Ghost Towns of the Goldfields
Stoney Creek School, near the old goldmining town of Talbot in central Victoria, closed in 1916, and its buildings were demolished long ago.
But here, in an eerie, abandoned schoolyard surrounded by thick bush, are the ruins of a rock garden shaped into a large map of Australia, built around the time of federation. This poignant reminder of a ghost town and the children who once lived here is just one of the many fascinating hidden secrets of central Victoria’s goldfields region.
Victoria’s goldfields proved to be extraordinarily rich. According to the Victorian Mines Department, the state produced more than 60-million ounces of gold between 1851 and 1896 — and that’s only what was recorded. Today, gold is worth around $2600 per ounce.
While goldrush cities Ballarat and Bendigo feature their rich history at places such as Ballarat’s exceptional open-air museum Sovereign Hill and Bendigo’s Central Deborah Mine, getting off the beaten track across the backroads of the goldfields region makes for a fascinating journey into the past.
The Stony Creek ruins are deep in the bush about 8km from Talbot, which is one of Victoria’s best-preserved goldrush towns. It is a chaos of shops, businesses and, it’s said, around 100 hotels and sly grog shanties from the 1850s and ‘60s, when the population peaked at around 30,000 — today Talbot has a population of around 450.
Amherst’s buildings once included seven general stores, an inn, and a hospital, but they are long gone. Like so many Victorian ghost towns, the story of Amherst is the story of a town that sprang to life with the arrival of gold-hungry prospectors, and then all but disappeared when the gold ran out.
TALBOT TO MARYBOROUGH VIA MAJORCA, 35KM
It’s been more than a century since prospectors toiled in the gold mines around Majorca but driving towards this ghost town past undulating farmlands you still see huge white mullock heaps around this town which was once famous for its mines and myriad hotels. The last hotel closed in 1936.
Due to the ravages of bushfires, today nothing much remains of Majorca save the restored town hall, former London Charted Bank, a derelict haberdashery, a church, and a few scattered houses.
From Majorca it’s 8km north to Carisbrook, worth the detour on the way to Maryborough to see the town’s circa 1852 log jail, and some fine bluestone buildings.
Carisbrook was established in 1851 as a police camp to oversee convicts working on surrounding farms, and once had 17 pubs. Today its one hotel, the Britannia, serves traditional fare, and Carisbrook also features a terrific little bakery well worth a pitstop.
Although Maryborough is hardly a ghost town — it is the bustling epicentre of Victoria’s Central Goldfields region — this attractive town makes an ideal base to explore the area.
MARYBOROUGH TO DUNOLLY, 22KM
Throughout the goldfields, place names are clues to the past. They can relate to the landscape, such as Pig Face Gully and Bald Hill, and gold mining terms, including Crusher’s Gully and Lucky Strike Reef. Other times names and nicknames were used too, including Granny Thomas’s, Drunken Scotchman’s, and Dirty Dicks, while trades are represented at places called Sawpit Gully and Slaughterhouse Hill.
Some places are named after events, such as Pickpocket Hill, Burying Ground Flat, Chokem Flat, and Bung-Eye Gully. In a darker turn, Murderer’s Hill, just north of Maryborough on the Bridgewater-Dunolly Road, is so named as it was the site of an unsolved double murder of two men in 1857.
Murderer’s Hill is not far from the Waanyarra Historic Township, set amid the Dunolly State Forest 30km north of Maryborough. Waanyarra became a bustling town after gold was discovered in 1852 and was popular for the large number of alluvial nuggets found here at places called Mosquito and Madman’s Leads.
From here it’s 14km to Dunolly, once a chaotic gold rush town of around 45,000 people at its peak in 1858.
Dunolly is 180km north-west of Melbourne, so anything in this area is a long way via horse and cart for some oysters.
Because so many ghost towns in the area are difficult to find, the Goldfields Historical and Arts Society runs tours to them alongside tours closer to town including the Lesser-Known Places of Dunolly tour and popular Brothels of Dunolly tour.
DUNOLLY TO TANAGULLA, 16KM
From Dunolly it’s 16km north-east to Tarnagulla, passing paddocks where sheep graze, fields of canola, and pockets of bush that display the intense gold mining in the area.
Cocooned in a time warp, Tarnagulla has a population of around 150. Back in 1865 the town’s population was around 20,000, when Tarnagulla had two breweries, a newspaper, nine general stores, and four hotels.
Today there are several old banks, churches, and closed-down shops, the Victoria Hotel and Theatre, which now operates as the community hall, and the Golden Age Hotel, dating from 1857.
TARNAGULLA TO TIMOR VIA MOLIAGUL, 29KM
Moliagul hit the headlines in 1862 when the 67.5kg Welcome Stranger, the world’s largest nugget of gold, was found by John Deason and Richard Oates at Bulldog Gully, 2km west of the town.
Gold was first discovered in Moliagul in 1852, and more than 4000 diggers rushed to the area. During its halcyon days in the 1850s and ‘60s, the town bustled with more than 16,000 people. Moliagul’s post office opened in 1858, the Anglican Church in 1865, and state school in 1872.
The Mount Moliagul Hotel (closed) is the only remaining pub in Moliagul. An old church and state school buildings, a lonely cemetery, and a scattering of houses remain, as does the site of the cottage, now marked with a memorial, where the Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, was born in 1880.
Heading back towards Maryborough along the Dunolly-Timor Road, you come across Timor, a place that was once so busy that no fewer than eight Cobb & Co coaches once travelled between here and Maryborough every day.
Today little remains to indicate Timor was once a boomtown except the ruins of the Grand Duke mine, a landscape covered with mullock heaps, wide bluestone street kerbs, an old store, and police lock-up, and circa 1873 primary school, which still operates.
Around this region are places with evocative names such as Goldsborough, Emu, Wild Dog Diggings, Mount Hooghly, Archdale, Bealiba, Rheola, and Bet Bet — the more you explore Victoria’ Central Goldfields, the more there is to discover.