Historic goldmining town with wide street and large number of historic buildings.

The war memorial in the mainstreet

Located 181 km north west of Melbourne and 72 km north of Ballarat, Avoca is notable for its extraordinarily wide mainstreet – so wide in fact that there is a huge area of parkland in the centre which is large enough for picnic facilities, a war memorial and the occasional shady tree.

Thomas Mitchell was the first European to pass through the area. He reached it in 1836 and, as rumour has it, named the local river ‘Avoca’ after a river or vale in County Wicklow, Ireland. A decade later there were a number of squatters in the area but the realchange to the district’s fortunes occurred in 1852 when gold wasdiscovered only 3 km east of the town. By 1854 the town had apopulation of 2577 and there were a total of around 6000 diggersoperating in the 6 km of riverbed south of the confluence of Glenlogie Creek and Avoca River.

It was around this time that Avoca grew dramatically. Apolice camp of some 50 troopers was established in 1853 and a lock-upbuilt the following year, an impressive Bank of Victoria was built in1854 to capitalise the new-found wealth, a series of businesses set upshop, the Avoca Hotel opened its doors in 1854, the Union Hotel in1855, a Wesleyan Church was built in 1856, a National School in 1857and the courthouse in 1859.

A description of the diggings in the early 1860s: ‘Shanties, public houses and shops sprang up rapidly and the place wasa veritable beehive of industry – the whirring of the windlass, the clank-clank of the buckets, the rumble of the ‘cradle’ and the puddlingmachine, the tents, the lights innumerable at night, the singing oftbacchanalian the laughter and the brawls made a medley of soundincidental to the bush mining camp.’

The town’s population had dropped back to 768 by 1871.The railway line from Maryborough was opened in 1876. But by this time the gold rush was all but over. Men were still making a reasonable living at Amphitheatre as late as the 1890s but the gold was now difficult to get. Slowly the farmers began to reassert themselves. By the 1870s grapes were being grown in the area and over the next twenty years mixed farming – sheep, cattle, orchards – started to dominate in the area. There were various attempts to use dredges to extract thegold and these continued intermittently throughout this century withthe last dredge only stopping operations in 1957.

Today Avoca is a pleasant rural service centrecharacterised by its wide main street and the nearby Pyrenees Ranges. The Pink Lamb and Purple Shiraz Race Meeting is held in March each year. There is an Anzac Day Race Meeting in April each year and the Taltarni Cup Meeting is held in October.

Things to see:

Avoca Hotel

Avoca Hotel

Tourist Information and Historic Buildings of High St

The Tourist Information Office is located in High Street, near the Cambridge St intersection. There is a pamphlet outlining awalking tour of the town’s historic buildings which lists around 40separate destinations. It is detailed and comprehensive and is almostentirely contained within an area of no more than five blocks by sixblocks. In fact, two-thirds of the sites are in High St, tel: (03) 5465 3767.

Between Cambridge St and Russell St are the warmemorial, the handsome bluestone of Lalor’s Pharmacy (1854), which isreputedly the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Victoria, theAvoca Newsagency (c.1887), the Bakery and Tea Rooms (c.1860), AlbionHouse (c.1866) and the Victoria Hotel Complex, consisting ofstone-and-brick hotel and stone ballroom (late 1850s) and stone stables(1872). The ballroom became a venue for travelling performers.

Between Russell and Duke Sts are Kelley’s Store (1865) andthe General Store (c.1860) and between Duke and North is the Avoca MeatMarket (c.1856).

Between Cambridge St and Bridport St are the postoffice (1872), the former Albion Hotel (1868), Holland’s Drapery Shop (1866), Filbey’s Butchery (1856), Mackereth’s Shop and Wine Depot (c.1890), Herlihy’s Store (c.1870) and the Avoca Hotel (1870) on the site of the original Avoca Hotel (1854).

At the south-eastern corner of High and Bridport is the former Bank of Victoria (1854). Its imposing facade reflects theboom period of the town’s first years.

Avoca and District Historical Society

The Classical Revival brick courthouse (1859), in High St (near the Davy St corner), is one of the earliest survivingcourthouses in the state and is representative of its type and era. Itis now the headquarters of the local historical society which is proudof its excellent collection of photographs (over 2,000 and allcatalogued), family history details and reference materials. It is avital source of information for anyone wanting to explore the localarea. For more information contact (03) 5465 3744.

Police Camp

The whole area bounded by Bridport St, Camp St, High Stand the river was the site of the original police camp established in1853 and occupied by 50 troopers trying to maintain order in thedisarray of a goldrush. Some buildings associated with the police campare to be found in Napier St, between Davy and Camp Sts. They are thecoursed bluestone lock-up (1867), which replaced the original loglock-up (1854), the police residence (1859) and the powder magazine (1860).

Rutherford St

At Rutherford and Russell is the former Anglican rectory(1894). Over the road is the Uniting Church Complex, consisting of thebrick Wesleyan Church (1867), Sunday School (1870) and parsonage (1871).

At Rutherford and Duke is ‘Rutherford’ (1860s) and at124 Rutherford St is the former National School (1857 with lateradditions). One of the first to be established in the state it is aGothic Revival brick structure which is now a bed-and-breakfast.

Barnett St

In Barnett St (between North and Duke Sts) is theimpressive Avoca State School, built of brick to a Gothic design in1878. On the Russell St corner is the Anglican Church of St John theDivine (1871). At Barnett and Bridport are Chalmer’s PresbyterianChurch (1864) and manse (1869).

Blue Pyrenees Estate

There are two vineyards operating quite close toAvoca. Both can be accessed by driving west on Vinoca Road which runsoff the Sunraysia Highway just north of Avoca.

Blue Pyrenees Estate, established in 1963, is set in idyllicsurroundings and landscaped gardens 7 km west of the town in thefoothills of the Pyrenees (en route to Governor’s Rock Lookout).Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, semillon, sauvignon blanc,cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, shiraz and merlot are all undercultivation. There are picnic facilities, al fresco lunches, an artdisplay, tours of the underground cellars and a shaded area where youcan play petanque. The cellar door is open daily from 10.00 a.m. andthe restaurant on weekends, tel: (03) 5465 3202.

Mount Avoca Vineyard

Mount Avoca Vineyard, established in 1970, islocated 5 km west of Avoca off Vinoca Rd in Moates Lane. It producestrioss, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, rhapsody, semillon, shiraz,cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, Arda’s Choice and a vintage port. Thecellar door is open weekdays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and weekendsfrom 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily. There is a picnic area, light lunchis available on weekends and gourmet picnic lunches by priorarrangement, tel: (03) 5465 3282.


Vinoca Rd is the accessroute to the site of the gold town of Percydale which flourished inthis area in the 1870s. It had a large population of Chinese diggers.Daly’s Cottage (built of vertical slabs, weatherboard, stone and brickin 1865) is about all that remains of the early days. It was recentlytaken over by the Avoca & District Historical Society. Contact (03)5465 3744 for information about inspections. The town was named afterthe police magistrate’s son although the diggings date back to the1850s when the area was known as Fiddler’s Creek after aviolin-wielding digger.

Redbank Winery

20 km north-west of Avoca, adjacent the SunraysiaHighway, is Redbank Winery, established in 1973. It produces shiraz,cabernet, a cabernet blend, pinot noir, cabernet franc, chardonnay, asparkling wine, Sally’s Paddock, Long Paddock and Hundred Tree Hill.The cellar door is open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. every day butSunday when it opens at 10.00 a.m. There are barbecue-picnicfacilities, a petanque piste, cheese platters and antipasto, tel: (03)5467 7255.


Five wineries areclustered around the locality known as Moonambel which is an area 20 kmnorth-west on the Navarre Rd. Moonambel (Aboriginal for ‘hollow in thehills’) was part of the Mountain Creek Run in the 1840s and a townshipdeveloped in the 1850s after gold was discovered in the area. When moresubstantial finds were made around 1860 the town solidified. It isclaimed there was a floating population of up to 30 000 in the area. Asa result houses, businesses, breweries, a flour mill, soap factory,newspaper and hotels emerged. Only the Commercial Hotel (1866) remains.Although most mining was alluvial deep-lead mining continued into theearly 20th century. Orchards and vineyards were established in the1860s. Wine-making went into abeyance from 1948 to 1969 but hasre-emerged with a vengeance since that time.


Summerfield,established in 1979, cultivates shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, trebbiano,chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. There is a bluestone tasting room,self-contained units for those who wish to stay, barbecue facilitiesand even a 1-km airstrip. It is 500 m on the western side of the mainroad at Moonambel and is open daily, tel: (03) 5467 2264. Opening hoursare 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. every day but Sunday when they open at 10.00 a.m.

Warrenmang Vineyard Resort

Warrenmang Vineyard Resort, established in 1974,produces wines for the Warrenmang and Bazzani labels – shiraz,sparkling shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, cheninblanc, a methode champenoise, salute rosato, chardonnay, port, saluteand traminer.

To get there turn right off the Navarre Rd at the MountainCreek Rd sign and it is 500 m away. There is an award-winningrestaurant (open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner), a bar, luxuryaccommodation (for 84 guests), a pool, spa, tennis, petanque, barbecuefacilities, gourmet picnic hampers, a children’s playground andconference-function facilities. They are open daily, tel: (03) 5467 2233.

Mountain Creek

Mountain Creek, established in 1973, is adjacent theresort on Mountain Creek Rd. Cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc andmuscat are the main produce. There are scenic views and a lawned areaadjacent the pool. It is open weekends and public holidays, tel: (03)5467 2230.


Taltarni, established in1972, is 3 km along Taltarni Rd which runs off the Avoca-Stawell Rd, 3km from Moonambel. They produce riesling, chenin blanc, cabernetsauvignon, chardonnay, shiraz, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, malbec andmerlot. They specialise in ‘methode champenoise’ sparkling and dry-winestyles. There is a 1-km airstrip, petanque, a picnic area in a bushsetting, barbecue facilities and a light brunch on the spaciousverandah. It is open daily from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5467 2218.


Dalwhinnie,established in 1976, is another 2 km along Taltarni Rd. The mostelevated vineyard in the Pyrenees it offers petanque and outstandingviews. The estate specialises in dry wines and produces shiraz,cabernet sauvignon, pinit noir and chardonnay. It is open daily from10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel; (03) 5467 2388.


23 km south of Avoca isLexton. Land here was taken up by squatters as early as 1838 and one ofVictoria’s first inland townships (then known as Burnbank) wasestablished in 1845 when two men built an inn, store, blacksmith andwheelwright shop. A post office was set up in 1848 and other businessesbegan to appear. The first Anglican and Catholic services in thedistrict were carried out here in 1850 and 1851 respectively.

The town’s early establishment enabled it tocapitalise when gold finds were made throughout the area from 1851 andit grew quickly. In 1852 the Lexton Hotel was built and a localresidence was converted into a courthouse and police magistrate’sresidence with police paddocks to the rear. A Presbyterian school wasestablished in 1855 and the first church was built the following year.

When the gold petered out, Lexton returned to its role as aservice centre to the local pastoral industry. Remaining buildingsinclude the second courthouse (1874) in Williamson Street, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (1876), at the eastern end of Williamson St, and St Mary’s Anglican Church (1874) in Skene St.

Halls Gap

Halls Gap is located on the floor of the picturesque Fyans Valley, 250 metres above sea-level. By road it is 251 km north-west of Melbourne via Ararat.

It is essentially a tourist village at the eastern edge of Grampians National Park – one of the state’s most outstanding natural features and a major destination for holidaymakers and bushwalkers. The main approaches are from the south (throught the heart of the Grampians from Dunkeld on the Glenelg Highway), from the south-east (i.e., Ararat), from the east (via Stawell) and from the north (access is along a clearly signposted road which heads west off the Western Highway south of Horsham).

Aborigines have been living on the land hereabouts for at least 5000 years. The first Europeans to traverse the area were the exploratory party of Thomas Mitchell. They camped atop the highest peak in 1836 and Mitchell named it Mt William after William IV, then King of England. He named the range after the Grampians in his native Scotland.

Edward Eyre and Robert Briggs followed in Mitchell’s footsteps in the late 1830s but the first settler was Charles Browning Hall who set out in search of a suitable grazing run when he found the cattle market at Port Phillip Bay overstocked in 1841. He followed Mitchell’s route northwards, establishing a station just east of the Grampians in a spot known as ‘Mokepilli’ to the indigenous inhabitants (probably the Tjapwurong tribe) with whom he shared cordial relations. They acted as his stockmen and showed him their bush skills.

By following Aboriginal tracks he came upon the gap which now bears his name and there met members of either the Jardwa or Buandik tribe. Both occupied the Grampians (which they knew as ‘Cowa’), using the rock shelters for sacred ceremonies and as a canvas for paintings and etchings.

Hall also explored Roses Gap which is named after Philip Rose who took over the run in 1842. The Halls Gap area was later used by cattle duffers until being converted into a sheep run.

People began to frequent the area more regularly in the 1860s with the discovery of gold at Stawell, the commencement of saw-milling and the opening of the Heatherlie Quarry. A timber and bark hut known as Delley’s Inn was established in 1870.

In the 1870s the growing population at Stawell led to the demand for a reliable water supply. John D’Alton devised a system to bring water from the Grampians via a tunnel hewn through the Mt Williams range. The project (completed in 1881) bought workers into the area and a small township developed at Borough Huts. Halls Gap’s first store was built nearby in 1876. Holiday homes and a mill were also built, along with the workers’ cottages and a school operated in the 1890s.

A tramline to Stawell was established in 1881-82 to aid shipment of the Grampians sandstone which was used in Stawell for the courthouse and St Patrick’s Church and, in Melbourne, for the new Government House, the Melbourne Town Hall, the law courts, the public library, the museum and a number of banks and churches. The opening of the tramline also enabled the transportation of timber and of passengers who began to frequent the Grampians for recreational purposes. In 1890 the growing tourist trade was recognised and encouraged when the first facilities were provided for a recreational camping reserve. The Grampians were declared a reserved forest in 1907.

In 1887 alluvial gold was found in Stony Creek. Despite the appearance of 300 prospectors, little gold was uncovered. Somewhat more substantial was the Mafeking goldrush which took place at Mt William between 1900 and 1912. At the foot of the mountain, businesses, hotels and tents quickly appeared although returns proved disappointing. Today there is a memorial stone, a picnic area and some abandoned mineshafts.

In 1923 naturalist and beekeeper Walter Zumstein opened a tourist park. That same year, Mt Victory Rd from Halls Gap to Zumstein’s was opened and the road south to Dunkeld was commenced.

School lessons commenced in 1921 at Halls Gap Public Hall (built in 1899) and a school building was erected in 1928. In the ensuing years tourism has gradually increased, particularly with the development of the highways. Today Halls Gap consists largely of accommodation possibilities, a pub, restaurants, cafes, a supermarket and a number of stores. There are caravan parks at Halls Gap, Wartook and Dunkeld. Jazz is regularly played at the Mountain Grand Guest House on the Main Rd.


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.ÂÂ

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.


Located 150 km north-west from Melbourne and 225 metres above sea level, Bendigo has one of the finest collections of Victorian buildings of any inland city in Australia. The streets are literally awash with huge granite edifices and, in the centre of the city, a fountain dedicated to Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, sits in the centre of the main street.

The town was named after a boxer. The world-famous (at the time) English bare-knuckle boxer, Abednego William Thompson whose first name, a Biblical reference, was reduced to ‘Bendigo’. This nickname was given to a shepherd at Ravenswood Run because he was a good boxer. In turn a local creek was named Bendigo and thus it was that this impressive city became known as Bendigo. For much of its life the town/city was known as ‘Sandhurst’. It wasn’t until 1891 that it was officially named Bendigo.

Prior to European settlement it is thought the Jaara Aborigines lived in the area. The first European into the district was Major Thomas Mitchell who passed through the area on his journey of exploration into the western district of Victoria.

By 1840 squatters had moved in and sheep were being successfully grazed. The history of Bendigo changed in 1851 when gold was discovered. No one knows who made the first discovery. A committee in 1890 claimed that the first discoverer was Henry Frencham but there is also a claim that a man named William Johnson was the first person to pick up a nugget. According to one popular legend, Margaret Kennedy, wife of the station master at Ravenswood Run, found gold. If she did discover it, she could not have known that her discovery would create one of the greatest goldrushes in Australian history, that Bendigo bloated by the wealth from gold would build huge buildings celebrating its new wealth, or that the Bendigo gold seam covered an area of 3600 hectares. In the period from 1851 until 1954 (the year of the last gold mining in the district) a total of 25 million ounces of gold were taken from the area around Bendigo.

As miners rushed to the site the settlement grew dramatically. Like so many mining communities Bendigo formed a series of small ethnic communities. The Irish moved into the district known as St Killians. The Cornish (many of whom had come from the copper mines in South Australia) established themselves at Long Gully. The Germans settled at Ironbark Gully. The Chinese at Emu Point made a huge impression on the goldfields. In 1854 there were over 3000 Chinese on the Bendigo goldfields and by 1861 they formed such a distinctive part of the community that Cobb & Co ran a special coach service from Bendigo to Guildford especially for Chinese passengers.

The early discoveries of alluvial gold quickly gave way to the more difficult quartz-based gold. By the 1860s the goldfields had changed from small operations to major mines with deep shafts.

By 1870 Bendigo, or Sandhurst as it was known at the time, was the most important gold mining site in the world. As a producer of gold from quartz it was unequalled for the next thirty years.

When Mark Twain visited the city in 1897 he described it as ‘The town is full of towering chimney stacks and hoisting works, and looks like a petroleum city.’

Today Bendigo is a charming and elegant rural centre with an economy which is driven by a mixture of tourism, industry and servicing the surrounding agricultural district.

The Bendigo Easter Fair, operating since 1871 and climaxing with a famous parade featuring historic Chinese processional dragons, is a popular annual event, as is the Bendigo Cup in November. The Australian Sheep and Wool Show is held on the third or fourth weekend in July each year.


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.

Ararat Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre


Surat is a town on the Balonne River, about 500 km. west of Brisbane and 80 km. south of Roma. The town of St. George, about 116 km. southwards, is also on the Balonne River.

The district was first mapped by Surveyor-General Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1846. By the end of the 1849s pastoralists had penetrated the area, and in 1849 Mitchell directed a surveyor, Burrowes, to select a township site on the Balonne River. Burrowes did so and named it Surat, after his former place of residence in Madras Province, India. The town was appointed as a place for holding Courts of Petty Sessions, and a Police building erected. A hotel was opened in 1859 and there were seven buildings in the town by 1863. A school was opened in 1874. Surat had been the administrative centre of the Maranoa District until St. George superseded it in 1865. It remains the administrative centre of the Warroo Shire.

In 1872 Surat’s population was 108, and the district was mostly occupied by grazing (119,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle).

In 1879 a Cobb and Co. coach run was started from St. George to Surat and thence to Yuleba. The last coach run in Australia was from Surat to Yuleba (75 km.), on 14 August, 1924.

By the turn of the century Surat was a medium size town, as described in the 1904 edition of The Australian Handbook –


While the carriage of perishable foods over long distances was difficult, Surat had local dairying and market gardens. A market garden was still recorded in the town directory in 1968. The Balonne river was a ready source of water, as well as occasional floods. It continues to be a source of good fishing. In 1951 reticulated water was supplied from a tower, to which treated water was pumped from a weir. In 1961 a new 16 bed hospital replaced the one built in 1929.

The town directory in 1968 included three churches, primary and secondary schools, two general stores, cafe, baker, newsagent, two butchers and the Astor picture theatre. In 1996 the shops were fewer but the theatre remained.

Surat is part of the name of a sedimentary natural gas basin – the Surat-Bowen Basin. Its best known production centre is the Moonie gas field, discovered in 1961.

In 1993 the dominant pastoral industry in the Warroo shire was sheep and lambs (485,000) followed nu beef cattle (53,000). Cereals were planted on 27,139 ha.

Surat’s census populations have been 582 (1911), 592 (1954) and 468 (1991).

Further Reading:

  • Armstrong, G.O., The Changing Years: A History of the Shire of Warroo, Warroo Shire Council, 1970.

Violet Town

Violet Town is on the route between Melbourne and Albury and is 150 km., north-north-east of Melbourne. It is between Euroa and Benalla and is bypassed by the Hume Freeway (and former Hume Highway) which are to the south.

Major Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor-General of New South Wales, passed through the Violet Town area in Spring, 1836, on his Australia Felix expedition. He noted in his account of the expedition that several streams and chains of ponds were crossed and one, from which flowers were growing, was called Violet Ponds. That site was one of two (the other being Mitchell town) which were surveyed in 1838 as sites for townships. Violet Ponds was chosen as a site for policing the overland route to Melbourne, particularly after the Faithfull massacre in 1838. (The police post, though, was placed at Benalla.)

Not withstanding Violet Ponds’ official township status, pastoral entrepreneurs were soon acknowledged as being competent to choose settlement places, and Violet Town became only one among many along the Sydney road. However, the surveyed site was flood prone, and a more suitable location to the south-east was settled in 1852 for the township, by when the area was being crossed by travelers to the north-eastern gold fields. It was also known as Honeysuckle, adopting the name of Honeysuckle Creek (formerly Violet Ponds, but being noted for Banksia/honeysuckle rather than violets) and the name of the Honeysuckle pastoral run.

Violet Town was at the conjunction of the Sydney road, the overland telegraph and the tracks to Bendigo and north-eastern gold fields. By the1860s it had three hotels, a Wesleyan school, bakery, several tradesmen and numerous selectors on the former Honeysuckle run. When the railway line was opened in 1873 the commercial area moved northwards from the old High Street to a few blocks away.

By then the gold fields traffic was less, and towns such as Euroa and Benalla overtook Violet Town. Until Violet Town achieved its own local government in 1895 it was part of Benalla shire (1869) and part of Euroa shire (1879).

Violet Town’s street names maintain a floral tradition: Cowslip and Tulip Streets are the main ones, crossed by Orchid, Rose, Lily and Hyacinth Streets.

When Violet Town shire was created on 11 April, 1895, it was in the midst of moderate growth. Rainfall encouraged dairying, but too much rain caused impassable roads, which the Euroa shire was hard pressed to maintain.The Australian Handbook, 1903, described Violet Town –


At the turn of the century Violet Town was probably at a population pinnacle. Wood cutting augmented dairying, but the wood was gradually cutout and rabbit infestation worsened, particularly after the years of good rainfall when rabbits were drowned in the warrens. Between 1911 and 1961the populations of the town and the shire declined, but after then the towngrew. Dwellings in the town grew from 459 (170) to 700 (1994), and the town’s population increased proportionately.

To travelers using either the Hume Highway or Hume Freeway Violet Town has been unrevealed. The town’s streets are attractively tree-lined and uncongested by through traffic: the only through vehicles are the trains. The town has generous public reserves, with a training track, golf course, bowling green tennis courts and a caravan park near Honeysuckle Creek. There are also a memorial hall, swimming pool, bush-nursing home and a library. Away to the south are the Strathbogie Ranges.


Gynasium F.C. Violet Town Premiers Vict. Assn 1908
(Image courtesy of Tony Davies, London. U.K.)

The Violet Town shire had 155,000 head of sheep and lambs and 12,000head of cattle in 1994.

On 18 November, 1994, most of Violet Town shire was united with most of Euroa and Goulburn shires and parts of McIvor shire and Seymour rural city to form Strathbogie shire. The balance of Violet Town shire was incorporatedin Delatite shire. Violet Town shire was six months short of its century.

Violet Town’s census populations have been204 (1861), 643 (1901), 444 (1966) and 598 (1991). The shire’s census populations were 2,447 (1911), 1,186 (1971) and 1,443 (1991).

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