Old Gold-mining Town of Castlemaine

With Christmas over, not to mention 2020, it was time to start exploring again. I headed north of Melbourne to the old gold-mining town of Castlemaine.

Gold was discovered at Mount Alexander on September 1851, just a few miles north-east of Castlemaine, and along with finds at Bendigo, Ballarat, Clunes and Buninyong, it became one of the greatest gold bonanzas the world has ever seen, attracting almost 100,000 immigrants to the area from all over the world.

Introduction to Castlemaine

I spent two nights at the old Globe Guesthouse, just one block from the main shopping centre. It could have done with a bit of a paint job inside but apart from that it was extremely comfortable: a good firm bed, a television that worked, a little kitchen with food laid on for breakfast and a proprietor who kept on insisting on making me real coffee. So nice. The car stayed in its place and I mostly walked around.

I love the streetscapes of old gold-mining towns.

The towns were quite well-off for awhile, so they ended up with some pretty substantial-looking buildings.

The massive Old Castlemaine Gaol sits atop a hill overlooking the town. Constructed between 1857 and 1864, it served as a goldfields gaol, a reformatory school for boys, and then a medium security prison, before closing in 1990. It’s closed at the moment due to Covid, but in the meantime is being developed as a space for installations of art, sculpture and unique collections, as well as for special events. I’ll be back. I love walking around old prisons with their histories and their ghosts.

I wandered up a hill near where I was staying to discover a monument to what’s known as the Burke and Wills expedition. A group was sent out by the Royal Society of Victoria to explore along the western border of Queensland and inland, but in particular to beat the South Australians in being first to travel from the south coast of the country to the north.

Burke and Wills Expedition Monument

Robert O’Hara Burke, Castlemaine’s superintendent of police, was chosen to lead. It was a horrendous journey, seven of the party dying along the way. Burke reached the Gulf of Carpentaria in February 1861, but died on the way back. Locals raised money for the monument, and the foundation stone was laid on 1st July, 1862, the anniversary of Burke’s death. The granite obelisk was completed in July, 1863.

On my way out of town, I stopped at Forest Creek Historic Gold Diggings, the site which sparked the world’s second gold rush. A 400-metre long loop has been mapped out, showing the environmental impacts of various types of alluvial gold mining: shaft sinking, tunnelling and hydraulic sluicing.

There’s not much there now, other than a couple of shafts and some rusty equipment, but the signage is terrific, giving you a really good idea of what the place would have been like at the time with its miners, women, children, stores, brothels and the large Chinese community, along with scuffles with the police and the odd murder or two. A pretty interesting place, I’d say.

29 thoughts on “Old Gold-mining Town of Castlemaine

  1. So nice to see you back on your travels, we can’t go anywhere in the UK due to COVID, at present, but perhaps more interestingly gold and Australia rang a bell. My wife’s great, great, great? grandfather sailed for Australia on 14/8/52 on the Henry Gillespie.
    He arrived East Brighton, Melbourne 25/12/1852 and lived in a tented village at first, then at the home of a Joseph Ostler.
    He bought land in Melbourne, according to court case details, from James Owen. He put capital into farmland but lost everything due to the drought. When gold was discovered in Ballarat in October 1854, he took his wife there on or around 20 July 1855!
    Your story has rekindled some old memories and Jared’s story shows just how adventurous some Victorians were.

    Finally, re Burke and Wills, can I recommend Desert Journeys, by Geoffry Rawson.

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    1. That’s so interesting, Richard. I’d like to try and check that all out. And I’ll definitely look out for that book. We had a teacher in our 5-6 composite class in the tiny town of Longwarry in Gippsland, who gave us a love of Australian history. We covered a lot of the explorers and of course the Burke and Wills expedition one of them. We were taught Burke was the wrong man for the job and it was his lack of organisation that caused the problems with the expedition. I’d like to work out, now, whether that was right or not. Cheers.

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    1. That’s true, Ray. We’re lucky. So many of the towns survived really well, especially the large ones of Ballarat and Bendigo. You could click on December 2018 in my list, if you’re interested, for a trip I did to Bendigo a couple of years ago.

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  2. What an interesting place Coral. Like you, I enjoy exploring old prisons so will be interested to read about it once you’ve had an opportunity to visit. Good to see you able to travel around the state in the lovely sunshine. Marion

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    1. Thanks, Marion. It’s certainly great to be able to move around again, though you’re never sure whether the state borders will be open or shut from one day to the next. Sorry about guys. It sounds a bit dire over there.

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    1. I’d forgotten about ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, Marie, so I had to look him up. The story goes he was an Irishman who came here in the early 19th century, and spent his time robbing from the rich to feed the poor. He was born in Castlemaine, County Kerry.

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  3. I stayed in Castlemaine for two nights in 2016. As a fan of the TV show ‘Blue Heelers’ it was interesting to see the where the exteriors for the show were shot. The tour of Old Melbourne Gaol was fascinating.

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  4. maristravels

    Fascinating piece of history but I was drawn to it by the name Castlemaine and it started off a tune in my head which I now can’t get rid of. When I was very young (in Northern Ireland), we used to sing a song about Ned Kelly and a couple of lines in it went: He was born and bred in Ireland (3 syllables), In a place called Castlemaine. And now I find there is such a place in Australia. But why should I be surprised? I saw lots of names of Belfast Street in Sydney when I was there. Anyway, it took me back to the school playground where the song was forbidden but we sang it as rebellious spirits – or so we thought..

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    1. Hi, Mari. The song is probably ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’, only using the Irish lyrics, because there are Australian lyrics as well, just to confuse things. Fancy it being forbidden! How funny.

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