Historic goldmining town full of charm
Clunes was the site of Victoria's first gold
strike. It is located in a steep valley
surrounded by rounded hills which are actually
extinct volcanoes (they can best be seen 3 km
south along the road to Ballarat). It also
happens to be one of the most intact
19th-century towns in the Central Goldfields
boasting numerous sandstone, bluestone and brick
buildings. Fraser St, the commercial centre, is
wide and elegant, full of 19th-century shops
with original store-fronts and distinctive
verandahs, and lined with oak and elm trees
planted last century. Film devotees may
recognise Fraser St as, like the railway
station, it was used in one of the Mad Max
Once a thriving gold town with a population
well into the thousands Clunes is now down to
about 1200 in an area principally given over to
agriculture. It is located 147 km north-west of
Melbourne via Creswick and 36 km north of
Ballarat at an elevation of 311 metres.
Once occupied by the Wemba-Wemba people, the
first European settler was Donald Cameron, an
overlander from Sydney who took up a pastoral
run in 1839, naming it Clunes after his
birthplace in Scotland. Gold traces were first
found on this property by a friend, William
Campbell, in March 1850, although news of the
find was concealed.
James Esmond was later shown the site of the
find. Like Edward Hargreaves, who was involved
in NSW's first gold strike, he was one of the
few men in Australia who had some experience of
gold-bearing quartz reefs as he, like
Hargreaves, had been on the Californian
goldfields. Esmond's tests verified the
existence of the reefs and his findings were
announced in the Geelong Advertiser on 7 July
1851, thereby initiating Victoria's first
Individual prospectors found the reefs too
deep, so major production only proceeded under
the auspices of large companies using the latest
equipment and skilled Cornish miners. The first
was the Port Phillip and Colonial Gold Mining
Company which, in 1857, struck a deal which gave
them the exclusive right to mine some of
Cameron's privately-owned land. The company in
turn employed a syndicate of local miners to
work in the underground mine. However, others
began burrowing down into Port Phillip territory
from outside the perimeter; a practice which led
to some major subterranean fisticuffs.
Another major disturbance occurred in 1873
when the employees of the Lothair Mine went on
strike over the mine owners' refusal to permit a
cessation of mining at midday on Saturday. The
company tried to use Chinese diggers from
Ballarat as strikebreakers but they were pelted
with debris when they arrived under police
protection and were persuaded to depart. The
strike was soon settled.
Whereas, with the success of the deep-lead
mining, the population had increased from 1800
to 6000 in the 1860s, it started to decline when
the mining slowed down in the 1880s . By 1900,
when it had virtually ceased, 50 metric tonnes
of gold had been extracted from 3 000 000 tonnes
of quartz ore.
Interestingly, Peter Lalor, the leader of the
Eureka Rebellion, became a resident of Clunes
and the chairman of its water commission.
Notable portraitist John Langstaff was also
born here in 1862. He won the Archibald Prize on
five occasions and was the first Australian
artist to receive a knighthood (1928). The
town's Agricultural Show is held in November and
the Gold Festival in March.
Things to see:
Bottle Museum and Tourist Information
The Clunes Bottle Museum, at 70 Bailey St (at
the corner with Suburban St) has over 6000 rare
and unusual bottles dating back to the early
goldrush era. This is reputed to be the largest
collection of bottles in the Southern
Hemisphere. It is housed in the 1870s
schoolhouse of South Clunes State School which
was a knitting mill from 1923 until very
It also functions as the local information
centre. There is, moreover, a woodwork gallery,
a ceramic workshop, an art display, a restaurant
and a gift shop. It is open from 10.00 a.m. to
5.00 p.m. daily, tel: (03) 5345 3896.
Brochures available here outline walking
tours of the town, Creswick Creek, the historic
buildings and goldmining relics. There are also
signposts around town which indicate sites
associated with the gold era, such as the Port
Phillip Mine (where gold was first found and
where there were underground riots), the Lothair
Mine (where the Chinese strikebreakers were
repelled by local miners), the South Clunes
Mine, the old gasworks and the cordial factory.
Bailey Street Buildings
Bailey St runs parallel to the town's main road
(Fraser St) but at a higher elevation. It
contains the prominent Mannerist courthouse and
town hall (both completed in 1872). The latter
was designed by the architect responsible for
the Ballarat town hall.
The Italianate post office (1878), at the
corner of Bailey and Service Sts, is now a
second-hand bookshop. St Thomas Aquinas Catholic
Church dates from 1873.
Commercial development began along the creek
flats at the western end of Fraser St in the
1850s. However, few of those buildings remain.
Business shifted further east along Fraser St in
the 1870s and it is from this period that many
of the present buildings date. Fraser St is wide
and elegant, full of 19th-century shops with
original storefronts and distinctive verandahs,
and lined with oak and elm trees planted last
The former London Chartered Bank (1871), now
the RSL clubrooms, is a two-storey
cement-rendered building centred on a projecting
porch with Tuscan columns and fronted by an
The Club Hotel (1870) is a two-storey
Classical Revival rendered building with an
interesting verandah that is one of the few
surviving examples of its type.
Other buildings in Fraser St are the 1865
Union Bank building (at the Templeton St
corner), the former National Bank (1871), and
the National Hotel (1862).
The Weavery Studio and Gallery features
award-winning hand-woven wool items, including
wall hangings, shawls, jackets and scarves, tel:
(03) 5345 3414.
Next door to the Club Hotel, at 36 Fraser St, is
the Clunes Museum, situated in a two-storey
bluestone building that was originally a
warehouse (c.1868). It contains an interesting
collection of memorabilia from the gold era, a
family research department and a craft shop.
Tourist information can be obtained here,
including maps and a brochure outlining a
walking tour of the town. It is open from 10.00
a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on Saturdays, 11.00 a.m. to
4.30 p.m. on Sundays and all public and school
holidays, or by appointment, tel: (03) 5345 3592
or, after hours, (03) 5345 3020.
The Uniting (formerly Methodist) Church (1863)
in Service St is a Gothic Revival structure with
elaborate ornamentation, particularly on the
octagonal tower with its weighty spire of
patterned slates. St Andrew's Presbyterian
Church (1861) is also located in Service St
opposite the old Masonic hall (1868). St Paul's
Church of England (1871) is in Alliance St.
The historic primary school is a splendid
building which has recently been restored. It is
situated in Canterbury St.
Victoria Park and Queens Park line the northern
bank of Creswick Creek and are divided only by
Cameron St. Both make ideal picnic areas. Queens
Park was constructed out of earth removed from
the creek when it was deepened to prevent
flooding. The European elms and silver poplars
were planted in the late 1870s and 1880s.
Creek Walk and Scenic Drive
A walking tracks meanders alongside Creswick
Creek (where platypus can occasionally be seen),
through the pleasant environs of Victoria Park,
and up to the lookout which affords panoramic
views of the town.
Nearby is the site of the old Port Phillip
mine which produced over 16 metric tonnes of
gold. A marker on the roadside indicates the
proximity of the mine site which is on private
(but unused) land behind the lookout. On the
other side of the fence is another marker,
established by the miners in the town's early
days, which indicates the precise location of
the original find which was the first gold
strike in Victoria.
The lookout can also be accessed by car along
Scenic Drive (go to the western end of Fraser
St, cross the ford over Creswick Creek, then
take the first right). There are information
boards at both the foot and the crest of Scenic
Drive which display photographs of how the area
looked from these two perspectives in the gold
Butter Factory Gallery
The Butter Factory Gallery is located in Cameron
Mount Beckworth State Park, 7 km south-west, is
noted for its many birds and spring-time
wildflowers and as the hideout of bushranger
'Captain Moonlite'. It is a good spot for
picnicking, rock-climbing, birdwatching and
bushwalks. Short-stay camping is available at
Head out of town along the Learmonth Rd and
the signposts will appear after about 4 km (only
the last section of road is gravel and that is
of good quality).
Mt Beckworth Wines, established in 1984, is
located at RMB 915 Learmonth Rd. It produces
chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet and shiraz and
is open on weekends and public holidays from
10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and on weekdays by
appointment, tel: (03) 5343 4207.
Further south on Clunes Rd, at Coghills
Creek, is Eastern Peake Vineyard which was
established in 1983 . It produces pinot noir,
chardonnay and a blanc de noir known as
'Persuasion'. The cellar door is open from 10.00
a.m. to 5.00 p.m. weekends or by chance, tel:
(03) 5343 4245.
Merin Merin Swamp and Middle Swamp can be seen
from the Newstead Rd about 10 km north of town.
Walks and 4WD tracks lead into the area which is
noted for its waterbirds.
Black Duck Hotel
18 km north-east, on the Newstead Rd, is the
charming Black Duck Hotel which virtually
constitutes the village of Campbelltown. Its
somewhat isolated location is owing to the fact
that it was built by a local property owner who
was fed up with his employees travelling to
Newstead and Clunes for alcoholic beverages.
There are some other historic sites nearby such
as the old school and football field.