Located 181 km north west of Melbourne and 72 km north of Ballarat, Avoca is notable for its extraordinarily wide main street - so wide in fact that there is a huge area of parkland in the centre which is large enough for picnic facilities, a war memorial and the occasional shady tree.
Thomas Mitchell was the first European to pass through the area. He reached it in 1836 and, as rumour has it, named the local river 'Avoca' after a river or vale in County Wicklow, Ireland. A decade later there were a number of squatters in the area but the real change to the district's fortunes occurred in 1852 when gold was discovered only 3 km east of the town. By 1854 the town had a population of 2577 and there were a total of around 6000 diggers operating in the 6 km of riverbed south of the confluence of Glenlogie Creek and Avoca River.
It was around this time that Avoca grew dramatically. A police camp of some 50 troopers was established in 1853 and a lock-up built the following year, an impressive Bank of Victoria was built in 1854 to capitalise the new-found wealth, a series of businesses set up shop, the Avoca Hotel opened its doors in 1854, the Union Hotel in 1855, a Wesleyan Church was built in 1856, a National School in 1857 and the courthouse in 1859.
A description of the diggings in the early 1860s: 'Shanties, public houses and shops sprang up rapidly and the place was a veritable beehive of industry ‹ the whirring of the windlass, the clank-clank of the buckets, the rumble of the 'cradle' and the puddling machine, the tents, the lights innumerable at night, the singing oft bacchanalian the laughter and the brawls made a medley of sound incidental to the bush mining camp.'
The town's population had dropped back to 768 by 1871. The railway line from Maryborough was opened in 1876. But by this time the gold rush was all but over. Men were still making a reasonable living at Amphitheatre as late as the 1890s but the gold was now difficult to get. Slowly the farmers began to reassert themselves. By the 1870s grapes were being grown in the area and over the next twenty years mixed farming - sheep, cattle, orchards - started to dominate in the area. There were various attempts to use dredges to extract the gold and these continued intermittently throughout this century with the last dredge only stopping operations in 1957.
Today Avoca is a pleasant rural service centre characterised by its wide main street and the nearby Pyrenees Ranges. There are three race meetings each year.
Things to see
Tourist Information and Historic Buildings of High St
The Tourist Information Office is located in High Street, near the Cambridge St intersection. There is a pamphlet outlining a walking tour of the town's historic buildings which lists around 40 separate destinations. It is detailed and comprehensive and is almost entirely contained within an area of no more than five blocks by six blocks. In fact, two-thirds of the sites are in High St, tel: (03) 5465 3767.
Between Cambridge St and Russell St are the war memorial, the handsome bluestone of Lalor's Pharmacy (1854), which is reputedly the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Victoria, the Avoca Newsagency (c.1887), the Bakery and Tea Rooms (c.1860), Albion House (c.1866) and the Victoria Hotel Complex, consisting of stone-and-brick hotel and stone ballroom (late 1850s) and stone stables (1872). The ballroom became a venue for travelling performers.
Between Russell and Duke Sts are Kelley's Store (1865) and the General Store (c.1860) and between Duke and North is the Avoca Meat Market (c.1856).
Between Cambridge St and Bridport St are the post office (1872), the former Albion Hotel (1868), Holland's Drapery Shop (1866), Filbey's Butchery (1856), Mackereth's Shop and Wine Depot (c.1890), Herlihy's Store (c.1870) and the Avoca Hotel (1870) on the site of the original Avoca Hotel (1854).
At the south-eastern corner of High and Bridport is the former Bank of Victoria (1854). Its imposing facade reflects the boom period of the town's first years.
Avoca & District Historical Society
The Classical Revival brick courthouse (1859), is one of the earliest surviving courthouses in the state and is representative of its type and era. It is now the headquarters of the local historical society which is proud of its excellent collection of photographs (over 2,000 and all catalogued), family history details and reference materials. It is a vital source of information for anyone wanting to explore the local area. For more information contact (03) 5465 3744.
The whole area bounded by Bridport St, Camp St, High St and the river was the site of the original police camp established in 1853 and occupied by 50 troopers trying to maintain order in the disarray of a goldrush. Some buildings associated with the police camp are to be found in Napier St, between Davy and Camp Sts. They are the coursed bluestone lock-up (1867), which replaced the original log lock-up (1854), the police residence (1859) and the powder magazine (1860).
At Rutherford and Russell is the former Anglican rectory (1894). Over the road is the Uniting Church Complex, consisting of the brick Wesleyan Church (1867), Sunday School (1870) and parsonage (1871).
At Rutherford and Duke is 'Rutherford' (1860s) and at 124 Rutherford St is the former National School (1857 with later additions). One of the first to be established in the state it is a Gothic Revival brick structure.
In Barnett St (between North and Duke Sts) is the impressive Avoca State School, built of brick to a Gothic design in 1878. On the Russell St corner is the Anglican Church of St John the Divine (1871). At Barnett and Bridport are Chalmer's Presbyterian Church (1864) and manse (1869).
Blue Pyrenees Estate
There are two vineyards operating quite close to Avoca. Both can be accessed by driving west on Vinoca Road which runs off the Sunraysia Highway just north of Avoca.
Blue Pyrenees Estate, established in 1963, is set in idyllic surroundings and landscaped gardens 7 km west of the town in the foothills of the Pyrenees (en route to Governor's Rock Lookout). Chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, semillon, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, shiraz and merlot are all under cultivation. There are picnic facilities, al fresco lunches, an art display, tours of the underground cellars and a shaded area where you can play petanque. The cellar door is open daily from 10.00 a.m. and the restaurant on weekends, tel: (03) 5465 3202.
Mount Avoca Vineyard
Mount Avoca Vineyard, established in 1970, is located 5 km west of Avoca off Vinoca Rd in Moates Lane. It produces trioss, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, rhapsody, semillon, shiraz, cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, Arda's Choice and a vintage port. The cellar door is open weekdays from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and weekends from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily. There is a picnic area, light lunch is available on weekends and gourmet picnic lunches by prior arrangement, tel: (03) 5465 3282.
Vinoca Rd is the access route to the site of the gold town of Percydale which flourished in this area in the 1870s. It had a large population of Chinese diggers. Daly's Cottage (built of vertical slabs, weatherboard, stone and brick in 1865) is about all that remains of the early days. The town was named after the police magistrate's son although the diggings date back to the 1850s when the area was known as Fiddler's Creek after a violin-wielding digger.
20 km north-west of Avoca, adjacent the Sunraysia Highway, is Redbank Winery, established in 1973. It produces shiraz, cabernet, a cabernet blend, pinot noir, cabernet franc, chardonnay, a sparkling wine, Sally's Paddock, Long Paddock and Hundred Tree Hill. The cellar door is open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. every day but Sunday when it opens at 10.00 a.m. There are barbecue-picnic facilities, a petanque piste, cheese platters and antipasto, tel: (03) 5467 7255.
Five wineries are clustered around the locality known as Moonambel which is an area 20 km north-west on the Navarre Rd. Moonambel (Aboriginal for 'hollow in the hills') was part of the Mountain Creek Run in the 1840s and a township developed in the 1850s after gold was discovered in the area. When more substantial finds were made around 1860 the town solidified. It is claimed there was a floating population of up to 30 000 in the area. As a result houses, businesses, breweries, a flour mill, soap factory, newspaper and hotels emerged. Only the Commercial Hotel (1866) remains. Although most mining was alluvial deep-lead mining continued into the early 20th century. Orchards and vineyards were established in the 1860s. Wine-making went into abeyance from 1948 to 1969 but has re-emerged with a vengeance since that time.
Summerfield, established in 1979, cultivates shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, trebbiano, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. There is a bluestone tasting room, self-contained units for those who wish to stay, barbecue facilities and even a 1-km airstrip. It is 500 m on the western side of the main road at Moonambel and is open daily, tel: (03) 5467 2264. Opening hours are 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. every day but Sunday when they open at 10.00 a.m.
Warrenmang Vineyard Resort
Warrenmang Vineyard Resort, established in 1974, produces wines for the Warrenmang and Bazzani labels - shiraz, sparkling shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, chenin blanc, a methode champenoise, salute rosato, chardonnay, port, salute and traminer.
To get there turn right off the Navarre Rd at the Mountain Creek Rd sign and it is 500 m away. There is an award-winning restaurant (open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner), a bar, luxury accommodation (for 84 guests), a pool, spa, tennis, petanque, barbecue facilities, gourmet picnic hampers, a children's playground and conference-function facilities. They are open daily, tel: (03) 5467 2233.
Mountain Creek, established in 1973, is adjacent the resort on Mountain Creek Rd. Cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and muscat are the main produce. There are scenic views and a lawned area adjacent the pool. It is open weekends and public holidays, tel: (03) 5467 2230.
Taltarni, established in 1972, is 3 km along Taltarni Rd which runs off the Avoca-Stawell Rd, 3 km from Moonambel. They produce riesling, chenin blanc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, shiraz, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, malbec and merlot. They specialise in 'methode champenoise' sparkling and dry-wine styles. There is a 1-km airstrip, petanque, a picnic area in a bush setting, barbecue facilities and a light brunch on the spacious verandah. It is open daily from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5467 2218.
Dalwhinnie, established in 1976, is another 2 km along Taltarni Rd. The most elevated vineyard in the Pyrenees it offers petanque and outstanding views. The estate specialises in dry wines and produces shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, pinit noir and chardonnay. It is open daily from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel; (03) 5467 2388.
23 km south of Avoca is Lexton. Land here was taken up by squatters as early as 1838 and one of Victoria's first inland townships (then known as Burnbank) was established in 1845 when two men built an inn, store, blacksmith and wheelwright shop. A post office was set up in 1848 and other businesses began to appear. The first Anglican and Catholic services in the district were carried out here in 1850 and 1851 respectively.
The town's early establishment enabled it to capitalise when gold finds were made throughout the area from 1851 and it grew quickly. In 1852 the Lexton Hotel was built and a local residence was converted into a courthouse and police magistrate's residence with police paddocks to the rear. A Presbyterian school was established in 1855 and the first church was built the following year.
When the gold petered out, Lexton returned to its role as a service centre to the local pastoral industry. Remaining buildings include the second courthouse (1874) in Williamson St, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church (1876), at the eastern end of Williamson St, and St Mary's Anglican Church (1874) in Skene St.
Avoca Visitors Information Centre
122 High St
Avoca VIC 3467
Telephone: (03 5465 3767, 1800 206 622