Beechworth is surely the state's, if not the country's, best-preserved 19th-century gold town. It has over 30 buildings listed with the National Trust and, for the most part, they are substantial and often elegant buildings in excellent condition. Perhaps more important is the feel of the streetscape. The historic buildings in so many Australian towns tend to be 'cheek to jowl' with functional modern structures, creating a motley, incoherent and untidy effect. By comparison, Beechworth's streetscape is remarkably coherent and well-preserved. The frequent usage of honey-coloured local granite as a building material lends further cohesiveness. Indeed, there is nothing to mar the overall feel which is redolent of the past.
Naturally this motif of the past is central to the town's commercial orientation as a tourist town, but, even here, tastefulness prevails. The businesses are housed in appropriate buildings, there are some good second-hand booksellers, and many of the gift shops sell handcrafted items of genuine quality. Even the trash-and-treasure outlets tend to be charmingly unpretentious.
Finally the public parks and gardens, with their mature trees and interesting gardens, the wide tree-lined streets, the 19th-century residences and Beechworth's picturesque setting in the foothills of the Australian Alps contribute an indefinable but vital component to the graceful and dignified air that hangs over the park-like character of the town.
Beechworth is located 271 km north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway and has an elevation above sea level of 550 metres.
Prior to European settlement the region was occupied by several Aboriginal clans, with the Min-jan-buttu occupying the area around Beechworth. They led a semi-nomadic existence, moving about according to the season. Spring saw them taking advantage of the plentiful water and food of theopen plains with summer heralding a gathering of local tribes near Albury then an ascent of Mount Bogong for the annual Bogong moth feast and a cool high-altitude summer. At the end of the summer they set fire to the high plains to ensure regeneration. Winter was spent amid the shelter provided by the rocky outcrops of the foothills.
A man named David Reid explored the area in 1839 which he named May Day Hills. He built a woolshed which lay behind the naming of Woolshed Creek and hence the later Woolshed Goldfield. The Beechworth goldrush was sparked when one of Reid's former shepherds, named Meldrum, found gold on Spring Creek in 1852. Numerous other gold discoveries were subsequently made and 800 people were in the area by late 1852. Storekeepers at May Day Hills asked the government to lay out a township which it did. The government surveyor named the town Beechworth in 1853 after his birthplace in the UK.
Reef mining of quartz soon replaced alluvial work as the main source of gold with the usage of dynamite leading to the creation of a powder magazine in 1860 which is still standing. Large companies were set up employing locals and the area became one of the country's most productive with about 120 000 kg extracted by 1866. Hydraulic sluicing was comon with an estimated 1400 km of water races in existence by 1880. That same year, a mining company concluded the construction of an 800-metre tunnel extending under the township to run water off at Spring Creek. At its peak there were said to be 30,000 to 40,000 people and 61 drinking establishments on the local fields.
Consequently Beechworth became the central town of the Ovens River goldfields and the administrative centre for north-eastern Victoria. Numerous public buildings were erected at this time, such as a hospital (1856), a hospital for the aged, a mental asylum, a flour mill (1855), law courts (1855) and, of course, a gaol was an early necessity (1853). The first local member was elected to parliament in 1855, the year the first local newspaper was established and the formalisation of the township can be seen with the 1856 layout of roads and footpaths and the prohibition of canvas-built shops and homes. A major employer at Beechworth for over a century was the Zwar Brothers tannery which operated from 1858 until 1961. Beechworth benifited from being on the main Melbourne to Sydney road, although the town's importance declined when Wangaratta received the railway in 1873. The railway arrived at Beechworth in 1876.
Beechworth is said to have had the largest Chinese population in the country outside of Melbourne, with an estimated 7,000 on the local fields by the early 1860s. They worked hard, often intensively working claims abandoned by others, and established market gardens and tobacco growing. European resentment and racist sentiments led to a riot in the Buckland Valley in 1857 which saw Chinese miners bashed, robbed and killed.
The man sent to deal with the disorder was Robert O'Hara Burke who, in tandem with William Wills, led the first expedition to travel north-south across Australia. He served as superintendent of police at Beechworth from 1854 to 1858. The pistol that lay beside his body, when it was found at Coopers Creek, was inscribed 'Presented to Captain Burke by the residents of Beechworth, Victoria'.
Another character with some relation to the town was infamous highwayman, Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan, who passed through the district in 1860 after breeching his ticket-of-leave conditions. He returned in 1865, bailing up travellers, stations and public houses, and it was from Beechworth that Superintendent Winch sent out all available police in search of the bushranger who was about to be outlawed by an Act of Parliament which gave legal sanction to his execution, without forewarning, by any party.
Australia's best-known bushranger, and arguably the country's most famous figure, Ned Kelly, together with his family and other gang members, also had a lengthy association with Beechworth - principally through its gaol and courthouse (see entry on Beechworth Gaol in the 'Things to See' section).
As the surface gold thinned out sluicing, dredging and deep-shaft mining became more prominent. In 1880 an 800-metre mining tunnel was cut through solid rock beneath the town. But as the shafts became deeper and the operations increased in scale, drainage and water supply issues became a problem. In the last quarter of the 19th century the town declined in importance as the mining activity diminished. Commercial mining of gold finally ceased in 1921 although local creeks are still panned for gold and the area is popular with gemstone fossickers.
The town stagnated until the 1960s when tourism emerged. The National Trust assisted locals in restoration projects. The government also upgraded the mental hospital and training prison and encouraged employment in the Forestry and Lands commissions.
Annual events include The Drive Back in Time weekend which is a vintage car gathering held in February. The Beechworth Golden Horseshoes Festival (which started in 1873) is held in April, the Beechworth Harvest Celebration in May, the Ned Kelly Trial Reenactment in August and the Beechworth and North East Celtic Festival in November.
Things to see
Tourist Information and Ned Kelly's Cell
The Beechworth Visitor Information Centre is located in the old town hall (1858) in Ford St, between William and Camp Sts. The shire offices at the front were rebuilt in 1888.
The information centre has an audio-visual display called "Echoes of History," it offers guided historical town tours for those who book in advance and there is a publication for sale outlining a walking guide of the town.
The centre furnishes information on local walking tracks, horseriding, abseiling, gold-panning, gem-fossicking, mountain-bike riding, 4WD possibilities and trail-bike riding. You'll need a miner's right to search for gold. Enquiries can also be made here relating to local tour operators. The centre can be contacted on (1300) 366 321 or via email (email@example.com).
To the rear of the town hall is a small dark cell with a dirt floor which, for six months, imprisoned Australia's most notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly (then aged 15) following his first conviction (see next entry for further details on Kelly's links with Beechworth).
The town hall gardens were laid out in 1875. They contain some exotic species donated by Ferdinand von Mueller who was responsible for Melbourne's Botanic Gardens. The giant Californian sequoias date from this time.
The Courthouse Museum, the Gaol and Ned Kelly
Over the road from the Information Centre is the former courthouse (1858) and, just along Ford St, on the other side of William St, is the gaol (1859-1864). Both have strong associations with Kelly, his family and his 'gang'. Indeed the courthouse is now a museum with items relating to the Kellys.
In 1869 Kelly, at the age of 13, formed an association with bushranger Harry Power who operated in the general area. As a result Kelly was arrested and held in custody for seven weeks as a suspected accomplice but the charge was dismissed. Power was captured in 1870 and was held at Beechworth where he was tried at the courthouse and sentenced to 15 years at Pentridge prison. He is thought to have been responsible for 80 more armed hold-ups in the area than all the Kellys put together.
Ned Kelly was first incarcerated in the aforementioned cell to the rear of the town hall in 1870 for assaulting Jeremiah McCormick. Released in March 1871 he was again imprisoned in August for three years on a charge of receiving a stolen mare. He spent 18 months doing forced labour in the area before being sent off to Pentridge prison after a fracas.
Ned's younger brother James was sentenced to five years at Beechworth Gaol in 1873 for cattle duffing. While at the gaol he met future Kelly gang member Joe Byrne, a native of the area, who was serving time for assaulting a Chinese man. Byrne's accomplice in the beating was Aaron Sherritt whom Byrne would shoot as an informer in 1880.
It was also in Beechworth Gaol that the two men met Steve Hart who, at the age of 16, had been sentenced to 12 months for horse theft. He too would join the gang. Perhaps the only reason James Kelly did not become an accomplice was the ten-year sentence he received at Wagga Wagga in 1878 for horse theft.
The fourth gang member was Ned's other brother Dan who was sentenced in 1877 for three months on a charge of damaging property. Soon after his release, a warrant for his arrest was issued for horse stealing.
Ned's mother Ellen, her neighbour William Williamson and her son-in-law William Skillion, were tried at Beechworth courthouse and sentenced, in October 1878, for aiding and abetting in the 'attempted murder' of a trooper of dubious character named Fitzpatrick who visited the Kelly house in April 1878, ostensibly to arrest Dan Kelly (see entry on Glenrowan). She was sentenced to three years and the men to six years each. The presiding judge (Redmond Barry) allegedly remarked that Ned Kelly would have received 15 years, if he were present, for his part in the Fitzpatrick affair. Subsequently, rewards were posted for the arrest of Dan and Ned, causing them to go into hiding in the Wombat Ranges where they were joined by Byrne and Hart, thus precipitating the formation of the 'Kelly gang'.
Ned's last visit to the town, gaol and courthouse was after his final arrest in 1880. During the trial public support for Kelly was so strong that the government feared a mass break-in to secure his release. They therefore replaced the old wooden gates of the gaol with the present iron doors. Because an impartial local jury could not be found, the trial was transferred to Melbourne where Kelly faced the aforementioned Redmond Barry who sentenced him to death. There is an impressive collection of Kelly memorabilia at the Library and Burke Museum (see subsequent entry).
Other distinguished figures associated with the courthouse are Robert O'Hara Burke who, as superintendent of police, acted as a prosecutor in the courthouse in the 1850s, and future governor-general Isaac Isaacs who started his legal career by suing the local grammar school in 1874. He lost the case and thus his position as a teacher with the Department of Education.
13 people were sentenced to death from the dock of the Beechworth courthouse, including Elizabeth Scott, the first woman executed in Victoria, who murdered her husband. Three executioners/public floggers (all prisoners seeking remissions of sentence through their service) were active at Beechworth, including Elijah Upjohn who hanged Ned Kelly.
The courthouse closed in 1989 and opened as a museum in 1991. It is also a venue for local events and meetings. Built of granite by Scottish stonemasons it features a central block with gabled ends containing the main courtroom, flanked by office wings. Without are verandahs and within a public vestibule. The furniture and fittings are original.
The highly impressive gaol, with its slightly medieval look, is a prominent feature of the townscape. It was built in 1859 to replace a wooden stockade and is still operating as a penitentiary and is therefore not open to the public. However, from the roadside it is possible to enjoy the sight of the massive granite perimeter walls, the picturesque rounded sentry towers with octagonal roofs and the arched gateway flanked by offices and quarters.
On the northern side of the gaol are the very pleasant grounds of Queen Victoria Park.
Public Building Group
The courthouse is one of several excellent public buildings at the northern end of Ford St, between William and Camp Sts, which were built between 1857 and 1859. Aside from the courthouse, there is the old sub-treasury, considered by the National Trust to be 'the finest building of its type in Victoria', the offices of the Chinese Protector and Warden of the Goldfields and the former telegraph office . The stone facade of the latter, with its arched windows and verandah, was added c.1900. Careful attention to detail is apparent throughout and the decoration is dignified and simple. The timber posts and valances contrast pleasantly with the golden stonework.
The Bank of Australasia
On Ford St, between the courthouse and the post office, is the former Bank of Australasia (1858). It was formerly a gold-buying office and the gold vault is now a wine cellar.
Dominating the town's main intersection (Ford and Camp Sts) is the post office built in 1869-70 to replace the original which was destroyed by fire in 1867. The present structure is an Italianate structure with a square tower containing a bell and the original clock. It features a colonnade on the ground floor and a balcony with slender columns facing Camp St. Out the front is an unusual iron drinking fountain with spouts in the shape of a lion's head.
Former Bank of Victoria
From the post office, cross over Camp St to inspect the imposing Bank of Victoria building - one of several substantial bank buildings which emerged in the heyday of the gold era. It was built in 1867 to replace a large stone bank built in 1857 but destroyed by fire. It currently houses Beechworth Gold, a jewellery store. The building features arched windows on the ground floor and a small cast-iron balcony above the main entrance. Inside you can see the original gold vault which was used when the building was a gold office. Another retention from the past is the 24-light chandelier with over 4000 crystals.
The original toilet blocks, servants' quarters and balcony have been restored and a Victorian-style fountain has been installed in a fine stone pool within the garden area which is overseen by wrought-iron gates.
Wander along Camp St. At the corner with High St is Wallace Park which dates from the 1890s when the first trees were planted as part of the celebrations relating to Queen Victoria's 1897 Jubilee. It is pleasant to amble alongside Spring Creek.
Slightly further along Albert Rd, on the corner with Kerferd Rd, are Beechworth Galleries which is situated opposite Lake Sambell in a former wine merchants' store (1857). They are open daily, tel: (03) 5728 1010.
Bank of NSW
Return along Camp St to the intersection with Ford St. Diagonally opposite Beechworth Gold is the former Bank of NSW building, now a wine centre. This excellent two-storey stone structure was built in 1856-57.
Hibernian Hotel and Regency House
Cross over to the other side of Camp St and walk along to the Loch St corner where you will find the Hibernian Hotel (1876).
One house down from the corner, in Loch St, is Regency House which was formerly the Regency Theatre where Dame Nellie Melba performed.
Continue along Camp St for another block to the Finch St corner. Fronting onto Camp St is the impressive facade of the former London Tavern (1859-62) which was the town's first all-brick hotel. It is arranged around a verandahed courtyard. The hotel's early notoriety resided in the bath house at the centre of the courtyard as it was the first public house in Beechworth to boast such an attraction.
Former Star Hotel
Return along Camp St and turn right into Ford St. On the right-hand side of the road is the former Star Hotel (1864) which has been converted to shops with the upstairs serving as private accommodation. It was actually the third building on the site to go under that name; the first being erected in 1853 and the second burned down by fire. The hotel doubled as a theatre where acts of international renown performed for the miners. As such it was the social centre of the district. It features polychromatic brickwork.
Tanswell's Commercial Hotel
Over the road is Tanswell's Commercial Hotel. The public houses were, of course, the most important establishments in town for many miners. Many wood and slab structures sprang up with the initial goldrush. At one time there were allegedly 61 such establishments on the local goldfields. The most popular survived with earlier wooden structures replaced by more substantial buildings as capital accumulated.
Thus the present Commercial was built in 1873 to replace the 1853 wooden original. It is a two-storey stone and brick structure with a decorative iron lacework verandah. The facade, with its richly gilded crest on the front window and French doors, has been carefully restored. The lounge is furnished in mid-19th century style. The Kelly gang are said to have frequented the establishment, even when there was a price on their heads.
To the rear of the building are the coachhouse and stables which were built in 1859 by an American named Hiram Crawford who established his firm and a coach-building works with Tanswell's acting as the booking office. A regular coaching service operated from Melbourne to Beechworth by 1854 but Crawford's proved the most successful.
At the corner of Ford and Church Sts is the Buckland Gallery, offering a variety of arts and crafts of genuine interest and quality. It is located in adjacent buildings which encompass a former corner store, cottage and a two-storey building (c.1860s) which houses the gallery. It is open daily, tel: (03) 5728 1432.
On the other side of Church St is the Anglican Church which was erected in stages. The nave dates from 1858, the tower and chancel from 1864. It is considered 'exemplary of early provincial church design.' The massive square tower and stained-glass windows are of note.
St Joseph's Roman Catholic Church and Old Priory
Turn right into Church St. One block will bring you to the Priory Lane intersection. Over the road is the Gothic-style Catholic Church (1868) with its fine rose window and interior granite columns. Down Priory Lane is the Old Priory Lodge (1886), an historic convent which is now a guesthouse.
Old Hospital Facade
Continue along Church St. Once you cross Finch St Centennial Park is to the left. Therein is an elegant Palladian granite facade with outstanding stonemasonry featuring a triple-arched entrance topped by a stylised Classical pediment atop paired Doric columns. This is all that remains of the Ovens District Hospital - once the largest hospital between Melbourne and Sydney and, for many years, the only hospital between Melbourne and Goulburn. It was built in stages from 1856 to 1900 with the facade dating from 1862-64. The Bunya pine and Californian redwood are reminders of the original and extensive gardens.
Murray Breweries Historic Cellars/Carriage Museum/Light Horse
Turn right off Church St into Last St. Just past the William St intersection are the Murray Breweries which were built in 1865, at which time they were known as Billson's Brewery. They have been trading under the current name since 1916. The building is constructed of hand-made bricks and oregon beams on a granite base.
The steam-heated cellars contain old machinery, tools and items used by brewers, coopers etc, including an international label collection, a collection of miniature bottles, hand-thrown stone jars, bottles of local origin and a syphon collection. The cellars are open daily and there is also the opportunity to try the local brews, tel: (03) 5728 1304.
Housed in the same building is a collection of light-horse regimental memorabilia and a carriage museum, featuring an extensive array of horse-drawn vehicles and saddlery, including a fire cart, a funeral hearse, a four-wheeled phaeton, a single-seat sulky and a Cobb & Co coach.
Library and Burke Museum
Follow Williams St back towards the main street then turn right into Loch St. To the left is the Burke Museum. This building was erected in 1856 by the Beechworth Young Mens Association as an athenaeum (basically a library). The museum was established in 1863 in honour of Robert O'Hara Burke who served as superintendent of police at Beechworth from 1854 to 1858. In tandem with William Wills he led the famous first expedition to travel north-south across Australia in 1860-61 but he died on the return trip.
The museum houses one of the country's largest collections relating to Ned Kelly, his bushranging gang and his family, including a revolver used by Joe Byrne, Steve Hart's surcingle, the dock from the courthouse in which Ned Kelly once stood, a replica of the famous armour worn by Ned at Glenrowan, his death mask, and the steps of Aaron Sheritt's hut where Sheritt stood while being gunned down by Joe Byrne.
There is also a large collection of Aboriginal artefacts from south-eastern Australia (purchased by the museum in 1868), the Beechworth Chinese Community Collection, the Goldmining and Life on the Goldfields Collection, the Children's Collection (featuring 19th-century toys), a natural history collection (including a rare example of a preserved Tasmanian Tiger), a model of the Beechworth streetscape as it was in its heyday and a man-trap designed to disable trespassers. Services include education programs for school students, group tours and talks, a photographic copy service, family and local history research, a museum shop and a volunteer program.
The museum is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5728 1420.
Town Hall Gardens
Adjacent are the Town Hall Gardens, which date from 1875, when noted botanist Ferdinard von Mueller donated some trees. The fountain dates from the 19th century.
St Andrew's Uniting Church
Return along Loch St and turn right into William St. To the right are the town hall gardens and to the left, over the road from the gaol, is St Andrew's Uniting Church (1857), a rendered brick structure of simple design featuring an unusual square tower with a short spire and fine lancet windows.
Beechworth Powder Magazine
The powder magazine is a small buttressed room built in 1859 for storing the gunpowder used in goldmining. It was erected on a ridge which was separated from the town by a gorge and the inner roof is arched and the foundations double-arched so that an explosion would be directed upwards. A sandstone fence surrounds the building, a lightning conductor runs across the roof, the metal fixtures are of copper and the floor nails are of wood.
Powder magazines were a common feature of major gold fields where large quantities of powder were used in mining and in the quarrying of stone for construction purposes. The law required that any person entering town with a specified weight in powder must store it at the magazine and pay a small storage fee. Nearby you will see a recreation of a miner's slab hut. It is now private property.
To get there turn off Ford St into Camp St. This will be a right turn if you are entering Beechworth from Sydney, Albury or Chiltern (i.e., from the north). Camp St eventually bends to the left becoming Skidmore Rd. Once around the corner there is a small diversion to the left which leads to the magazine which is situated in Gorge Reserve. Inside are period exhibits. There is a small entry fee, tel: (03) 5728 1370.
Just beyond the miner's hut, Skidmore Rd intersects with Gorge Rd (see subsequent entry).
If you follow Ford St north out of town, past the gaol and Queen Victoria Park, it bends to the left as Sydney Rd. About 20 metres south of the intersection of Sydney Rd and Gorge Rd is a turnoff on the right into Cemetery Rd. The Beechworth Cemetery, established in 1856, is thought to contain the graves of some 2000 Chinese who scoured the goldfields in the 19th century. Consequently there are twin ceremonial Chinese Burning Towers (1883), a prayer desk and rows of small headstones. Wealthy Chinese were repatriated to their homeland upon their death so it was the less prosperous who were buried far from home.
Golden Horseshoes Monument
If you follow Sydney Rd north for another 20 metres you will come to the intersection with Gorge Rd where you will see a monument consisting of gilt horseshoes atop a cairn in memory of the day in 1855 that miners celebrated the election of their first local Member of Parliament, Daniel Cameron, who rode at the head of a parade on a horse shod with shoes made of gold (or gilt, depending on your level of scepticism).
The election followed a period of rivalry between two groups of miners - the monkeys or 'wet' diggers who worked the creeks and wore black woollen trousers and large, coloured handkerchiefs, and the 'punchers' or 'dry' diggers who worked the dry banks and gullies and wore moleskins. The two groups fielded separate electoral candidates. Cameron was the monkeys' choice.
Gorge Scenic Drive
Gorge Rd (one-way) constitutes a 5-km scenic drive around the northern and western outskirts of Beechworth, taking in several lookouts, granite tours, picnic spots, stands of black cypress pines and waterfalls.
Gorge Rd intersects with Skidmore Rd near the aforementioned powder magazine, so it is possible to approach Gorge Rd along Skidmore Rd. Two-thirds of the route is sealed and the remainder is in good repair. Near the end of Gorge Road is a viewing platform on the left-hand side of the road which furnishes views of Newtown Falls. Another 50 metres will bring you to the intersection of Gorge Rd and Ford St, near Newtown Bridge.
In Ford St, at the south-eastern part of town, beyond Church St, is Newtown Bridge, built by Scottish stonemasons from local granite in 1874. From the bridge it is possible to see a mining race carved from solid granite in 1866. It is 4 metres deep and 2 metres wide. Just upstream is the site of the first gold discovery in Beechworth.
Beechworth Historic Park
Beechworth Historic Park contains a number of scenic, historic and geological features of interest. A series of walking trails criss-cross the Gorge area on the northern side of town. They connect the powder magazine, One Tree Hill (named for a single red stringybark that survived the miners' depredations) the Spring Creek Cascades, a diversion dam built to divert water into a water race for usage in mining operations, The Precipice (which provides fine views over the former Reids Creek goldfields), Ingrams Rock, Fiddes Granite Quarry, the Reids Creek Goldfields (only a few shafts and alluvial mining sites remain) and Woolshed Falls (see subsequent entry).
The tracks can be picked up from three points along Gorge Rd (One Tree Hill, the powder magazine and a point further along Gorge Rd), from the Old Chiltern Rd (which heads north from the intersection of Gorge Rd and Sydney Rd) and from Woolshed Falls. An accompanying leaflet is available from the Beechworth Information Centre or Parks Victoria, tel: 131 963. Some sections of the track are steep.
Beyond Newtown Bridge, Ford St becomes Bridge St then the Wangaratta Road. Newtown Park is on the roadside. Diffey Rd heads off to the left and Pennyweight Lane runs off Diffey Rd. In Pennyweight Lane is the Pennyweight Winery which was established in 1982. It is named after the Pennyweight Goldfield which was established here in 1852. They sell table and fortified wines, including sherries, and are open daily, tel: (03) 5728 1747.
9 km west of Beechworth, on the Wangaratta Rd, is Giaconda Vineyard, tel: (03) 5727 0246. Another 2 km along Wangaratta Rd is Amulet Vineyard which produces varieties such as sangiovese, barbera, nebbiolo, merlot, cabernet, pinot gris and orange muscat. Their cellar door s open Friday to Monday from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., every day during school and public holidays, and most other days, tel: (03) 5727 0420.
Sorrenberg Vineyard is located in Alma Rd, beside the Beechworth Golf Course. It is a small, family-owned affair, established in 1985. They produce table wines such as sauvignon blanc, chardonnat, gamay and cabernet sauvignon. Tastings and cellar door sales are available but by appointment only and there is a mail order system, tel: (03) 5728 2278.
Savaterre Vineyard is at 929 Melbourne Rd, tel: (03) 5727 0551. In town local and regional wines are available from the Beechworth Wine Centre at 87 Ford St. They are open Thursday to Monday from 10.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5728 1855.
About 4 km west of Beechworth, on the Wangaratta Rd, are the 19th-century granite buildings associated with Black Springs Bakery which once served the now defunct Black Springs community.
The Mental Hospital and Lodge
If you follow Camp St/Albert Rd (beyond Beechworth Gallery) to its extreme south-eastern end and cross over Gilchrist Ave, you will be in the grounds of the Mental Hospital and Lodge (1867) - a very large structure built of bricks in the Dutch colonial style with curved gables. The verandahs, laid end to end, would measure almost a kilometre. The gardens were designed by a landscape gardener who also happened to be one of the first inmates. Water was supplied by rainwater which was funnelled from the roof into seven underground chambers via hollow verandah posts. It is now home to the LaTrobe University campus.
McConville Ave runs off Albert Rd, almost opposite the Beechworth Gallery. It leads by Lake Sambell which can clearly be seen from Albert Rd. This was once a major goldmining site which yielded over 1360 kg of gold until operations ceased in 1921. The terrain was demolished by hydraulic sluicing and so a dam was created to conceal the scarred landscape in 1928. Today it is a popular recreation area where boating, fishing, swimming and waterskiing can be enjoyed. There is a boat ramp on McConville Ave and there are playground facilities and a Bocchi court.
Walking - Lake Sambell to Lake Kerferd
This 5-km walk (one-way) starts from the bridge over Spring Creek on Peach Drive, near Lake Sambell. It follows Spring Creek and Hurdle Creek to Lake Kerferd which is the town's water supply reservoir.
The first section of the track leads to Silver Creek Caravan Park. It passes through old mining sites where deep vertical shafts were established. They are dangerous so be sure to stay on the track which continues on past Patterson Dam (established as a water supply for mining) then joins up with a vehicle track built to service the water pipeline which links Lake Kerferd with Beechworth. This area is moister and hence the trees tend to be taller. There are blue gums, white-barked brittle gums and peppermint with an understorey of shrubs. The fauna includes eastern grey kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, possums, koalas, parrots, honeyeaters and other birdlife.
The local council established Lake Kerferd in 1862 to retain the waters of Hurdle Swamp. It was once the site of annual regattas.
Driving - Lake Kerferd, Little Fletcher Dam and Nine Mile Creek Historic Area (the Wallaby Mine)
Follow Camp St/Albert Rd towards the former mental hospital. 200 m beyond the Beechworth Gallery turn left into Hodge Rd which becomes the road to Stanley. About 6 km from Beechworth there is a turnoff on the left onto a bitumen road which should be signposted for Lake Kerferd. When the bitumen runs out there is a branch on the left and one on the right (both are unsealed). The turnoff on the left leads directly to Lake Kerferd.
To visit the other attractions take the branch on the right. After about 500 metres there is another intersection. Turn left then right, passing by the Hurdle Flat community, continue on across Rawes Rd and proceed on for another 400 metres to Little Fletcher Dam which is an attractive spot in the Stanley Forest. Swimming, fishing and picnicking can be enjoyed. There is also a circular walk around the dam.
To access the Nine Mile Creek Historic Area (including the Wallaby Mine) backtrack the 400 metres from the dam and turn right, heading north along Rawes Rd for 1 km then turn right into Lower Nine Mile Rd which leads to a carpark at the top of the Wallaby Mine. There are a number of reef-mining relics in this area. The Wallaby minesite features open stopes, water races, tunnels and the remains of a stamper battery which was used to crush ore-bearing rock. Its ten stamping heads were powered by a single-cylinder steam engine. Until it closed in 1912 a small local community was based around the mine which possessed an elaborate system of tracks, water races and rail cars.
If you ignore the turnoff to Lake Kerferd and continue along the Stanley Road it leads, unsurprisingly, to Stanley. This historic goldmining village is located in the hills 10 km south-east of Beechworth, among apple orchards, berry farms, nut plantations and tall forests. An annual picnic day commenced in 1851 with an 1891 government grant preserving the Stanley picnic grounds for that purpose. Today's wheelbarrow race is an overt reminder of the village's early association with mining . Stanley was, for many years, an apple-producer and coolstores were dug into the hills just out of town, on the Myrtleford Rd.
A rare cork tree in the village centre is classified by the National Trust . The former Presbyterian church is an orange-bricked hall built c.1870. Opposite is an old primary school building designed by the same architect. The Indigo Inn (formerly the Star Hotel) and a whitewashed gaol are also of historic interest. The former operates as a bed-and-breakfast and a part-time hotel.
The library/athenaeum in Main St is a painted brick structure (1874) with a gable-roofed hall and central vestibule which is attached to the street facade. A small room was added to the rear in 1891. An oak tree adjacent the building was planted in 1870 and huge old holly trees can still be seen in private gardens.
Murmungee Lookout and Bates Dam
When you come to the intersection at Stanley turn right if you wish to visit Murmungee Lookout. Three or four hundred metres from the intersection turn right onto the Six Mile Rd (it is signposted as part of the Beechworth Forest Drive). Make your way to Clark Corner then get yourself onto Lady Newton Drive which leads to the lookout, furnishing excellent views over the Murmungee Valley. There are picnic areas and a barbecue.
Continue on along Lady Newton Drive down to Bates Dam. It features some old mining machinery, a walking track and picnic facilities.
7 km south-east of Stanley is the summit of Mt Stanley (1064 m above sea-level), nestled in the foothills of the Australian Alps. Atop is a fire tower with excellent views of the surrounding mountains, including Mount Buller and Mount Buffalo. The Ovens Valley, Lake Hume and the plains of southern New South Wales are visible on a clear day.
Beechworth Forest Drive
Beechworth Forest Drive starts from the intersection of High St and Elgin Rd. It takes in some excellent picnic and sightseeing locations, old mining sites and panoramic views. It is denoted by a series of small aluminium forest drive signs but it is advisable to drop into the Beechworth Information Centre for a map as it is possible to miss these sometimes obscure but vital roadside markers.
Woolshed Falls and Goldfield
Head north out of town on Ford St/Sydney Rd. About 3 km from the centre of Beechworth there is an intersection. The branch on the right heads to Albury and the road on the left leads to Chiltern. Follow the latter for about another 2 km, take the signposted left into McFeeters Rd then turn right into Woolshed Falls Rd which leads to a carpark and picnic area with an information shelter. This is where the Woolshed Falls Historic Walk (one hour) commences. It takes in a number of points of interest associated with the Reids Creek goldfield (Reids Creek being the original name of Spring Creek). The original settlement originally stood just upstream of this site. It possessed a post office, stores and a police camp and was the scene of several riots caused by disputes over the ownership of claims. The 'punchers' worked the dry banks and gullies and the 'monkeys' worked the stream. In 1853 William Howitt wrote of the site: 'for nearly two miles, a wide valley is completely covered by tents and the soil turned upside down by diggers. A more rowdy and uninviting scene I never saw .... all the trees were cut down; the ground where it was not actually dug up was eaten perfectly bare by lean horses ... more shabbiness and apparent wretchedness it would be difficult to conceive ... Reids Creek has the character of being a disorderly and dangerous place. There have been no less than fifteen murders committed at it'.
The walk takes in a large eroded gully which was created when hydraulic sluicing was used to divert Spring Creek (then known as Reids Creek) in order to access the gold in the original creek bed. There is also a diversion tunnel (carved through solid granite to draw off excess water), evidence of dry mining, an old water race channel cut into the ground, an elevated water race, and the Woolshed Falls which are especially impressive after heavy rains. Water from the falls was diverted by means of a steel pipe (some steel rods which supported the pipe can still be seen near the bottom of the falls, to the left) so that the pool below could be drained and the pool bed rifled for gold (57 kg were recovered between 1918 and 1920). An accompanying leaflet is available from Parks Victoria (tel: 131 963) or the Beechworth Information Centre.
It was in this area that, on Saturday, June 26 1880, the Kelly gang executed Joe Byrne's old friend turned police informer, Aaron Sherritt, who was supposedly under the protection of the four troopers in the house. It was part of a plan to draw out a contingent of police from Benalla, take them hostage and exchange them for Ned Kelly's mother who was in prison. The gang presumed the troopers would immediately raise the alarm but, out of fear, the law officers hid in the Sherritt house until Sunday afternoon and hence the Benalla police were not activated until Sunday evening. Thus the gang's plan began to unravel with disastrous consequences, culminating in the fatal and famous siege at Glenrowan.
There are swimming and gemstone-fossicking opportunities in this area.
Mt Pilot Lookout
About 11 km north of Beechworth along the Chiltern Rd is a signposted turnoff on the right into Old Coach Rd which leads to the summit of Mt Pilot (548 m above sea-level) from whence there are excellent views of the area, as well as a picnic area and walking tracks. The mountain was important to local Aboriginal clans as a spiritual and ceremonial site. Springs in the rocks here were also an essential water source.
Yeddonba Aboriginal Art Site
If you continue north along the Beechworth-Chiltern Road then, about 2 km beyond the turnoff to Mt Pilot Lookout, is another turnoff on the right into Toveys Rd. Follow Toveys Rd when it veers to the right (i.e., ignore the turnoff on the left) and you will soon come to a carpark and picnic area on the right-hand side of the road. This is the start of a 45-minute walk which begins on the left-hand side of the picnic area (as you face it from the road). A related pamphlet, available from the Beechworth Visitor's Centre, provides considerable insight into the culture of the Duduroa people who were the dominant indigenous clan of the area. It does so by examining the relationship between the Duduroa and various attractions along the trail- the physical setting, the flora, some rocky outcrops and a lookout.
However the main attraction along the track is the Yeddonba Aboriginal Art Site which depicts a Tasmanian tiger, a goanna and a snake. The depictions are thought to be over 2000 years old. They are faded but cannot be redone as there are no known descendants of the Duduroa alive today. Clan elders used this sacred site to pass on the Dreaming story of the Tasmanian tiger which was their totem spirit. The orange ochre was probably obtained from clans in South Australia.
Also along the trail is a rock cave which the Duduroa believed to be the home of the Tasmanian tiger's spirit. It was used as an initiation site to connect young men and women with the life force.
Beechworth Visitor Information Centre
103 Ford St, Beechworth VIC 3747
Telephone: 1300 366 321