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The Goldfields Towns
Victoria (VIC)

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The huge amount of gold discovered at Bendigo has also left an extravagant mark, making it the most splendid mid-19th century Victorian city in Australia. When you drive through the main street of Bendigo you'll be struck by the city's obvious pride. Flamboyant in appearance, the journey down its side streets unveils even more remarkable buildings - baroque mansions, gothic cathedrals and Georgian-style homes.

Bendigo was the greatest goldfield of all in Victoria. Extending over 360 square kilometres, it comprised about 35 gold-bearing reefs with a total output of more than 22 million ounces. These riches built a grand city which is often regarded as the best-preserved example of Victorian architecture in the State - and possibly Australia. Any city in the world would be proud to boast Pall Mall and its handsome buildings.

The affluence and taste is also reflected in elegant villas such as Fortuna, the home of mine owner George Lansell. Known as the 'Quartz King', he was a larger than life goldmining entrepreneur whose shafts were always the deepest and whose enthusiasm spread and filled the city with optimism and excitement.

Humble single-fronted miners cottages now house fine art, as does the outstanding Bendigo Art Gallery. Here you are offered an insight into the European settlement in this area. The Gallery contains significant European and Australian art collections and has the largest Louis Buvelot collection in the country.

In total contrast, a large portion of Bendigo's rich heritage is due to its Chinese associations. The Chinese arrived in Bendigo in 1854 and China Town was once found in Bridge Street. Today, however, it is the Golden Dragon Museum which contains the treasure-trove of Chinese ceremonial regalia, including the dragons Loong and Sun Loong. If you visit Bendigo during the Easter break you can see the Easter Monday Chinese Procession where Sun Loong, carried by 60 people, is paraded.

The brilliant red Chinese Jess House is an equally startling find. Bright banners, sacred offerings and a variety of tiny alters are found inside. You can also see aspects of Chinese life portrayed in wax at the Dai Gum San Wax Museum.

Situated right in the heart of the city is the Central Deborah Mine shaft which passes through 17 levels to a depth of almost 400 metres. The last deep-reef mine in the area to close, it has been fully restored and is a working exhibit for the public.

Linking many of these attractions are the vintage 'talking' trams. You can listen to a taped commentary on the sights you will pass, identifying points of interest along the way. This eight kilometre tram tour starts and ends at the Central Deborah Mine.

While you are here, why not supplement your visual experience with some of the town's many gourmet pleasures. Wine connoisseurs will delight at the boutique wineries scattered throughout the hills and valleys surrounding Bendigo.

Other attractions include Bendigo Pottery, Australia's oldest pottery still in operation and Sweenies Creek Pottery. At Sandhurst Town, a short drive from Bendigo, you can relive the gold rush days in this faithfully re-created mining town.

Born out of the frantic days of the goldrush, Victoria's largest inland city has matured into a gracious collection of elegant public buildings, fine parks and landscaped gardens. Ballarat is situated just 110 kilometres west of Melbourne - a short hour's drive.

From its initial gold find in 1851, the area produced 27 per cent of Victoria's gold by the turn of the century. The initial fields to be exploited were the alluvial fields of Ballarat East. In the years following, the rich leads buried under the Sebastapol Plateau were to produce enormous yields. The resulting need for heavy machinery meant a growth in local industries such as Cowley's Eureka Iron Works and mining suppliers like The Phoenix. These manufacturing concerns created a permanence for Ballarat.

Not only did the Goldfields bring wealth, but along with it came turmoil. In fact, one of the greatest dramas in Australian history occurred on the Ballarat goldfields. The Eureka Stockade remains the only armed civil uprising against the government in Australia's history.

All miners on Victorian goldfields were expected to pay, in advance, a licensing fee. This aroused discontent amongst the miners who developed the slogan "no taxation without representation". On November 29, 1854, thousands of miners gathered at Bakery Hill and defiantly burnt their licenses. A few days later, after grouping together behind a stockade, they were confronted by the soldiers.

In the early hours of December 3, 22 miners and six of the attackers died in the battle. Eureka was the name of the claim in which the miners built their timber barricade.

The battle only lasted 15 minutes but the event will remain deeply engraved in Australia's history. Its outcome was the quickening of the development of democracy in Australia, the license fee was replaced by a miner's right and holders of miner's rights were given the right to vote.

Ballarat is also home to the delightful Sovereign Hill - a faithful and fascinating re-creation of an old gold mining town of the 1850s. It is located on the site of the former Sovereign Quartz Mining Company. Here you can see township bakers demonstrate colonial breadmaking, a smithy showing how horseshoes are made, an old fashioned printer producing a newspaper and pan for real gold. You can visit the mining museum and discover the process of obtaining gold from quartz. At night, the sound and light performance Blood on the Southern Cross encapsulates the Eureka story.

Opposite lies the Gold Museum where the history of this magic metal has been captured and detailed. Nearby, the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery houses early and contemporary Australian art. Here, such finely regarded artists as Eugene Von Guerard, William Dobell, Sidney Nolan and Russell Drysdale chronicle the history of early Ballarat and Australia. You can also see the Eureka Flag donated by the widow of a trooper who fought at the Eureka Stockade.

Ballarat is also known as 'the city of statues'. The Botanical Gardens have a fine classical collection donated by gold mining entrepreneurs. The Flight From Pompeii, and Spring. Autumn, Winter, Hebe, Leda and Pomona grace these gardens. The Prime Ministers' Avenue is updated with a new bust to record each incoming Prime Minister of Australia.

While you are here make sure you visit the magnificent Craig's Royal Hotel. Mark Twain and Prince Alfred once slept here. Today you can enjoy its colonial authenticity, as you can at Ballarat Terrace where gracious accommodation is offered in the renovated Victorian terrace home. Surrounding Ballarat are further attractions like the famous Yellowglen Vineyards. Don't miss the Wallace Cheesery and the Yuulong Lavender Estate.

Within a year of gold being discovered, the population in Castlemaine soared to 25,000. Today it stands at a humble 7300. The famous Castlemaine Market Place became a distribution point for food to all central Victoria goldfields. It is now a museum and well worth seeing.

There's something for everyone in Castlemaine. Lovers of architecture, fine arts and history, photographers, field naturalists and families all find something to delight them.

Spend some time looking at the fabulous architectural gems which remind us of the boom mining town this once was. Wander through the garden and house of Buda, once the home of a noted goldfields silversmith. Take time to view one of the finest regional art galleries in Victoria.

Visit the Castlemaine Gaol or take a walk through the wonderful Botanical Gardens. You might even stop for a picnic.

The gardens, private and public, are superb, particularly in Spring and Autumn when the wildflowers are spectacular.

If you are feeling a bit more energetic why not make use of some of the excellent sporting facilities for a game of tennis, golfer bowls. Try a spot of fishing or visit a local football match.

Follow one of the many marked walking tracks or head bush yourself. Bring your bike and enjoy one of the day rides.

The township of Maldon was christened The Best Preserved Town in Australia of the Gold Mining Era' by the National Trust because of its authenticity and its preservation is encouraged. Cottage gardens, pavements overhung by verandahs and old mining structures are the essence of Maldon. The place really comes to life on weekends with horse-drawn rides around town and steam train rides over a section of restored track.

It's hard to believe that tiny Creswick once had a population of 60,000. Typical of a former gold mining town, today it just tops 2700. Creswick was the scene for Australia's worst gold mining disaster. In 1882, water broke in from the already flooded Australasia No. 1 into the No. 2 mine. Twenty-two helpless miners drowned in the darkness far underground. You can read about this tragic story which is recorded in detail at the site of the mine. You can also see the old government battery which was built to crush rock for the extraction of gold. It is one of the few remaining in Australia. Creswick is also the home town of Australia's former Prime Minister, John Curtin and the famous artists, the Lindsays.

Although the town of Maryborough owes its origin to gold found at White Hills, Four Mile Flat and the Maryborough Diggings, today it stands as a substantial manufacturing community. The town's historical railway station is said to have prompted visitor, Mark Twain, to observe "Maryborough (is) a railway station with a town attached". You'll understand why when you're here. The equally handsome courthouse, town hall and post office are grouped around Civic Square and date from the town's days as a goldfields administration centre.

The town of Dunolly celebrates its historical origins during the Dunolly Gold Rush weekend each year. And so it should, being the district which has turned up more nuggets in its time than any field in Australia. A visit coinciding with these events is an experience.

Tarnagulla is the host of a rare survivor of the golden era - a theatre where diggers were once entertained by travelling performers.

Who can forget Moliagul? This is where the world's largest nugget was unearthed in 1869. Weighing 65 kilograms it became affectionately known as The Welcome Stranger'. The descendants of one of the lucky miners who discovered it, John Deason, are well known in the district today.

Clunes and Talbot remain shadows of their former selves. At Clunes you can see some fine old buildings and an historical museum. Today the streets of Talbot are quiet, save the occasional 'old timer' leaning against a gate post of an old cottage.

Harcourt was once the centre of the apple growing industry in Australia and today it still produces $30 million worth of fruit. Here you can buy fresh local apples from roadside stalls, drop into a local winery for a tasting or view the orchids and walk through the butterfly house at Skydancers cafe. Visit the nearby Oak Forest and the Koala Park atop Mt Alexander.

At Chewton visit the Dingo Farm, wander down the winding village street, or throw a line in at the Expedition Pass Reservoir. Take time to view the Wattle Gully Gold Mine which is still operating from the 1850s.

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