G old towns – lake – mountain - and the Welcome Stranger.
Tarnagulla – Moliagul - Rheola – Bushranger Captain Melville’s cave, and wander back through Dunolly. About 130km, best to plan for lunch at the Moliagul pub.
Gold towns are old towns in central Victoria, and this wander takes in g old towns that are ghost towns, or throughways such as Dunolly that are very much un-ghost like, particularly for cafes.
Go north following Ireland St into Polsue and then out on the Maryborough Road. Past the cherry farm and turnoff for the cemetery (and low-security Tarrengower Women’s Prison) continue down the hill and north (right) to the Bridgewater-Maldon road. Bell’s swamp is about 15km north, well worth a visit at sundown for the birds and fauna that congregate there.
Just up the hill from the swamp, there’s a turnoff to the west to Eddington, and another at the end of that road (south) to join the Bendigo Maryborough road, at least for long enough to go over the Loddon bridge for the first old town, Eddington. It’s a hamlet in a bend in the river and has some wonderfully atmospheric and photographic buildings. Turn north (right) into McCoy street and follow it down to the end, there’s a gate and entry to the river there.
Return up McCoy to the crossroad at Playfair street which continues west (right) back into the Bendigo-Maryborough road. Turn north (right) about a kilometre into Laanecoorie road (good gravel road), and follow this through, with views of the reservoir across the inlet (or not if the water’s being used further north). About 8km further is the turnoff (east, right) on Brownhill Reserve road for the caravan park at Laanecoorie with fishing, swimming, boating and all good pursuits.
Gold was discovered around Laanecoorie at Jones Creek in 1853 and the weir was constructed in 1891 by John Monash, the World War 1 general.
Go back to the Eddington-Laanecorrie road intersection and continue north to the intersection with the Laanecoorie-Tarnagulla road. Have a look at the hamlet over the river, then head north-west about 8 km to Tarnagulla, bearing north (right) at the intersection with the Bridgewater Dunolly road.
Tarnagulla’s an extraordinary place, see http://home.vicnet.net.au/~tarnagul/. Briefly, it’s half ghost town with about 300 population, although there’s still significant gold prospecting by individuals and small companies in the district. There’s also a thriving weekender community, as it’s ‘bush’ and central.
Like Maldon, gold activity mid-19th century attracted prospectors and religious folk, and nowhere is this more obvious than Tarnagulla. Best to just wander around the main street (Bridgewater-Dunolly road), go right (west anywhere to Gladstone street) and see if you can fit all the churches and the impressive primary school into one picture. There’s another burnt out church to the east of town, and probably others that have faded into the bush.
Properly impressed, take the Wimmera Highway out west to Moliagul, about 12 km. At the Dunolly-Wedderburn road crossing, take a left turn south into ‘town’. You’ll arrive at a memorial to the Rev John Flynn, a Presbyterian minister born in Moliagul in 1880 who founded the flying doctor service at Cloncurry, Queensland in 1928. It’s another fascinating story of this half-day wander, which is as much about gathering stories as experiencing the bush. Mount Moliagul pub’s also famous in lore and food, so have a lunch break there, or afternoon tea.
Moliagul’s home to the Welcome Stranger, still the largest alluvial nugget ever found at a calculated gold weight of 71kg by Cornish miners John Deason and Richard Oates in 1869. It was larger than the Welcome nugget at 69kg discovered on the Ballarat goldfields by 22 Cornish miners in 1858. Both were melted down for coins.
The largest existing nugget, the Hand of Faith at 27kg, was found in 1980 by Kevin Hillier using a metal detector near Kingower to the north of Moliagul. It’s at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas Nevada, and worth considerably more now than the $1m they paid for it.
To get to the Welcome Stranger obelisk, follow the road south from Flynn’s monument, and on past the coloured sands of the old mullock heap. On your return, circle Flynn’s monument again and go north on the Dunolly-Wedderburn past the Wimmera Highway to Mount Moliagul. There’s views from there, but not the tales associated with Melville.
This stretch is about 19 km from Moliagul to Kooyoora State Park. On the way is Rheola, and Kingower (Hand of Faith) is another 5km. Rheola started life as Berlin in 1869, when sizeable nuggets were found in the district, thus the Berlin Diggings. It changed its name to a town in Wales (no Cornish?) in 1876 and the Post Office eventually closed in 1974. There’s some pretty countryside around, thanks to sandy creeks and river gums, and the road merges with the Wehla-Kingower road before the turn 300m west into the park on Melville Caves Road.
The park has one of the best designed visitor shelters you could imagine, complete with a barbecue carved into a granite boulder. They take fire safety seriously in the bush. Then take the road past the giant granite boulders forming a mini-Mount Buffalo up to the Caves. This was the land of the Jaara people until 1840, and once gold was found, bushrangers followed.
According to the Australian National University, Captain Francis Melville was neither a captain nor a Melville., Francis McCallum (1822-1857) started his career as a thief in Scotland, age 12 years. After several convictions, he was transported, still a minor, to Port Arthur in 1838. He managed 25 convictions in Port Arthur, escaped and lived with Aborigines for a year until recapture. Arriving in Victoria in 1851, he claimed leadership of the Mt Macedon gang who waylaid diggers in the Black Forest. In 1852 he moved west, robbing squatters and diggers alike, and was almost caught at Mt Arapiles. However, he reinvented himself as a gentleman and spread money around for food, drink and entertainment. He was trapped in Geelong on a spend-up and was sentenced to 32 years’ hard labour. Imprisoned in convict hulks in Geelong, he escaped briefly in a transfer from one boat to another, murdering a policeman in the process. He escaped the death penalty because Sir Redmond Barry found a lack of documentation of transfer between the hulks. This was a famous decision, called Melville’s Law. Transferred to Pentridge, he was found hanged in his cell in 1857, murder or suicide? Read the story at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/melville-francis-4183.
Returning to Moliagul and crossing the Wimmera Highway, take the south east turn into Dunolly Road. Dunolly, population 700, once hosted one of the largest gold rushes with 60,000 people seeking riches. The town apparently moved around to follow each find, until it came to rest along its main street, Broadway. The gold gave way to the golden grain, and Dunolly remains an important ‘railhead’ for growers. Check out the museum and the fine buildings around town, grander than Maldon! There’s also a Gilbert & Sullivan festival in October 2015, and then every two years.
So, take the well-signposted turnoff to Maldon to the south of the town, and finish your wander in Fairbank. Feet on the railings and mulling over the trials and tribulations associated with gold and all who seek it.