Two hours at least. Chewton, Fryerstown, Vaughan Springs, Guilford, Campbell's Creek
This trip comes after the Castlemaine wander.
Leisure in Castlemaine in 1880 generally meant a picnic along a cool stream where children could swim and play. Vaughan is a deep gully, with lawns and picnic spots and spa waters - an unknown Hepburn Springs, not far to the south. Today, it's a meander through time and space from the Maldon turnoff in Castlemaine.
Leaving Fairbank (reluctantly and only for a few hours), take the Castlemaine Road to the south of Maldon and continue through to Castlemaine, picking up the Pyrenees Highway, turning left (north) into the Midland Highway to the lights (horrors - civilisation) at Forest St. Turn right (east) through Castlemaine and Wesley Hill to Chewton. We turn right (south) at the western end of Chewton at Fryerstown Road (Chewton-Vaughan road).
Chewton is a picturesque old settlement with a strong sense of identity and residents resist the notion that they are a neighbourhood of Castlemaine. After all, gold was found there first and was still being extracted well into the last century (and this, for all we know). For example, the Archbold Gold Treatment Works on Vineyard Rd further along the Pyrenees Highway used cyanide to treat the tailings and silt along Forest Creek until the 1930s (Fairbank owner's grandfather, JJ Stanley of Bendigo was a partner). Archbold's house is high on the hill, a hundred metres further along the Pyrenees Highway, just over the Wattle Creek bridge at Golden Point.
The stone foundations of the Garfield Mine (1887 - 1911) Waterwheel, Victoria's largest, lie to the north of Chewton, on North St directly opposite the Fryerstown Road turnoff. The Red Hill Hotel, 1854, is still serving drinks to thirsty travellers. Expedition Pass Reservoir is located about 3 km north-east of town, adjacent Golden Point Rd. It was established in the 1870s and is a good spot for swimming, fishing (golden perch and some Murray cod) and picnicking. The Castlemaine (hot) Rod Shop is also on the Pyrenees Highway past Golden Point, and contrary to its image, presents a beautiful re-creation of Australian bush icons.
Wattle Gully MineBack to Fryers Road turnoff. Passing under the Bendigo railway line, Wattle Gully Mine lies to the west of the road.
The Wattle Gully mine (from 1876) retains a significant portion of its 1950s mining plant, including a winding engine, steel poppet heads, battery and mine sheds. The surviving plant is also unique as it remains in its original condition and arguably still in working order. About 2 km along is a little grave surrounded by a wrought iron fence. It belongs to Mrs Elizabeth Escott, who emigrated from England with her eight children when her husband died. Her eldest daughter, Fanny, lies beside her. There are numerous heritage sites along the bush road. Further south on the east side are the Heron's Reef Gold Diggings an area worked from the early 1850s again until well into the 20th century. The Heron Nugget, weighing 28.5kg, was found in 1855 by two men who had just arrived on the field. Further on to the west side is the old engine house (1865) that drove a crushing battery and pump for the Duke of Cornwall mine. It's impressive, built to a Cornish design, with a stone chimney and arches. Almost opposite the engine house, and up the hill is a small powder magazine, of circular construction with a beehive roof to direct any blast upwards. Further on is the home of the mine manager, who must have had great faith in the design of the magazine. Nevertheless, the mine wasn't productive and closed in 1880. The relics are on private property. Then there's Fryerstown.
Castlemaine St, Fryerstown
The proclamation of Fryerstown in 1860 was a reflection of the emergence of towns in the Mount Alexander goldfields. Previously, the 1857 census collector had referred to the locality as ‘Fryers Forest’ after alluvial gold had been found at Fryers Creek in 1851. The area had been held as grazing land by pastoralist, Peter Fryer, after whom the creek was named. When the locality became a township it was renamed Fryerstown and by 1858 boasted a population of around 15,000, 3 schools, about 25 hotels, and 5 breweries. However, news of goldfields opening elsewhere in Victoria coupled with diminishing returns from the numerous mines, resulted in a rapid decline in population. In 1870 an extensive artificial water channelling system was completed to make surface workings in the district viable. Constructed by the Loddon & Tributaries Water Company, it supplied local mining areas such as Fryerstown with their needs. But by 1888 the population numbers were down to 2000 for the district, including 330 Chinese diggers. At that time the schools remained, but there were just four hotels. Today Fryerstown usually numbers around two hundred.
On the roadside to the left at the crossroads (High Rd) is a little cottage that once belonged to the mining manager, with the office at the rear. Taking High Rd to the left (east) for a kilometre or two will take you through some impressive properties in the hills. Fryerstown is now more of a prosperous district than a 'ghost town'. Over the bridge is the brick courthouse (1880), now a private residence. It was part of a town square, with a missing town hall and the Burke and Wills Memorial Hall (1863). There's a large antique fair centred on the hall on the Australia Day weekend.
Keep to the Vaughan-Chewton Rd, as there are several side roads here serving the farming districts. From the ridge you overlook a valley which delights in names such as 'Chokem Flat', Grogshop Gully' and 'Murdering Flat', where three breweries once operated. Three kilometres from Fryerstown, there's the first intersection, keep to the right, swiftly followed by a larger one, where the road name changes to Drummond-Vaughan Rd. The road, now Greville St, soon drops down from the ridge known as Bald Hill, site of an intersection of two rich gold leads, into Vaughan. There were up to 13,000 people, including the Chinese collectives, and mining continued until the 1950s.
Vaughan Mineral SpringsVaughan Mineral Springs Reserve (1878) is a beautiful spot for a picnic, or just to wander, and is very popular especially on hot days. It contains a swimming area, mining relics, walking tracks along the banks of the Loddon River, park gardens and a rotunda. The silver poplars date from the 1920s when they were planted to vegetate the devastated mining landscape. Continuing west, there's another side trip at the foot of the hill, over a rickety bridge and up the hill. There are more views of picturesque houses and winding valley of the Loddon. Back on the road yet again a name change to Burgoyne St, at the top of the hill there's an 1850s burial ground known as the Chinese Cemetery due to the number of Chinese who are interred there. The fence and memorial stone were placed by the Bendigo Chinese Society. Continue along (yep) the Vaughan Springs Rd turning left (south west) at Kemps Bridge Rd, then bearing right (south) on Tarlita Rd, coming down into Guilford.
Guilford is a quiet and prosperous town, noted for a magnificent red gum at the intersection of Fryers St and Ballaarat St. Arguably, it's the largest of its species in Victoria. The girth at the base is 12.8 metres and the height is 25.9 metres. A plaque suggests that Burke and Wills camped there on their journey from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Go up to the lookout for a better appreciation of the geography, and the confluence of Campbells Creek and the Loddon River. The former Commercial Hotel (1865) is located at the corner of Fryers and Templeton Sts and it now serves as the town's general store. On its northern side are the stables and outbuildings of a large department store that burned down in 1916. Guilford is the birthplace of a famous footballer, Ron Barassi (family home was in Shicer's Gully to the south as you came in to Guilford). Reputedly, he was biking down Fryer's Road as a boy, lost control and went head over heels through a (then) butcher's plate glass window. He obviously survived.
Back on the Midland Highway, turn left (north) and follow the winding road through the valley to Yapeen and Campbells Creek.
Chinese SettlementThe most substantial Chinese settlement of the Mount Alexander goldfields (estimated 3,000 - 6,000) gathered together for safety along Campbells Creek. Hostility toward the Chinese was high and they suffered numerous attacks. The largest encampment was at the junction of Campbells Creek with the Loddon, although no evidence remains today. They lived largely in tents along narrow thoroughfares dotted with Joss Houses, tea-houses, boarding houses, gambling dens and stores. All along Campbells Creek the Chinese worked alluvial deposits as a cooperative. After the gold ran out, some turned to market gardens, and they sold their produce in the Castlemaine Market, just up the road. Basically, they were the greengrocers for the district for decades.
Watch for the turn-off to Maldon on your left. Wend your way back to Fairbank for a well-earned rest. How about a meal in town tonight, walking of course, and counting the stars on your way home?