. Great day.

Specimen Gully to Castlemaine

31 January 2021, cool morning and we’d finished by lunch time. 12.41km

A short day with one highlight to terminate this long long blog. But just before we leave Specimen Gully (early again), numerologists among you might be interested to note that yesterday’s walk was 21.14 km and today’s 12.41. No? Ok. Moving on then …

Just for convenience, we’re going backwards. Taxi out to Specimen Gully, from where we’ll start again in a fortnight’s time, walk back in to town where our car is. Not a long walk, just tidying up before going further north.

Ah the taxi. He’d been driving cabs here for a hundred years. As proof he was appropriately well-upholstered, possibly even to the point of it being a challenge to get in and out of the car. This was a 20 dollar ride from the middle of town and he didn’t know where we were going. Nor, not that it really mattered, why.

Specimen Gully … maaaaaaate. If you live in Castlemaine you’ve got to know about Specimen Gully. The next blog will explain why. Anyway we got there. Corner Specimen Gully Road and Swanton Track, walking through plantations of old pines — lovely in the morning. Then there’s this quite startling variation in the dirt road we’re on. The Guidebook: ‘There’s an extreme heavily rutted pitch’ which might be better expressed as ‘a heavily rutted extreme pitch’, and yes my word there is. It doesn’t go up vertically, but my goodness for a 100m or so it’s incredibly steep. I have no idea how they drive vehicles up there if they do.

There are tracks, vehicle tracks, everywhere through this neck of the woods. This is one of those areas near a biggish town that is heavily used for all sorts of purposes. It was Sunday morning and nearer town there were joggers and dog walkers, and twin cab maxis &c. (I’m not counting these as being on The Track. They were sort of ‘in town’.) But the first section was lovely — a stiff-ish climb and, once up, some views east across to Harcourt and Mount Alexander. Out of the pines we followed an easy gradient down past a number of Houses in the Bush to Golden Point

Richard Daintree, 1854, Golden Point on Forest Creek

I have said already that Forest Creek is the site of the richest alluvial gold diggings ever found and Golden Point (still about 8km from Castlemaine proper) was one of its richest sections. It doesn’t look like this any more, but it’s still pretty chewed up.

It was a lovely morning and we were ambling along not taking photos, so to some degree it’s hard to remember. I can recollect turning right up Welsh Street but missing the Welsh Village. A group of joggers came down that hill. Then we hooked up with a race for a while, sauntered down a gentle hill found a set of steps, looked up and there was …

the Garfield Wheel, or really not the wheel but its monumental housing. This is the wheel. Just, wow!

And below this is it being built with a better look at its remarkable flume.

The Mining Surveyor’s Report said, inter alia: ‘The Garfield Company have confined their operations to re-erecting their crushing plant adjacent to a new water wheel of 70 foot [22m] diameter in form rather like a large wheel of a bicycle. The water to be obtained from the V.W.S. race [fed by the Coliban channel via the Expedition Pass Reservoir, see the next blog] carried by a flume 790 feet [240m] long, on a sapling frame from 20 to 58 feet high will fill 220 wrought iron buckets … The wheel revolves (according to the force of water) in 45 to 55 seconds driving a 15-head battery from 70 to 86 falls per minute. This process affords employment to over 60 men.’

As the company’s profits, initially very substantial, declined, the English investors who had stood up the money in the first instance decided to put it elsewhere. But that wasn’t what did in the wheel. On windy days the sheer size of the wheel rendered it useless, and the resulting wear on the cog gearing caused it to be shut down in 1903 and dismantled in 1904, giving it a life of 16 years, which for mining apparatus mightn’t be too bad. They had to move the stampers twice during that time because of ground subsidence underneath them. That would make sense wouldn’t it.

Just the stone supports are left today, with their very own shall we say spiritual quality.

We passed the Manchester Reef mine with its horizontal entrance and the pines of Moonlite Flat before hooking up again with the path along Forest Creek — almost back in Castlemaine by this stage.

A little art on the way.

We had been watching the creek area getting more and more degraded as we got closer to town. But with a kilometre or two to go we noticed that the blackberries had been poisoned, then cleared out with a massive reveg planting program evident on both banks. Then we came to a Landcare sign saying how this program and the volunteers who do the work had been devoted to cleaning up this stretch of Forest Creek. Just before we got off the creek path to go into town, it looked like this.

What an estimable program Landcare is. It began in 1986 with a group of farmers near St Arnaud supported by Joan Kirner and Heather Mitchell (Warracknabeal farmer, then President of the Victorian Farmers Federation, and Rahda’s mum) and the Victorian Government. The late Rick Farley and Phil Toyne were the main lobbyists for it to become a national program. Launching the national version of the program in 1989, Bob Hawke said: ‘The degradation of our environment is not simply a local problem, nor a problem for one state or another, nor for the Commonwealth alone. Rather, the damage being done to our environment is a problem for us all — and not just government — but for us individually and together.

I wonder if we could get a politician, any politician, to say that today, and not just say it but act on it.

Next time: granite tors, a climb, big views and yet another astonishing feat of engineering, before we wave from the Alexandra Fountain.

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 #2

Creswick to Ballarat

16 November, 2020. Mid-high 20s, perfect weather. 28.59 kms.

The first thing I noticed when we got out of the bus was how clean the air smelt, how fresh, which is different, and how full of the smells of the bush, which is different again. Nothing was in front of us but the day, with just a soupçon of the unknown. It was so good to be back on a track.

Creswick Town Hall

The Town Hall, decidedly grand for a town of 3000, is over the road from Le Péché Gourmand. When we passed it strolling down Water St, we’d started. We turn right after the worker’s cottage with the Che Guevara poster in the window. Perhaps the whole of the Central Highlands is a hotbed of left wing opportunism.

A Creswick landscape, from Creswick Creek

And then it’s just a canter for a few kms following the creek east to St George’s Lake, part of walks we’ve done quite often before.

I’d never thought about this before but on this track St George’s Lake (at left), a substantial affair, is the first sign of the influence of gold. It is a man-made dam which used to supply water to the Creswick State Battery, a complex machine which via a battery of headers or stampers crushed rock, mostly quartz, into particles fine enough to access the gold it contained. Currently 30 grams to the tonne is high-grade production and five grams (5 parts per million) is enough to make a mine pay.

It had recently been raining and, wonderfully, several springs were pouring out of the embankment on the other side.

Then, for the first time, instead of going straight on or left round the northern edge of the lake, we turned right across the Melbourne Rd. From there it was only 100m to Blue Waters.

This very large hole, now a gravel pit, is the result of dredging through a layer of basalt to get at a deep lead of gold underneath. That basalt might have flowed from Mt Kooroocheang, the nearest volcanic cone. I am told that ‘Koo-roo-chee-ang’, might be a distorted version of words meaning ‘long and bitter road’ in Mandarin. If so, how appropriate.

Before it became a hole, this area was known as Portuguese Flat and it was the site of the first shaft to work a quartz reef in or near Creswick. ‘It was started in 1856 by Mr. Lees, the coroner (the coroner! Everyone had a go). A tunnel was driven 150 feet into a spur of the range, but Mr. Lees, like most of the early adventurers in a new branch of mining, abandoned his experiment.’ This ‘experiment’ was ‘taken over by three Chinamen’ who drove the shaft a little further and took out 800 tonnes of rock which yielded about 2-3 ozs (50-75 grams) of gold per tonne.’ (From the ‘Ballarat Star’ of 16 Sept 1869.) In a process that was regularly repeated, they were so successful they were moved on by the European miners in the area.

Another kilometre to Humbug Hill described in the Guidebook as showing the evidence of mining on an industrial scale.

Humbug Hill

I’m not sure that that is an appropriate description. The word ‘industry’ comes from the Latin ‘industria’ meaning diligence, but it has assumed the connotations of ‘big, and mechanised’, and when I look at this landscape I think of hundreds of men, thousands perhaps, with picks and shovels. It’s all so very manual. In France country like this would be called bouleversé, upset or turned over, a term still applied to the location of the trenches of World War I, ups and downs now about 105 years old which are manicured and modest. This, 60 or 70 years older, is of another order. Apart from the trees growing through the mullock heaps it could have happened five years ago. This is fragile country. It went on and on like this, continuously, till we got to Slaty Creek, another three or four kilometres. I should not have been surprised but I was. For the first time it sunk in that we really were on the Goldfields Track. These really had been goldfields, as far as the eye could see and considerably further.

I was also surprised by the fact that we were walking through forest, the forests of the Creswick Regional Park. It is heavily criss-crossed with dirt roads and other tracks but — across (very occasional) flat, through gully, up hill and down into next gully — we were staying in the bush. At Cabbage Tree there’s a tract of settled private land in the middle of the reserve and that was the first of many times we wondered about the idea of building houses in the middle of bush, highly flammable if nothing else, with not many options for exit.

We were wandering, dawdling really, but among other things there was a host of various types of flowers to look at, 20 or 30 species, at times in profusion, tiny and prolific.

When we got to Slaty Creek we’d only done 7 kms, but it was a change of pace: campers, a rotunda, fireplaces … and strident noise. We found the source, a portable generator driving a pump washing alluvium.

In the course of looking for photos I found this.

Former garbage collector Syd Pearson found one of Victoria’s largest ever gold nuggets after 37 years of prospecting as a hobby.

And the following text from both the ‘West Australian’ and the ‘The [Rockhampton] Morning Bulletin’: ‘Syd Pearson remembers the exact moment he struck it lucky in Victoria’s sprawling gold fields. Pacing across a little patch of earth out the back of Dunolly last December, the 68-year-old heard the hum set off by his metal detector then the distinctive “clunk’’ as he chipped into the soil with his pick axe. He knew what it was. Hands already shaking, the garbage man from Maryborough brushed away the dirt to discover a 4.3kg gold nugget. The Aussie battler had hit the jackpot. He didn’t know it yet but the rock in his hands would be worth almost $300,000.’

This happened in June 2017. I’m pretty sure that on the 16th of November 2020 a bearded Syd was still at it but with fancier gear at Slaty Creek on the Goldfields Track a bit north of Ballarat.

There’s more.

The very helpful motelier from the Creswick Motel was driving us out to a starting point near Dean and we fell to talking about the guy we’d seen, because we have seen almost no one on this track, and he was notable. She told us that she thought that this might be the same guy who would come and stay at the motel when he could afford it but mostly slept in his car. Really he was bumping along on the seat of his pants. If that’s him, and of course it might or might not be, where did the 300 grand go? A gold story.

Slaty Creek has had a good whacking. This bank here has been hugely eroded by high pressure hoses, evident for 800m or so. Four thousand diggers were here in the 1850s and seem to have been particularly frantic and destructive in their early drives. From a report 170 years ago, ‘A lovely park in the midst of heavily wooded ranges has been turned upside down stripping away the fertile flats, luxuriant and vividly green grass as well as the huge white gums.’ But this is not a grizzle. Not this day. Those gums (candlebarks I think) re-appear in fine stands a couple of km further down the creek. The track was unpeeling in a constantly stimulating way.

The story of the goldfields is also the story of water and efforts to husband and control the natural limitations of the climate, for the arrival of masses of humans anyway. There were constant signs of water management like the race below.

Maybe this very steep slit would have been used to speed water down this hillside to wash dug material or it could have just fed another race like the one below. An academic article on the archeology of goldfields water management suggests that in the Creswick area alone there were between 350 and 400 km of trenches, many a metre or more deep, harvesting and transporting water. I think of that and feel tired. All that digging. But what a message about the complexity of the enterprise and the effort that went into making it viable.

The banks of races like this, cleared and roughly following a contour, make very convenient paths, one of which we followed for several km.

Quartz ‘cobbles’, piles of discarded quartz the size of your fist and larger, in the stringybark.

But it didn’t all look like that.

Fine stands of box, maybe a red ironbark in the foreground, at Chapel Flat. You can see the track sauntering off across the other side. So improbable with today’s eyes, there was once a chapel here, and that chapel would have been in the middle of furious populated activity.

We saw perhaps 20 reservoirs on this walk, mostly small and many dry, but some still large. We were still in forest but dodging alongside Codes Forest Rd what felt like but wasn’t uphill all the way. We’d done about 16, the day was warming up and we needed to make better pace. We got to the fence surrounding the White Swan dam, an oddity, 580m above sea level with the vast majority of its contents pumped uphill from other sources. When it opened in 1952 it doubled Ballarat’s available water supply. But why ‘White Swan’? Was this some sort of ‘black swan event’ in reverse, because in Australia there are no white swans.

This photo is from a drone or helicopter because while there is a small (but punishing) hill nearby, there is no view like this from the ground. The white blob on the wall is an illustration of a swan. But somewhere under that water are the remains of the White Swan Hotel, the source of the dam’s name.

The obituary provided by the ‘Ballarat Evening Echo’ of 31 Dec 1915 says in part:

This picturesque old inn was opened on New Year’s Day, 59 years ago to-morrow, and during that long period the names of only two licensees have appeared over the door, the late Mr. Ritchie who opened it and who died 18 years ago, and his daughter, Miss Lottie Ritchie, the present licensee, who succeeded him. Father and daughter became inseparably associated with the old house, and they imparted to it much of their own personality, and a very kindly, lovable personality it was. … The founder of the White Swan picked on a beautiful site for his hotel. It is surrounded by some of the most lovely forest country in the district. Only the road separates the forest from the front door, and one steps almost from the back door into another stretch of beautifully timbered country. It was so when the house was built, and it is so to-day.

The old place strangely harmonises with its surroundings, which after all is not to be wondered at. It was built of timber cut in a sawmill close by, and after a lapse of 60 years the timber is still sound and strong. There is a moral here as to the value of Australian timber. The old house saw many ups and downs. The whole district hummed with prosperity once. That was in the alluvial mining days.

Gradually peace and quietness fell on the scene, and then instead of the hustling miners there grew up round the old White Swan a colony of aged fossickers and pensioners. These in the sunset of their life found a warm and constant friend in the licensee of the White Swan. Now the White Swan is no more, that is, as a licensed house. Its diminishing trade gives the Licenses Reduction Board the excuse to put it on this list of doomed. It has fallen victim to the law of the survival of the fittest. Still, many a bigger and more pretentious hotel would leave a much smaller void.

I don’t know that they write about buildings, or businesses, with such fondness and sympathy these days.

But at the White Swan I conked out. Too long between cups of tea, too long between jubes, too much broken rock on the road next to the dam’s fence, too many ups, not enough practice. Who knows? But I needed a short lie down which I had and enjoyed. There was still another 10 km to go so a brisk recovery was in order.

We climbed the hill up from the dam and then wandered down through undulating and open country, past the thick brown water of Nuggety Dam and remnants of shafts some of which didn’t seem to be much bigger than the cross section of a man and half, coming out finally at Ditchfield Park (at left) — something different with its massive trees and thick verdant understorey. We were closing in on suburbia.

To get there we had to get under the Western Freeway … making sure we kept our distance …

and hook up with the Yarrowee ‘river’ (at right) which we would follow for five kms into the city centre out of the way of the traffic. Good route design all the way.

Turned right here, mask on, with another kilometre or so still to go up the Mair St hill. It had been a big day. I was feeling every one of those 28 kms in my legs, but a wonderful walk definitely whetting the appetite for more. What would the next bit be like? And it wouldn’t really be the next bit: it would be the first bit, we were going back to Mt Buninyong to follow the track into Ballarat.