Chewton (including Fryerstown and Vaughan)
Charming and important old goldmining town.
Chewton is a charming old goldmining village on
the Pyrenees Highway in Victoria's Central
Highlands. It is located 4 km south-east of
Castlemaine and 115 km north-west of Melbourne.
It is a settlement with a strong and definite
sense of identity and residents are likely to
resist the notion that they are a satellite of
Castlemaine. It is indicative of their pride in
the town's heritage and autonomy that, when the
government recently developed plans to remove
the old post office, the strength and heat of
the protest caused a back-down and the building
was instead sold to the community for $200.
There are many interesting relics of the
goldmining days in and around the village.
The first European in the area was Major
Mitchell on his journey into 'Australia Felix'
in 1836-37. The first white settler in the
region was a Dr Barker whose sheep station,
established in the late 1830s, incorporated the
present townsite. A shepherd named John Worley
found gold on this property in 1851 while
panning in Forest Creek, thereby triggering an
enormous goldrush which predated that at
Bendigo. It is said that 30 000 had arrived in
the area within three months.
The field, known as the Mt Alexander
diggings, initially drew prospectors from
Melbourne, so much so that the road from
Melbourne was known as the Mt Alexander Rd
(there are plans to re-enact the trek as part of
the Federation centenary in 2001). However,
hopefuls soon began to arrive from all over the
globe. It is said that, at one time, there were
four times as many diggers with an Asian
background as there were prospectors with a
European heritage. A hillside of what became
Chewton was used as the site for the first
government camp of the diggings. Thus it was to
this very spot that the many thousands of
prospectors first came before spanning out in
search of a claim. Chewton itself would prove to
be one of the state's richest goldmining
localities and one of the most enduring.
Interestingly, 14 000 diggers met on a hill
near the nascent townsite in December of 1851 to
discuss grievances relating to a mooted increase
in the price of the already costly gold licence.
Anger was diminished when the increase was
abandoned but the licence would prove one of the
main causes of the Eureka Stockade rebellion in
Chewton was surveyed in 1854 with land sales
commencing the following year. The very crooked
course of the main street reflects the fact that
it was based upon a bullock track which wound
precariously around a quagmire of muddy claims
in a landscape denuded of all vegetation.
Like so many Australian towns the first
buildings were stores, churches and pubs. One of
the early inns, The Red Hill Hotel (c.1854), is
still standing. A Congregational Church was
built in 1856, a town hall in 1860 and a
Wesleyan church in 1861. A school was attached
to the Wesleyan Church and the Anglicans also
established a denominational school.
The railway arrived at Chewton in 1861. A
census that year recorded 3353 residents.
However, the population was already in decline
as the alluvial gold had, by this time, all but
disappeared. By the end of the 1860s the mining
was carried out by a small number of companies
sinking shafts in pursuit of gold-bearing quartz
reefs. Some were quite successful. They ran
their stamper batteries 24 hours a day, ceasing
only between midnight on Saturday and midnight
The shift from the individual with a goldpan
to the more complex underground mining of the
company also saw a shift to a more skilled
workforce and a number of Welsh and Cornish
miners emigrated to meet that need.
Sluicing and dredging were aided when
Expedition Pass Reservoir provided a reliable
water source in the 1870s. The Wattle Gully Gold
Mine opened in 1876 and is still in operation
today, making it one of the country's
longest-running goldmining endeavours.
By the late 19th century there were three
major mines in the immediate vicinity: the
Garfield Mine on the north side of town, the
Francis Ormand Mine opposite the Red Hill Hotel
and the Wattle Gully Mine just south of town. On
New Year's Eve in 1889 the Francis Ormand was
filled with water in a flash flood and two men
were killed. The mineowners wanted to seal up
the mine and leave it but the largely Cornish
and very religious miners insisted the 360-metre
shaft be pumped out and the bodies recovered for
proper interment. This also meant that the mine
was able to continue.
By 1891 the population had dropped to 1212.
By 1933 it was 454 and it has not changed much
from that time. The district hit the headlines
in 1974 when six children and their teacher were
kidnapped from Faraday School (just north-east
of Chewton) and a one-million dollar ransom was
demanded. However, the captives escaped and the
kidnappers were caught.
Things to see:
Castlemaine Visitor Centre can be reached on
(03) 5470 6200 but the best source of local
knowledge is Mary Thompson who runs a local
bed-and-breakfast, tel: (03) 5472 2118.
The town retains a number of historic buildings
on Main St (the Pyrenees Highway). The Red Hill
Hotel dates from around 1854 and retains an
outbuilding which was used, until recently, as
an entertainment hall (a common adjunct to a
country pub at that time). The Francis Ormand
Mine was once located on the other side of the
The old Mt Alexander Hotel (1864) is now a
private residence. It is situated adjacent the
old Wesleyan (now Uniting) Church (1861?).
Behind it is a little stone cottage which is of
uncertain origin. Some believe it was one of the
shepherd's huts from the first pastoral station
in the area (c. 1840), while others believe it
to be an outbuilding associated with the hotel.
Halfway between the church and the pub is the
old sandstone Congregational Church, built in
1856. It is now the Chapels of Chewton
The town hall (1860) now houses a couple of
thousand photographs relating to the town's
past. They are contained in some 25 albums which
are organised thematically. The town hall was
once used as a courthouse and retains some
structural features relating to that function.
It is open on weekends. The attractive post
office, with its arches and polychrome brickwork
dates from around 1877.
Next to the town hall is the portable police
lock-up. An historic relic of the gold days this
gaol is made of 5-cm thick oregon slabs which
are essentially bolted together. It was
constructed in such a way as to be readily
dismantled, placed on a dray and moved to a new
mining site when the old goldfield was exhausted
and abandoned. It was probably made in the 1860s
and was formerly behind the town hall on the
police paddock. When that property passed into
private hands recently, the lock-up was found
disassembled on the local tip but it has been
saved, restored and reconstructed by members of
the local community.
The 'Park School' is located in the park at
the corner of the highway and Fryers Rd. It was
built in the 1870s when the Wesleyan and
Anglican churches amalgamated their separate
The Potager is a restored 1850s stone cottage
located just north of Chewton on Golden Point
Rd. Set amidst poplars and fruit trees it is now
available as self-contained accommodation, tel:
(03) 5472 3714.
Tranquil Valley Farm on Hoopers Rd (slightly
south-east of town) is based upon an old
mud-brick building which was probably either one
of the shepherd's hut on the first station
(c.1840) or a miner's hut. It has been extended
to render it suitable for its current role as a
bed-and-breakfast, tel: (03) 5472 2118.
Pennyweight Flat Cemetery
Probably established in 1851, Pennyweight Flat
Children's Cemetery was one of the first
cemeteries on the Forest Creek Goldfields.
Despite its name it was a general cemetery. To
get there follow the highway towards
Castlemaine. Watch for the Albion Hotel on the
left-hand side of the road. 200 metres past the
hotel turn right into Dick St. At the end of
that road turn left into Farran St then take the
first right into Colles Rd which leads across
Zeal Bridge and onto Moonlight Flat. The
cemetery is 500 metres along this road on a
little green knoll. 200 people were buried here
from 1852 to 1857, many of them children.
Further along this road is Donkey Gully which
yielded 1000 kg of gold.
Expedition Pass Reservoir, the Welsh
Village and Mt Alexander
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 and picnicking.
The Welsh Village is located near the
reservoir. Dry-stone walling, reflecting Welsh
construction techniques, and other ruins remain.
At the moment the site is fairly inaccessible
but there are plans to improve this situation.
Golden Point Rd soon reaches a T-intersection
at Faraday on the Calder Highway. Turn left and
take the immediate right onto the Sutton Grange
Rd. After about 3 km there is a left turn
(signposted with a picture of a koala) which
leads up Mt Alexander (see entry on
Garfield Waterwheel and Mine
1 km north of town, along North St (which starts
adjacent the oval in the middle of town), is the
stone base which once held the Garfield
Waterwheel. Victoria's largest such wheel (and
allegedly the biggest in the Southern
Hemisphere) its diameter was 22 metres, it
carried 222 wrought-iron buckets and it drove a
15-head stamper battery for crushing quartz ore
at the Garfield Mine which opened in 1887 and
closed in 1911.
A number of these wheels were constructed in
the area once a reliable water supply was
established in the form of Expedition Pass
Reservoir. They were fed by a very large,
elevated timber mill-race which drew water from
the Expedition Pass Reservoir. A slow but steady
decline of elevation was the means of
conveyance. The mines had to pay for the usage
of the water but it meant they were spared the
increasingly lengthy trip to find timber to
operate their boilers.
There is a signposted 1.2-km walking track
which leads to the old Garfield minesite at
The Dingo Farm (as seen on the television show
'Talk To The Animals') is open daily from 9.00
a.m. to 6.00 p.m. It offers visitors a chance to
get beyond the bad publicity surrounding
Australia's only native dog. Effectively a dingo
stud, the farm is aimed at maintaining pure
genetic strains. The pups are sold (for high
prices). It is located in Eureka St which heads
off Main St, tel: (03) 5472 3266.
The Dingo Farm is very near the ruins of the
Eureka Village and a walk through the ruins is
currently being prepared.
There are numerous heritage sites along
picturesque Fryers Rd which heads south from
Chewton to Vaughan Springs. About 1.5 km along
this road the Alanmore Track heads off to the
left. A short distance 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.
Heron's Reef Gold Diggings
Further south, on the eastern side of the road,
are the old Heron's Reef Gold Diggings, worked
between 1851 and the 1930s. Award-winning tours
of the relics (as seen on Channel 10's Healthy,
Wealthy and Wise show) are conducted at 2.00
p.m. on Saturdays, at 10.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m.
on Sundays, and on weekdays by appointment, tel:
(03) 5473 4387. The Heron Nugget, weighing 28.5
kg, was found here in 1855 by two men who had
only been on the field a matter of hours.
Duke of Cornwall
A little further along, on the right-hand side
of the road, is the old engine house (1865)
which drove a crushing battery and pump at the
Duke of Cornwall Mine. Built mostly of coursed
rubble to a Cornish design it has a stone
chimney with a brick top and Roman arches with
Almost opposite the engine house, and
slightly up the hill, is a small powder magazine
built of 30-cm-thick random rubble in the
vernacular style. This circular structure with
its beehive roof may date from the early 1850s.
These structures were intended for the storage
of explosives and were designed to contain an
Nearby, on the same side of the road and just
up the hill, is a sandstone cottage which was
originally the home of the mine manager.
Despite the quality of the buildings the mine
was not very successful and it folded in 1880.
The relics are on private property.
Further south is Fryerstown, a little village
with fine trees lining the main street. It is
nearly a ghost town despite the fact that there
were allegedly 15 000 miners, 25 hotels, 3
schools, 5 breweries and 37 quartz reefs at the
height of the goldrush. By 1888 the numbers were
down to 542 residents and 2000 within a radius
of 3.2 km, including 334 Chinese diggers. At
that time there were four hotels and three state
On the roadside to the left, at the
crossroads, is a little cottage which once
belonged to the mining registrar. The stone
building at the rear was the office. On the
hillside, to the west, is the weatherboard
Methodist Church (imported as a prefabricated
Passing through 'town', to the right, is a
large weatherboard building which was once a
Carter's Boot Factory.
Cross the bridge over Fryers Creek. The
red-brick courthouse, now a private residence,
dates from 1880. The remainder of the allotment
was once the town square (the town hall has been
demolished). The few remaining box trees between
it and the Burke and Wills Memorial Hall (1863)
give some idea of how the countryside looked
before it was devastated by mining activity. On
the other side of the road is a post office
which is a much-altered version of what was
originally a large store.
To the left, on a rise, are the old Anglican
Church, now a private residence, and the
parsonage to its rear (also a private home).
Sage Cottage is an old two-bedroom miner's
cottage which has been converted into a
bed-and-breakfast. It is surrounded by crown
land and situated on Castlemaine St, tel: (03)
5473 4322 or (03) 9874 3780.
The town hosts an antique fair in January.
Between Fryerstown and Vaughan the road leads
past the old Irishtown site (a former suburb of
Fryerstown). From Ridge Rd you overlook a valley
which contains 'Chokem Flat', 'Grogshop Gully'
and 'Murdering Flat', where three breweries once
operated. 3 km from Fryerstown there is a
Y-intersection. Keep to the right. The road soon
drops down from the ridge known as Bald Hill
into Vaughan which was originally known as The
It is said there were 13 000 prospectors in
the area in the heyday of the goldrush,
including large Chinese collectives. With the
end of the alluvial gold the numbers quickly
dwindled (by 1887 the population was down to
200). Sluicing and dredging were carried out in
later years. Bald Hill was at the junction of
two very rich gold leads which were extensively
mined and sluiced into the 1950s.
There is a caravan park at Vaughan Mineral
Springs Reserve (100 ha), tel: (03) 5473 4282.
This was one of 14 mineral springs discovered by
goldminers in 1852 (people still fill their
containers here). The reserve was declared in
1878. It contains a swimming hole, mining
relics, walking tracks along the banks of the
Loddon River, native forest, an historic
rotunda, a miniature railway, a camping ground
and the caravan park. The silver poplars date
from the 1920s when they were planted to
revegetate the devastated mining landscape.
Swimming, bushwalking, fishing and camping can
all be enjoyed though metal detectors are
forbidden. Just outside the reserve, at the top
of the hill, is an 1850s burial ground known as
the Chinese Cemetery due to the number of
Chinese interments. The fence and memorial stone
were added more recently by the Bendigo Chinese
Society. A Joss House has been demolished.
Charter Farmhouse, dating from the 1840s,
offers self-contained luxury accommodation set
amidst 480 acres of scenic countryside at
Glenluce on the Vaughan-Drummond Rd, tel: (03)
Dry Diggings Track
The Dry Diggings Track is a 55-km walking route
which winds its way around the old goldfields
between Castlemaine and Daylesford, taking in
Fryerstown, Vaughan, Mt Franklin and Hepburn
Springs. It takes in many of the area's
goldmining relics, as well as its plant
communities and fauna types. A comprehensive
guide map has been drawn up. Ring the
Castlemaine Visitors' Centre for details, tel:
(03) 5470 6200.
This track represents one section of
Victoria's Great Dividing Trail, a series of
co-ordinated walks across the ranges and Central
Diggings Heritage Project
A project which is being developed locally, and
which will be ready to operate in the near
future, is the Diggings Heritage Project. It is
based upon a comprehensive guidebook to the
region's goldmining heritage which outlines a
network of four drive-walk heritage trails. They
will incorporate historic buildings, goldmining
gullies, bush graves, old miner's huts, rusting
relics and a number of sites that are otherwise
inaccessible to the public, including the Forest
Creek Goldmine (1850s) and the old poppet head,
shaft, winding house, changing rooms and
crushers of the Wattle Gully Mine. Essentially a
carload of people will pay a fee for the
passbook, a quality souvenir brochure and the
keys to various sealed attractions. Ring (03)
5472 3222 or (03) 5472 1110 for more information
or an update on its readiness.
Rainbow Trout Farm
At the intersection of the Calder Highway and
Bubbs Lane in Elphinstone (13 km south-east of
Chewton) is the Rainbow Trout Farm where you can
catch or buy trout and yabbies (bait supplied).
There are barbecue facilities, rods for hire (or
bring your own), fly fishing lessons and
bed-and-breakfast accommodation, tel: (03) 5473
3481 or (03) 9741 3790.