Bacchus Marsh is one of Victoria's older towns and, as such, it retains a number of historically significant buildings. Located on the edge of a scenic and fertile valley, it is surrounded by hills and situated by the Werribee and Lerderderg Rivers at an elevation of 105 metres. Bacchus Marsh is 55 km north-west of Melbourne en route to Ballarat via the Western Freeway.
The town supports a range of manufacturing industries while the surrounding area is given over to dairying, mixed farming, grazing and orchards. There is an open-cut coal mine on the southern outskirts. Bacchus Marsh is also a commuter satellite of Melbourne and has a current population of some 13,500 people.
Prior to European settlement the area is thought to have been occupied by the Kurung Aborigines. The first white settler was Kenneth Scobie Clarke who, in 1836, transported sheep and other livestock from George Town in Van Dieman's Land on behalf of the Great Lakes Pastoral Company. He took up land between the Werribee and Lerderderg Rivers.
However, the town is named after Captain William Henry Bacchus (also of Van Dieman's Land) who occupied the valley when Clarke headed west in 1838. The 'Marsh' part of the equation reflects the fact that the valley was once full of marshland associated with the river system, although these were drained and the riverbed altered by early European settlers.
In the late 1830s the valley was considered as a site for settlement by retired military officers. Two townsites were surveyed: Maddingley to the south of the Werribee River and Lerderderg to the north of the Lerderderg River. However, Bacchus Marsh began to emerge when gold was discovered at Ballarat in 1851. The Border Inn (built in 1850 and still standing) became a coach stopover for those travelling from Melbourne to the goldfields. It was the first coaching stop on the route and arguably the first coaching service stop in the state. Other businesses began to emerge on this busy line of road. The three settlements ultimately merged into one. Bacchus Marsh became a municipality in 1871.
Chicory, a coffee additive, was grown and roasted locally from the 1880s. A factory making concentrated and preserved milk opened in 1890 and, until 1915, stibnite, an ore of antimony, was excavated in a mine that was one of the country's major antimony producers. Brown coal has been mined here since World War II.
Novelist Frank Hardy was raised at Bacchus Marsh and Peter Carey was born here in 1943. The Bacchus Marsh Show is held in late October and Cup Day in the Park is preceded by a five-day festival in early November.
Things to see
For local tourist information ring the Moorabool Shire offices in Bacchus Marsh on (03) 5366 7100.
Avenue of Honour
The main entry to Bacchus Marsh, for those coming from the east, is The Avenue of Honour. With the advent of Dutch Elm disease in Europe it is now regarded as the finest elm avenue in the world. The trees were planted to honour those men and women from the district who had fought and died in World War I. It consists of 281 North American elms. The other elms, oaks and plane trees which line Main St were planted in 1884.
A feature of Bacchus Marsh are the market stalls which sell local produce along The Avenue of Honour. The focal point is the Big Apple Tourist Orchard which also offers guided tours, tel: (03) 5367 4752.
Courthouse, Lock-Up and National Bank
The Bacchus Marsh courthouse in Main St was built of local sandstone in 1858-59. The courthouse is still in use. The lock-up and stables nearby were built at the same time.
The National Bank in Main St is also classified by the National Trust.
The Tudor-style Border Inn (1850), at 139 Main St, was essentially the means by which the town came into existence. In 1851 it became the first coach stop on the road to the Ballarat gold diggings (and thus the first coach-stop in the state) and Bacchus Marsh essentially developed around this traffic.
Blacksmith's Cottage and Forge
At 100-102 Main St is a Classical Revival blacksmith's forge built in 1877 by Hugh Meikle. Adjacent is a small and attractive cottage. The timber section dates from c.1850 with the stone front room added in 1866. They are both associated with a local history museum and bookbarn which are open on weekends.
The mechanics' institute (1858) is considered one of the earliest in Victoria. It is located in Young St which runs off Main St.
From Young St turn right into Manor St. At no.28 is a two-storey brick residence which was built some time between 1840 and 1846 for retired military officer and magistrate Captain William Bacchus, after whom the town is named. It is one of the state's oldest surviving domiciles of substance. The stuccoed masonry around the windows is a dominant feature of the design.
Bennett St also runs off Young St, opposite Manor St. At no.4 is a stone villa built c.1865 as a domicile for James Young. It features bay windows around a central gabled porch with attractive bargeboards lining all gables. The rear wing is a later addition. The building was later used as a school and vicarage.
Two of the town's churches stand opposite each other on Gisborne Rd. The most impressive is the Holy Trinity Church of England which was built of local sandstone in 1877. This was the town's second Church of England church. The first one has a minor note of infamy. Andrew Scott, who was to become the bushranger known as Captain Moonlight, worked for a time as a lay preacher and it is known that he conducted services in the original church. Captain Bacchus, who founded the town and subsequently died in 1849, is buried in the graveyard. The church is located on a hilltop in Gisborne Rd, just north of Main St. Opposite is St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, built of bluestone and sandstone in 1865.
Also in Gisborne St is the original section of the Express office which was built of hand-made bricks in 1865 for the printery of George Lane. The Express newspaper was first published the following year and is still in operation. A graphics art company currently occupy the premises.
Grant St heads south off Main St almost opposite Gisborne St. At 37-41 Grant St is 'Millbank', built of locally-quarried stone c.1855 for William Grant. The polychromatic brick wings were added later. The outbuildings - a primitive slab dairy and shed - are considered rare survivals of vernacular construction techniques.
Further south, at the corner of Grant St and Taverner St, is Maddingley Park, which is a good spot for a picnic.
1 km along Taverner St, just past Fisken St (which heads off Main St), is a chicory kiln built in 1885. Chicory was grown on the river flats around the kiln from the 1880s by a man named Pearce. The roots of this white, parsnip-like plant, were roasted in the kiln before being ground and used as a coffee additive. Note the old advertisement on the wall for Dr Morse's Indian Root Pills.
Maddingley Open-Cut Coal Mine
The Maddingley Mine was established in 1943. Head south along Grant St. Take the left immediately after crossing the railway line then the second right into East Maddingley Rd which leads to a viewing area over the 280-ha mine.
The town's speedway is located in a volcanic crater in Parwan South Road. The Australian Speed Car Championships are held here in March.
The Djerriwarrah Bridge, over the Lerderderg River, is located about 5 km east of town. Head east out of town along the Avenue of Honour then continue east when you reach the Western Freeway. As you go up the hill (i.e., Anthony's Cutting) there is a turnoff on the left which leads to the bridge which was built in 1858-59 of local sandstone. There are picnic areas with barbecue facilities on either side.
St Anne's Vineyard
St Anne's Vineyard was established in 1972. Rhine riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz are all produced. along with dessert and fortified wines. The bluestone cellar is built from the remnants of Ballarat's original gaol (1840s). It is open daily until 5.00 p.m.
To get there head out of Bacchus Marsh on the Western Freeway towards Ballarat. After 15 km there is a brown-and-white tourist sign indicating the route to the vineyard (turn off at the Pykes Creek exit), tel: (03) 5368 7209.
Pykes Creek Reservoir
If you take the Pykes Creek exit off the freeway then turn right across the overpass, you will soon come to a side road on the left which leads to Pykes Creek Reservoir which was completed in 1911. It is named after an early European settler and is an attractive picnic area which is also used for boating, swimming and fishing.
Werribee Gorge State Park
Werribee Gorge State Park (443 ha), 8 km west of Bacchus Marsh, is centred on a quite remarkable steep-sided gorge which reveals a great deal about the area's geological history (a sea bed covered by glacial debris then lava), making it a popular destination for school excursions.
Take Pentland Hills Rd off the freeway and turn into Myers Rd for the northern section which contains the Quarry Picnic Area and Meikles Picnic Area. From the former you can follow the four-hour Werribee Gorge Circuit Walk.
The Ingliston Gorge Walk (2.5 hours) starts off the back road to Ballan, as does the management track that leads to Falcons Lookout which is the only location in the park for abseilers. For more information ring (03) 5367 2922 or 131 963.
Long Forest Flora Reserve
This is the only naturally occurring patch of mallee south of the Great Dividing Range. At one time mallee scrub was common in the area but as the climate cooled most of it was supplanted by eucalypt forest. However, this reserve rests on a bed of shale and sandstone which is not conducive to eucalypts.
This area was first mapped in the 1830s by a surveyor who described it as 'barren forest hills'. There was an unsuccessful attempt to mine gold here and, late in the 19th century, timber was cut for milk factories at Bacchus Marsh. With subdivision proceeding 245 ha was set aside in 1981 in recognition of the site's ecological rarity.
The dominant species in the reserve is bull mallee although blue box can be found along Coimadai Creek and grey box and yellow gum on drier sites. The reserve also has turkey bush, fragrant salt-bush and some rare orchids. There are about 200 species of birds, as well as kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, echinas, gliders and possums. Birdwatching, nature studies and bushwalking can all be enjoyed.
To get there head east of Melton along the Western Freeway for 7 km and take the left turn into Long Forest Rd at the turnoff signposted for Merrimu Reservoir. A short distance along, to the right, is the start of the Djerriwarrah Track. Slightly further north, to the left, is a gate which marks the start of the Old House Track. Continuing north, to the left, is the start of the Mallee Track. A little further north again, to the right, is Sundew Ave. Just past this, to the left, is a carpark and information shelter which marks the start of the Happy Valley Track. 2 km further north is a turnoff on the left into Canopus Circuit loop road. Along here, to the left, is a gate and an information shelter at the start of the Long Point Track. This is also the access point for the Steep Track and the Comidai Track. Some of the trails on the western side of the road intersect. Most are signposted along Long Forest Rd.
For further information contact the Department of Natural Resources and Environment at Bacchus Marsh on (03) 5367 2922.
If you continue north along Long Forest Rd you will come to a signposted turnoff on the left which leads to Merrimu Reservoir - the water supply for both Bacchus Marsh and Melton. There is a recreational area with picnic, barbecue, toilet and playground facilities.
Lerderderg State Park
The main formation associated with this 14 000-ha park is the rugged 300-metre gorge carved by the Lerderderg River. There is a diversity of flora and some early goldmining relics.
Walking trails of varying length follow the river and old water races cut by goldminers. There are good sandy riverside beaches and bushcamping is permitted away from main roads. You can fish in the river or explore some 4WD tracks in the dry season (October to May). Roads within the park are often crude and may be unmanageable in wet weather.
To access the southern section follow Lerderderg River Rd out of Bacchus Marsh. It leads to the Mackenzies Flat Picnic Area where you can swim or take a walk to Grahams Dam. There are coin-operated barbecues.
For the northern section head west along the freeway for 15 km and take the Pykes Creek exit. 13 km north of the freeway turn right into scenic O'Briens Rd which leads to O'Briens Crossing Picnic Area where there are toilets and fireplaces. For further information ring (03) 5367 2922 or 131 963.
Brisbane Ranges National Park
The Boar Gully bush camp is a pleasant woodland area which is a good base for bushwalking. There are several campsites, toilets, a picnic area and a water supply. To get there head south-west out of Bacchus Marsh on the Balliang Rd. After 9 km turn right, heading west along the Bacchus Marsh-Mt Wallace Rd. 13 km along this road (the last 3 km being unsealed) there is a signposted turnoff on the left which leads to the camping area. If you wish to camp in the park it is necessary to contact the Anakie office first, tel: (03) 5284 1230. For further information on the park see the entry on Anakie or contact Parks Victoria on 131 963.