Did you know that Melbourne, Australia was once considered the world’s richest city? In the mid Nineteenth Century no city was more affluent than she. Melbourne was gold, literally!
Well more accurately I should say that this wealth and importance was because of gold. A gold rush had struck the south-eastern corner of Australia and had thrust this sleepy colonial outpost into worldwide prominence. At its peak it is said that around two tonnes of gold per week was making its way to the Treasury Building in Melbourne. Victoria had become a hub for fortune-seekers. The world was coming en masse in search of riches.
In 1851 the Australian ‘European’ population was just under 500,000 of which approximately 80,000 (just under 18%) were Victorians. A decade later the Australian population had grown to over 1.1 million of which the Victorian population was almost 500,000 (roughly 47%). A seven-fold increase!
Castlemaine history. The beginnings.
And so it was amidst this maelstrom of growth that the tiny rural hamlet of Forest Creek, Victoria (renamed Castlemaine in 1854) was flung into global recognition and importance.
Castlemaine became the epi-centre of the world’s richest alluvial goldfields for a time in the late 1800s. The population of this area swelled with the power, speed and ferocity of a king tide. The small village of Chewton grew so rapidly because of its proximity to the goldfields that it wasn’t even surveyed. This is still evident today in its ramshackle and meandering layout which is ironically one of its modern-day charms.
The word spreads. Quickly!
Today a politician’s gaff or a celebrity’s ‘costume malfunction’ can spread worldwide within minutes courtesy of social media, smart phones and first-world globalisation. However think back to the way word was spread in the mid Nineteenth Century.
Newspapers, the newly invented telegraph and the horse’s hoof were the means by which news travelled in 1851. The year that gold was first discovered in the region. Amazingly however it took less than one month for more than 8000 ‘Diggers’ to arrive in the area once the news had broken, and more incredibly still, within four months 25,000 fortune-seekers had arrived to try their luck.
Today there is no sense of the chaos although it’s not hard to imagine. Beads of sweat glistening down sun-beaten backs, the grinding of machinery, the clink of picks upon quartz and the deafening thumps of the battery rams. The sound of their thunderous impacts, so we are told, could carry on the wind for more than five kilometres. The battery rams were used to crush the alluvial rock to extract the gold.
Today many remnants still remain.
Approximately one and a half hours drive from Melbourne all of this Castlemaine history awaits.
Many of the sites are nothing but ghostly ruins now however their secrets are well documented. There are often information boards located at the historical sites or you can also visit the Castlemaine Information Centre in person to research the backstories. In summer I advise a reconnoitre in the morning or late afternoon/ early evening to avoid the sometimes blistering heat.
There really are so many vestiges of this Gold Rush history still remaining dotted in-and- around Castlemaine that I am not going to specify exactly where to visit. Just do a little research Online before you embark and you will easily fill a day-trip or even a weekend break from Melbourne.
Some of the most interesting historic sites are actually accessible via sections of the Goldfields Track walking trail. The atmospheric ruins at the Garfield Water Wheel is one such example. Just park the car and go for a wander back into yester-year.
Don’t be a Burke. Check out the town too!
Breaking a day of exploration is a good idea and means you can spend a pleasant afternoon in town. Join the locals for an organic latte over lunch whilst you people watch and observe the unique Castlemaine amalgam of country and city.
Whilst there you could also pop up to the Burke & Wills monument erected in 1862. Robert Burke, a leader of the successful but ultimately ill-fated expedition to cross the continent of Australia, lived in Castlemaine. The imposing monument constructed in his honour was built to mark the one year anniversary of his death, and was mainly funded by monies raised by his local community.
To me history is just a collection of ‘stories’ and much like my son or daughter at bed time I love a good story. If you also appreciate a good yarn then you will find much to love up Castlemaine way.
Castlemaine History. A Gallery. (Click to enlarge an image)
All images © Saxon Templeton
Maldon & Castlemaine Tourism website: Click here.
Victorian Gold Rush story: Click here.