THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 8 CASTLEMAINE
I was up at 7.30, John an hour later.
I walked Couey over the nearby footbridge, down a track to another bridge and over the creek into the Gardens. There we followed various paths with assorted smells of much canine interest, to a different footbridge that brought us back to the park entrance. It was a great circuit.
The Botanical Gardens were designed by the explorer and botanist Baron von Mueller, one time Director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. They really are most attractive and add an excellent walking adjunct to this caravan park.
I went to the park office to extend our stay by another two days. The lady on reception was a different one from yesterday. It emerged, in chatting, that she and her husband are relieving here for a couple of months, and that they had worked tourist seasons at Adels Grove, but more recently than we did. So we talked a bit about times there and the development that has taken place since we were last there.
As arranged yesterday, we were at D’s place by 9.30. In his car, he led us out of town, along dirt roads, for about fifteen minutes of driving. Then we parked and followed a faint track into the bush, crossed a stile over a fence, and came to the remains of a water wheel installation.
Remains of water wheel structure
In the gold rush days, big wheels turned by the force of water falling on them, were used to power quartz crushing machinery. The loose alluvial gold easily found in current and former stream beds, that began the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850’s, soon became much harder to find. The mining focus then turned to deeper mining, chasing gold still contained in quartz reefs underground. The mined quartz needed crushing to extract the gold.
Guess there was once a channel to take the water away?
There is the remains of one well known such wheel near Chewton and there were a number of others in the district. The water needed to turn the wheels was supplied by channels from the Coliban River, designed in the 1860’s and 70’s by an Irish engineer.
The groove that contained the wheel
Here, the wheel is no longer in place – it would have been wooden – but the stone walls of the race that contained it are there, as well as some stone walls of the surrounds. It wasn’t clear here though, just where the quartz stamping battery itself would have been.
Hard to tell where the buildings were
We were amazed at the scale of this thing, and by the stone work itself. It was just incredible what the mining companies of the last part of the 1800’s did, in order to try to obtain gold.
Look at that stone work
We climbed to the top of the hill and at the top could see faint remnants of the water race that would have brought the water to this wheel, from the nearest channel from the Coliban. Apparently there were hundreds of kilometres of such races, all over the central Victorian goldfields.
The line of a water race channel?
Couey had a wonderful time, free ranging about in the bush whilst we explored.
D left us so he could return home the quickest way. We continued on the unsealed roads and eventually completed a loop through the old Campbells Creek mining area and back to Castlemaine. It was an interesting little explore on back tracks. The GPS was useless. Eventually emerged onto the Fryerstown-Campbells Creek road, and GPS went “aha – I know where we are!”.
I went to the Information Centre to pick up what material I could about the town and surrounding historical areas – my interest was now fired up. Mentioned that we’d been out to the old wheel structure to the SE. The lady at the desk had never heard of it.
Thence to a supermarket for some food supplies. John bought a short extension cord for use with the fan heater. The currently used long one just gets in the road.
After lunch at Bus, drove back to Maldon, along the way we’d come yesterday. There, I went to the Information Centre and collected some very useful and informative material.
Drove back out to the old dredge and haul line machine that we’d passed yesterday.
Old haul line machine near Maldon
These structures were of impressive size, but not as old as we’d assumed yesterday. They were actually used here in the mid 20th century, to dredge for gold, going over the earlier Porcupine Flat workings from the 1800’s. Apparently, it was not all that successful an operation, and the machinery was just abandoned there.
The dredge sits in a dam, created by its own operations.
Quite a sizeable dam created
The haul line machine had been sourced from the Yallourn coal mine workings, in Gippsland.
Historic artefact or industrial pollution?
When we’d first pulled up here, I’d seen what I assumed were lots of plastic bags, floating around the edges of the dam. On closer inspection that turned out to be frog spawn. It was a busy time for frogs! They were certainly croaking really loudly in the vegetation all round the dam.
I stood in one place, on the edge of the dam, trying to spot frogs in the rushes. Past experience had taught me that, often, the louder the noise, the smaller the frog. Despite the racket, I couldn’t even see one. But I was there long enough for many of the occupants of the ants’ nest that I was inadvertently standing on, to swarm up my sneakers, socks and the bottoms of my trousers. There must have been hundreds of them. They moved incredibly quickly. I got busy trying to brush them off – fast! John was no help at all, choosing to make a video of the frantic activity. Some of the ants made it to bare skin and I received several bites on the lower legs. The most enterprising of the critters was found half way up my thigh.
Enough wildlife encounters! Drove on then to the Union Hill Mine, in Maldon. This had been a very rich mining area in the late 1800’s, that had later been further mined by open cut, around 1990.
Explaining the several phases of gold mining here
After that, a shaft had been sunk into the hillside, to try to meet up with reefs, and this was still being mined.
Union Hill Mine
Continued on, to the old Government Battery, where miners of yore could bring quartz for crushing. Wandered about there for a while – watching where I was putting my feet. Nothing like wisdom after the event…
Old Government Battery Maldon
Opposite the Battery was an area that had fairly recently been open cut mined, and then – in line with modern practice – rehabilitated by the mining company. The “bush” was growing well and I wouldn’t have known it had been mined, if not for the information board.
Modern mine land rehabilitation
By now, the pleasant day of earlier was turning less pleasant, getting quite dark at 4pm, with rain clouds in the distance.
Drove up Mt Tarrengower, on the edge of Maldon. There was a big fire lookout type of tower on top. I could only manage the climb to the first level, given my dislike of heights, and John didn’t want to tackle the next two levels either. We were high enough to get the idea of the surrounding views, anyway.
Maldon from Mt Tarrengower
There was more that we hadn’t explored and seen, in Maldon, but with the weather coming in, that was enough for today. Vowed to return another time.
For a little variety, drove to Newstead, south of Maldon, along an attractive road. Did a quick pass past the historical court house building there, then headed back to Castlemaine along the Pyrenees Highway, thus completing a triangular drive.
Tea was my tarted-up packet chicken noodle soup. I added spring onions, creamed corn, beaten egg, bean shoots, strips of ham, and sesame oil, to turn it into a light meal, with a bread roll each, followed by fresh strawberries.
Watched some TV. A couple of programs we find engrossing had started up again on the ABC.
About 10.30pm, the rain started, and it rained steadily all night.