Gates, Central Park, venue of the
Stawell Easter Gift
Stawell (including Dadswell Bridge and
Substantial town famous for its professional
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 (see
entry on Halls Gap). 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 townsite 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. By
1857 there were an estimated 20 000 miners in
the area. They set up a canvas-and-wood
settlement known as 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.
The original town centre and administration
buildings were established near the Pleasant
Creek goldfields. However, 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 townsite 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.
Reef mining ended 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
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
Stawell's calendar features the Grampians
Jazz Festival in February, the Grampians Gourmet
Weekend Festival in May, the Stawell Hot Air
Balloon Festival in June and the Agricultural
Show in October. The Easter Athletics Carnival
is the setting for the Stawell Gift which has
been run on Easter Monday since the inaugural
race in 1878 which was established for the
entertainment of the miners. It is Australia's
best-known, richest and oldest professional
foot-race, drawing up to 20 000 spectators each
year. The Grampians Pro Am Golf Circuit comes to
Stawell in March and the Stawell Spring
tournament is held in September
A trash'n'treasure is held at the SES Hall in
Sloane St on the morning of the first Sunday in
Jack Donaldson, great professional
runner, Central Park
Things to see:
Tourist Information and Historic Precinct
When Stawell was proclaimed in 1858 the town
centre was essentially the block bounded by
Longfield St (the Western Highway), Griffith St,
Leslie St and Seaby St. The Stawell & Grampians
Visitor Information Centre is located in
park-like grounds by the corner of Longfield and
Seaby Sts in the old shire office, built in
1866. The two rooms at the rear were added in
This is a fully-accredited Level One
information centre which also handles
accommodation bookings, tel: (03) 5358 2314 or
free-call (1800) 246 880.
Next door, on the eastern side, is the former
literary institute (1868) which served
principally as a library although it became a
classroom while the Grammar school was under
construction and was later converted to a
A few doors along is the old courthouse, built
in 1860. As the goldfields began to diminish in
the 1860s the population centre shifted
north-east to the Big Hill area. Consequently,
in 1880, a new courthouse was opened in Patrick
St and the old building became the police
barracks and, in 1912, a private residence.
Purchased by the local council in 1973 it was
restored and is now a local history museum.
There are photographs taken in the 1860s,
19th-century costumes, goldrush artefacts and
local history documents. It is open on Sundays
from 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m.or by appointment,
tel: (03) 5358 3725.
The land between the courthouse and the Griffith
St corner was originally occupied by the police
department. Thus, to the rear of the
privately-owned house next door is a two-cell
lock-up that was built at the same time as the
courthouse. The rest of the land to the corner
was initially occupied by the police stables.
Turn left into Griffith St. Facing onto
Griffith St is a four-stalled stable associated
with the residence of the Wimmera police
superintendent (1869) which is situated adjacent
at the Griffith and Leslie St corner.
Over the road is a marker to denote the site
of the original cemetery (used from 1853-1858
and thought to contain 78 graves). The headstone
is the sole survivor. When it was located it was
being used as a doorstop in a local house.
Continue along Griffith St until it turns the
corner becoming Burgh St and reaches a
T-intersection. If you look to the right there
is a bridge before you over Pleasant Creek.
Nearby is a memorial which commemorates the
discovery of gold on the creek by William
McLachlan who was shepherding the sheep of what
was then 'Concongella' station in May 1853. It
was this discovery which ultimately led to the
settlement of the townsite. On the northern bank
of the creek is the caravan park on the site of
the town's original botanic gardens where the
first Stawell Gift foot-race was held in 1878.
grandstand at Central Park
Central Park and Hall of Fame
Central Park on Lower Main St is where the
Stawell Gift has been run since 1898. On the
roadside is the Stawell Gift Hall of Fame which
has a video, photographs, equipment, memorabilia
and souvenirs relating to the 120-year history
of the 120-metre dash. It is open from 10.00
a.m. to 4.00 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday or by
appointment, tel: (03) 5358 1326 or (03) 5358
Napier St forms the southern boundary of Central
Park. On the other side of Napier St is the
railway station and stationmaster's residence
(both 1877). The latter has been converted into
the Stawell Railway Station Gallery where
paintings, sculpture, photography and crafts are
on display from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.,
Thursday to Sunday and public holidays, tel:
(03) 5358 2330.
Return to the main road which, south of the
railway line, is known as Seaby St. At the
corner of Luke and Seaby are two private
residences of note. No. 10 Seaby St (with the
mosaic-tile footpath and verandah) was built in
1890 for a mine-owner and no.9 (diagonally
opposite) dates from 1870.
At Seaby and Prince Sts is the unusual sight
of Diamond House (1866-1868). The external walls
consist of stones gathered from Church Hill
(opposite) which have been assembled into a
mosaic of regular diamond shapes.
At Seaby and Smith is one of the town's
oldest residences, the Anglican vicarage (1863),
now a private residence. The original Anglican
church was located on the hill opposite.
Turn down Smith St. Behind the pepper trees
to the left is the rear of a red-brick building
erected in 1870 as the main classroom of a
Grammar School which operated until 1912. The
teacher's residence and two-storey student's
dorm were built in 1870.
Return to Central Park.
HISTORIC WALK- Stawell North
Just north of Central Park is a roundabout. Turn
left into Barnes St. To the right is the primary
school which opened in 1876. As the goldmines
were in full-swing, 1076 pupils were initially
enrolled. To the rear of the complex is an older
common school, established in 1865 and still in
Return to the roundabout. Ignore Scallan St
on the left and follow Main St opposite. Just
past Manse St, to the left, is Holy Trinity
Church of England (1872). On the other side of
the road is the Salvation Army Citadel. Behind
the brick complex is a wooden church hall which
served the Army from 1886 to 1934 when the
citadel was built.
At the corner of Main St and Joyce Lane is
the town hall (1872). Try to arrive near the
hour as the Town Hall clock chimes on the hour
and two figures of diggers working on a
gold-washing cradle appear to the sound of
Westminster chimes. If you can arrive at two
minutes before 9.00 a.m., noon, 3.00 p.m., 6.00
p.m. and 9.00 p.m. the song 'With A Swag Upon
His Shoulder' is played.
Follow Main St to the start of the Gold Reef
Mall where you will find the post office (1875).
The crooked nature of Main St, as manifest in
the mall, is due to the fact that it started as
a dray track for miners making their way to the
mines around Big Hill. Shops hemmed in the route
on either side before any survey was conducted,
thereby setting the uneven course and narrowness
Head along the mall and turn right down
Doyles Lane to Sloane St. On this corner is the
Church of Christ, built in 1870 as the Lyceum
Theatre. It operated as a Primitive Methodist
Church before being purchased by the current
owners in 1908.
Turn left into Sloane St, follow it to
Patrick St and turn right. To the left is the
elegant courthouse (1880), built of local
granite and freestone on the site of the
original Catholic church (1865). Further along
the road, to the left, is the present Catholic
church (1873), also of local granite and
freestone with Italian marble used for the altar
The particularly keen may wish to walk
further along Patrick St to the secondary
college, past Duke St. The main building was
erected in 1878 as the Stawell East State School
which was filled with the children of miners
working around Big Hill. It became a high school
in 1912 and a secondary college in 1987.
Opposite the Catholic church Clemens St heads
off Patrick St. Follow Clemens to its end, turn
right into Wimmera St and follow that back past
the mall to Scallan St and turn right. To the
immediate left is St Peter's Lutheran Church
built for the Congregational Church in 1874.
Reverse direction, heading back along Scallan
St. To the right are the Baptist Church (1870) -
which originally featured morning services in
Welsh due to the number of Welsh miners in town
- and St Matthew's Uniting Church, built in 1868
to replace the original 1860 church. The latter
is a substantial structure which features a
spire that seems to ascend forever.
At Ligar and Scallan Sts, near the
roundabout, is the Returned Soldiers League
Building, originally a private residence built
in 1898 by Edward Simmons, part owner of the
Oriental Mine. The porch and hall feature fine
mosaic floors. The RSL museum is only open
Sundays or by appointment, tel: (03) 5358 2387.
The Big Hill Area
The northern section of Main St, beyond the
mall, passes Fraser Park where there is some
early mining machinery. Opposite is the
intersection of Main St and Big Hill Rd where
there is an arboretum which was developed to
cover the scars of the extensive reef mining
which took place here on the western slopes of
Big Hill from the 1860s to the 1890s.
Big Hill Rd leads up to the Pioneers'
Memorial and lookout from whence there are fine
views of the town, the present goldmining
operations to the south-east and the Grampians
to the west.
Caspers World In Miniature is a large tourist
park which is open daily from 9.00 a.m. in
London Rd, tel: (03) 5358 1877. It consists
essentially of a series of exhibits featuring
models, dioramas and audio material relating to
the different cultures and countries of the
world and the icons which are most strongly
associated with them. There are landscaped
gardens, an international doll collection, an
Asian pavilion, souvenirs, antiques, books, a
cafeteria, picnic-barbecue facilities and a
At the corner of Newington Rd and Houston St is
the Stawell Leisure Complex which has a large
pool with waterslides, a spa, indoor
rockclimbing and other indoor sports. Adjacent
is North Park where the brick foundations of a
stamper battery can be seen near the outdoor
pool. Some of the richest mines in the state -
Cross Reef, the Magdala Mine (the last to
operate in town) and the Oriental Mine - once
Overdale and Landsborough
At 'Overdale' there is a two-hour guided tour of
a working sheep and cattle station. It is
located 8 km east of town on Landsborough Rd.
For further information contact the tourist
information centre. If you are heading to
Landsborough (36 km east) Kevin Free's Studio in
Burke St features original sculptures in stone
and wood, paintings and other handcarved works,
tel: (03) 5356 9203.
The Sisters Rocks are huge granite tors named
after the Levi sisters who camped there in the
early gold days. They are now smothered in
graffiti which ruins or enhances them, depending
on your politics.
If you are approaching from the south along
the Western Highway they can be seen from the
roadside just before the first turnoff into the
Bunjil's Shelter is a cave in the Black Range
which features important Aboriginal rock art
depicting Bunjil, a major spirit figure for the
Aborigines of south-eastern Australia. Oven
mounds and tool quarries have also been located
in the area which was in use 5000 years ago.
To get there head out of town on the Pomonal
Rd. After about 7 km there is a signposted
side-road on the left which leads a further 3.5
km along a white sandy road to a car park from
whence there is a scenic 45-minute walk. The
site is well-situated offering fine views of the
Grampians which emerge from the plains in the
Established in 1981, Donovan Wines are located
on the Pomonal Rd, to the south-west of town.
They produce shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet
sauvignon and riesling and are open by
appointment only, tel: (03) 5358 2727.
Lake Lonsdale, 12 km north-west of Stawell, is a
rather shallow lake with a large surface area.
Its water level varies but, in wet years, it is
a good fishing spot, from either bank or boat.
It is also a popular waterskiing spot with boat
ramps, sand dunes and bushcamping. The Green
Hole outlet is ideal for picnicking.
There are two approaches to the lake. The
Bellaura Rd is the third left off the Western
Highway past the information centre. This is the
road to Halls Gap. Several kilometres along this
road there is a signposted turnoff to the right
which leads to the lake. Alternatively you can
follow the Western Highway north towards
Horsham. Several kilometres from Stawell there
is a signposted turnoff on the left which will
take you to the lake.
If you follow the Bellaura Rd towards Halls Gap
for 14 km there is a turnoff to the left (also
signposted) which will take you to Lake Fyans
where there are sandy beaches, a boat ramp, a
free swimming area and a caravan park but no
bushcamping. The lake is regularly stocked with
rainbow trout, brown trout and redfin.
Waterskiing and yachting are also popular.
Deep Lead Reserve
Deep Lead Flora and Fauna Reserve is a pleasant
section of state forest located 6 km north-west
of Stawell adjacent the Western Highway. A
timber sign indicates its whereabouts although
there are no facilities.
About 27 km north-west of Stawell you will pass
the 'Giant Koala' on the left which will alert
you to the fact that you are in the tiny
township of Dadswells Bridge. In 1988 a sculptor
named Ben van Zetten was commissioned to design
and construct a giant koala. The Big Koala
stands 14 metres high, it weighs 12 tonnes and
is made of bronze set on a steel frame with a
fibreglass-bronze mixture being used to create
the rough and hairy exterior. There is a
licensed restaurant, a motel and, just off the
highway, a caravan park. Relics of the
goldmining days can be seen in the area.
Just before you reach the 80 km per hour zone
Roses Gap Rd heads off to the left, leading
westwards through the northern section of
Grampians National Park (see entry on Halls
There are innumerable organisations in the town
and area which conduct various types of tours
(by foot, bicycle, canoe, mountain bike, 4WD,
hot-air balloon, aeroplane, camel, horse and
horse-drawn vehicle) into the Grampians and the
district generally. There are also abseiling and
fishing tours. For further information on any of
the above ring the visitors' information centre.