Dunkeld is a small rural town of some 450 people located at the foot of the Grampians and at the southern tip of Grampians National Park.
It is 259 km west of Melbourne via the Glenelg Highway. The surrounding landscape is dominated by Mt Abrupt (827 m) and Mt Sturgeon (548 m) which were both named by Major Mitchell who was the first known European in the area. Mitchell camped for three days at the foot of Mt Sturgeon in 1836, during his Australia Felix expedition.
The first pastoralists took up properties here in the late 1830s. A small township developed which was initially known as Mt Sturgeon but, as the early settlers were predominantly Scottish, it was renamed Dunkeld after a Scottish town which was the principal locality of the Caledonian picts in Roman times.
The picturesque setting has drawn a number of artists over the years, including Louis Buvelot, Eugene von Guerard and Nicholas Chevalier who all rendered paintings of the district. The area is known principally for the production of superfine wool.
The Dunkeld Cup is held every year in November and the Dunkeld Festival in December.
After another kilometre Silverband Rd ends at a T-intersection with Grampians Rd. Opposite is a picnic and swimming area at the western edge of Lake Bellfield which is a popular spot to dangle a line for redfin and trout. A guesthouse was built here at the end of the 19th century but the valley was flooded in the 1960s to create the reservoir. Petrol-driven motor boats are not permitted although electric-powered boats and rowing are okay.
If you turn left, back towards Halls Gap, Lake Bellfield will be to the right. 2.3 km north of the intersection is the north-western corner of the lake where there is a caravan park, a picnic area and Observation Point. It is another 2 km to the National Park Visitors’ Centre and 4.5 km to the Halls Gap shops.
Just beyond the Jimmy Creek Picnic Area, on the other side of the road, the unsealed Jimmy Creek Rd turns off to the left. It leads to Mafeking.
Some small sawmilling companies worked this area for timber in the 19th century but the area is of interest today because of a short-lived goldrush which occurred in 1900. The landscape was devastated by the goldminers who removed the wattle, tea-tree and bracken fern in the search for gold. The stringybark forests were lopped to supply bark and timber for miner’s huts, mining stays and fuel. Some old trees remain, along with fern gullies and regenerating forest.
There is an attractive picnic area, a campground and an information board but this area is definitely unsuitable for children as there are a number of dangerous mineshafts.
Brownings Walk (one hour return) takes in some remaining historic features. A pamphlet is available from the Grampians National Park Visitors’ Centre at Halls Gap. It identifies various features of the walk, including an old-growth stringybark, a regenerated gully, the site of the first claim, tail races, old shafts, a dam embankment used for water storage and open-cut minesites which were worked by means of hydraulic sluicing. A jet of water was directed onto the face of a cutting to dislodge material. The earth was then shovelled into a contraption known as a ‘Tom’ which consisted of two boxes laid atop one another. Water was directed into the upper box where a grate trapped the coarser gravels, stones and rocks while the finer particles of gravel, sand and gold fell through to the second box. There a series of bars or ripples at the bottom of the box helped trap fine gold particles while the water and lighter material ran off as overflow.
South of this point there are a number of attractions associated with the Grampians Tourist Road and Victoria Valley Road (which branches off the Grampians Tourist Road).
This question is often asked in reference to early events in the Stawell area which show Pleasant Creek as the place where the event took place i.e. birth, deaths, marriages or residence.
Pleasant Creek is a small creek which rises in the Black Ranges a few miles south west of Stawell. The creek flows through Stawell West at the Caravan Camping Park, crossing Seaby Street near the racecourse; continuing along the Halls Gap Road, through the Illawarra forest and finally to Lake Lonsdale. A small quantity of gold was discovered in this
creek in May 1853 by a hut keeper who, with two shepherds were
shepherding Concongella Station sheep. They were occupying a bark
hut, known as Pleasant Creek Hut, on the eastern side of Pleasant
Creek not far from the present racecourse. This gold find was
described as at Pleasant Creek.
Some three years later, about 1856, miners were pegging out claims on the quartz reefs around Big Hill
in present Stawell. This would be about 2 kms from the original
gold find in Pleasant Creek. This quartz goldfield was called
Quartz Reefs, Pleasant Creek or The Reefs, Pleasant Creek. In
August 1857, a large alluvial gold find caused a big rush to what
we now know as the Illawarra/Deep Lead area some 6 kms north west
of the original gold find. This goldfield was described as at
Pleasant Creek and was distinguished by the names of its streets –
High Street, Broadway, Commercial road, Oxford Street. High Street
was situated about where the Western Highway passes through Deep
Lead today while Oxford Street runs off the highway past the Deep
Lead Cemetery. Commercial Road runs off the Halls Gap Road at
Illawarra and is signposted. Shortly after this big gold rush, in
June 1858, a Township called Stawell was proclaimed. This Township
was an area of 640 acres and was surveyed around the site of the
original 1853 gold find in Pleasant Creek.
Stawell is a former goldmining town of some 6700 people located just off the Western Highway, 32 km north-west of Ararat, 235 km north-west of Melbourne and 231 m above sea-level.
It is a service centre to the surrounding district and supports a number of industries such as brick-production, goldmining, a substantial and very successful fabric upholstery concern and an abattoir, as well as more traditional grazing and farming pursuits. With the Grampians close by Stawell has a growing tourism sector. Just south of town are the wineries of Great Western.
The Mukjarawaint Aborigines occupied the area prior to white settlement. The first European to pass through the town site was explorer Thomas Mitchell in 1836. The first station was ‘Concongella’ in 1841. Gold was discovered on Pleasant Creek by shepherd William McLachlan in May 1853.
The original settlement of Stawell was at Pleasant Creek and consisted of Cooper, Longfield, Leslie, Burgh Streets running east west and Austin, Griffiths, Seaby and Foster Streets running north south, according to a map of the area dated 1858.Ã‚Â
It is interesting to note that Burgh Street has a dog leg in it and this was because the Pleasant Creek Hotel already existed and the road was formed around it
Longfield Street being the main road from Melbourne to Adelaide was the centre of the settlement and housed the Camp and the Constitution Hotel (left of photograph above). On the right of the photograph are the Pleasant Creek Court House and Gaol, Shire Office and the Literary Institute. The Telegraph Office and the Police Superintendent’s Residence were situated in Leslie Street and behind this were the Police Stables in Griffiths Street.
On the corner of Griffiths Street and Leslie Street was the One Tree Hill Cemetery
On the right in Seaby Street is the home of John Yabsley Wakeham, Mr Wakeham was a pioneer of Stawell, Whilst a merchant originally he amassed his fortune as a share holder in a number of mines in Stawell.
Pleasant Creek was part of Concongella Station before the discovery of gold. The only residents around at the time were two shepherds and a hutkeeper who lived on the “Western slopes of One Tree Hill” in a bark hut.
William McLachlan discovered gold at Pleasant Creek in May 1853 while fossicking in Pleasant Creek in his spare time found some gold. It only was a small amount of gold – some pennyweights – and although the find was made known, not many people came here then. This was then a very isolated area, water was scarce and there were no supplies of food while the goldfields of Ballarat, Bendigo, Clunes etc. were operating with stores already established. Some people did come and there were also people passing through here from South Australia to the Victorian goldfields who stopped and washed small quantities of gold.
Apparently some gold diggers came and went during the next four years – finding some small quantities – and in August 1857 – the big rush occurred at what became known as Commercial Street, Pleasant Creek – off the Halls Gap Road.
This rush spread across to Deep Lead and the Warden reported at the height of the rush, said that there were 25,000 to 30,000 people there.
At the same time, shafts were being sunk around Big Hill and gold was found in the quartz there. That Big Hill area was called Quartz Reefs, Pleasant Creek.
The government proclaimed and renamed the settlement ‘Stawell’ in 1858 after Sir William Foster Stawell, an attorney-general in Victoria’s first legislative assembly (1856) who became the chief justice of Victoria in 1857.
Much alluvial gold was found in the Illawarra/Deep Lead area but how much and who found it is not known. The diggers took their gold and left and the field had petered out by 1859 – only lasting less then two years with a very diminishing numbers of diggers.
As the alluvial gold began to diminish in the 1860s, the population and economic activity began to shift north-east to the Big Hill area where a new settlement, known as Quartz Reefs, developed around the quartz gold found at the foot of the hill. Thus the original town site became known as Stawell West. The two areas were amalgamated into the borough of Stawell in 1869.
When mining activity at Ballarat diminished in the late 1860s it freed up a flow of capital and experienced hands to the Stawell fields, initiating a boom period during the 1870s which saw new administration buildings erected close by the Big Hill mines. The railway further boosted local economic and social activity upon its arrival in 1876.
Huge amounts of gold were found and fortunes made. Of the 14 richest mines in Victoria. Number 8 on that list was the Cross Reef at Stawell and number 10 was the Magdala at Stawell. Mining here slowed down in the late 1880’s with many mines closing from then to the 1890’s and the last mine closed in 1920. By which time around 58 tonnes of gold had been extracted. The settlement survived the slow inevitable decline of the goldfields due to (a) its role as a service centre to the farming community and (b) the emergence of local industries such as a flour mill, brickworks, tannery and woollen mills. Gold mining recommenced at Stawell in 1981.
Of some historical interest is the fact that Marcus Clarke worked as a jackeroo to the north-west of town in the 1860s. The settlement of Glenorchy was the ‘Bullocktown’ of his ‘Bullocktown Sketches’ which were published in the Australasian.
The first white men to pass through the Ararat district, around 200km north west of Melbourne, were explorer Thomas Mitchell and his party on their “Australia Felix” expedition. Mitchell’s description of the land in the west of what is now Victoria encouraged squatters to the area.
In 1841, Horatio Wills passed through the area on his way to selecting country further south, wrote in his diary, “like the Ark we rested” and named a nearby hill Mt. Ararat. It is from this entry and the nearby Mount that the town takes its name.
Gold was first discovered in the vicinity at Pinky Point, 6 km west of present-day Ararat, in 1854. Other leads followed and there were soon 9000 people strewn about the area known as ‘Cathcart’ after a popular actress of the day. One such prospector was escapee bush ranger ‘Gipsy’ Smith who killed Sergeant John McNally during an attempted arrest at the Cathcart goldfields in 1856 (Smith was soon caught and executed).
The strike which established the town came about, indirectly, as a result of racial strife on the Victorian goldfields. As a result of anti-Asian sentiment, the state government, in 1855, placed a 20 pound poll tax on every Chinese person entering Victorian ports. Consequently, ships from China began landing at South Australia leaving the immigrants a walk of 500 km or more to the Victorian goldfields, often in winter with few opportunities to renew supplies or water and with unreliable guides.
Thus one party of 700 Chinese miners came to rest on the future town site while en route to Clunes. One member discovered alluvial gold in a stream and thus the Canton Lead was established. Within two weeks, the population was allegedly 20 000. With the assistance of the Chinese Protector, the Chinese miners survived violent attempts from whites to oust them from their claims. 93 kg of gold were shipped out in the first three weeks and 3 tons were officially escorted from town in the first three months.
Ararat Shire Hall
By 1863 gold reserves were depleted, but the town continued on as a centre for surrounding pastoralists, and in 1875 became an important railway centre.
Ararat Town Hall
Ararat’s first newspaper was published in 1857. The town was named after the nearby mountain and declared a municipality almost immediately (in 1858). Buildings such as the mechanics institute, a hospital, a church and a courthouse were all under construction by 1859. Pyrenees House, featuring a decorative exterior in Queen-Anne style, was constructed to replace the original hospital in 1885.
The Ararat County Gaol was finished in 1861, and continued in this role until 1887. Three murderers were hanged here during this time and the graves can still be visited. The Classical Revival style bluestone building became known as J Ward and from 1887 until 1991 it functioned as Victoria’s asylum for the criminally insane. The longest serving inmate, Bill Wallace, was held here for over 60 years, during a time when inmates were housed under tight security and often terrible conditions.
Ararat was advanced to the status of a borough in 1863 but, by that time, the gold had already begun to dwindle. However, the town survived as a service centre to the old pastoral properties and as a regional administrative centre. Moreover, from 1862, the process of breaking up the old squatter’s estates began. Selectors gained a foothold and farming commenced. When the railway arrived in 1875 Ararat became a major rail junction.
Barkly St., Ararat, Vic. 1914.
The Mafeking goldrush at Mt William in 1900 saw a revival of gold fever and a resurgence of Ararat’s population. Other goldmines contributed to the local economy from 1909 to 1920. The borough became a town in 1934 and a city in 1950.
Ararat’s Langi Morgala Museum
The town hall (c1898) and shire hall (c1871) were also built in Classical Revival style. The town hall contains a clock tower in the middle of its symmetrical exterior.
Ararat’s role as a pastoral centre is evidenced by buildings such as the 1874 blue stone wool and grain store, now functioning as the Langi Morgala Museum.
The Old Ararat school, with a central bell tower and gabled, symmetrical blue stone wings, was built in Gothic Revival style in 1867. Ararat’s second courthouse was also constructed in 1867, but was built in a Romanesque style.