Rutherglen, Victoria: Travel guide and things to do

Although Rutherglen is a former goldmining town it is best known as the centre of Victoria's long-established and most important wine-producing district. Fortified wines and dry reds are a specialty of this region. Rutherglen's charming atmosphere is conjured by the main street - an historic precinct with old timber buildings, verandah-fronted pubs, antique and bric-a-brac shops and tearooms. It is located in the easterly corner of the Murray River valley plains, 275 km north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway and just 10 km from the Murray River, which forms the state border. Aside from wine production, tourism, wheat-production, wool, dairy products and stock further buttress the local economy. The current population is about 2500.

The land around Rutherglen was once occupied by the Whroo people, a subgroup of the Bangerang tribe who lived a life based around the Murray River. It was estimated that there were 1200 Bangerang in 1841. Initially friendly to Europeans, they soon found their food sources destroyed or driven out by clearing and the introduction of European stock. When, of necessity, they turned to that stock for food they found themselves subject to punitive raids by white landowners. Reduced to dependency on handouts and plagued with European diseases, dislocation and alcoholism, their communities were devastated and, by 1860, there were thought to be only 60 Aborigines remaining in the north-east of the state.

European incursions began when the explorers Hume and Hovell crossed the Murray in November 1824. Charles Sturt explored the Murray River area in 1829-30 and the first squatter took up land on the river in 1835 at the future site of Albury. His beach-head encouraged others who began spreading through the area from 1836. In 1838 the party of John Foord set off from Yass with 1000 head of cattle, in search of fresh grazing land. With his business partners, he established the 'Wahgunyah' run on what is now known as the Rutherglen district. By 1845 the whole area was taken up by squatters' runs.

Gold fever hit Australia in 1851 and local pastoralists soon found a ready market for their meat at theBeechworth goldfields. From 1858, land on the Wahgunyah plains was opened up for sale and farmers began to take up land. That same year gold was discovered at Indigo, 11 km south-east of present-day Rutherglen. In November 1858 Indigo had eight hotels and 41 stores. By early 1859, 13 000 people were thought to be in the district.

Then, in September 1860, the Wahgunyah rush, one of the last in Victoria, started when a deep lead was found underground on the present townsite of Rutherglen. The township of Barkly sprang up to the west of the claim and it was soon followed by another 500 metres to the east. The latter was named Rutherglen in October after the Scottish birthplace of John Wallace, who set up the Star Hotel (the first major establishment in the town)on the new townsite (Barkly is now part of Rutherglen).

However, Wallace was but one of many traders who were quick off the mark as there were forty stores and innumerable grog shops in operation within a month. Argyle St (now Main St) and Elizabeth St (now High St) soon became the major commercial thoroughfares of the goldfield. The first newspaper was issued and the first postmaster appointed in October. By November three schools were in operation and a police camp was established.

By December 1860 there were 12 095 people in the Indigo Division (comprising Rutherglen, Indigo andChiltern). 1925 of these were Chinese.

A court of petty sessions was established at Rutherglen in April 1861 and a Presbyterian church opened the same month. A survey of the township was conducted a few months later and sites were reserved for churches, a national school, public buildings, post and telegraph offices and a cemetery. Rutherglen was declared a municipality in September 1862. A brick post office was built in 1863 and St Stephen's Anglican church was erected in 1864-65.

Despite this dizzying rate of development, it became apparent early in 1861 that the gold was not going to come easily. Production fell from 28 kg a week in mid-1861 to 21 kg by the end of the year. The number of miners working on the Indigo Division fell from 6411 in January 1861 to 5070 in August, 3235 in July 1862, 1815 in January 1863, 763 in March 1864, about 200 in March 1865 and 46 by March 1867. The total population of the Rutherglen district declined from 6600 in December 1861 to about 3000 one year later. The dry leads were exhausted in 1866 and both people and equipment began to disappear rapidly. Thus, in the June quarter of 1867, only 1.4 kg of gold were produced.


This decline left Rutherglen without an economic base to support the town's businesses. However, many of the miners stayed on to take up rural industries, cultivating grains, vegetables, orchards and wines which ultimately ensured the survival of Rutherglen. The houses of these early settlers were mostly of split slabs and bark. Ploughing was done with a single-furrow plough, sowing and threshing was by hand and reaping by sickle with the grain shovelled into four-bushel bags which were sewn up by hand.

Rutherglen was declared a shire in 1871 and, despite the post-goldrush struggle, the town proved viable. Signs of some confidence were evident in the opening of a National School in 1872, a Bank of Victoria branch in 1874, a Catholic Church in 1875 and, in 1877, Congregational and Wesleyan churches.

The goldfields of the north-east were the main market for local producers until the arrival of the railway in 1879 which dramatically changed local production by providing access to the Melbourne market. This proved a considerable stimulus to the local economy, contributing to a boom period in the last 20 years of the century.

The boom was greatly enhanced by a substantial revival of goldmining at Rutherglen which was sparked in the mid-1880s when the Great Northern Mine was sold by its owners, who had given up after finding nothing to a depth of 216 feet. The new owners, after digging a mere two metres further, found a lead which was a metre thick and 15 metres wide. This became one of the state's richest mines, producing 107,000 ounces of gold. Returns (and the population) began to decline again after 1900 although the industry struggled on until about 1919, by which time the Rutherglen goldfield had produced a total of 24 156 kg or 1.58% of Victoria's total.

Another reason for the decline was the virtual destruction of the wine industry by the insect known as phylloxera at the outset of the 20th century. The first vines had been planted in the Rutherglen district in the 1850s and a wine industry was under way by 1865. It had greatly improved by the end of the 1870s, by which time wine was being exported to Europe, winning a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1878.

As with agriculture the enhanced market access provided by the railway proved crucial to the wine industry which greatly expanded in the early 1880s and flourished until 1899 when phylloxera was first noted in the local vines. However, the reputation of local wines had already been damaged in the 1890s as a result of action by the Victorian government which tried to increase exports by offering a financial bonus for every acre of vines planted. This led to the cultivation of an extra 12 000 acres which was often poorly prepared. The result was a huge quantity of inferior wine which reduced the overall price.

Nonetheless, the industry did not disappear, thanks largely to the Viticultural College which was established in the 1890s. The college began providing American vine stock resistant to the incursions of the American mite. Thus the industry struggled on and began flourishing again after the first wine festival in 1967.

At the turn of the century agriculture was still of small consequence to the local economy but with the help of the Viticultural College (now the Research Institute) it too flourished to become a major sector.

The Rutherglen and District Art Show is held at Rutherglen Memorial Hall in March, Easter in Rutherglen in April and the Agricultural Show in October. Events relating to the wineries are listed under Things to See.

Things to see

Tourist Information
Rutherglen Visitor Information Centre is located in the Jolimont Centre at 13-27 Drummond St, tel: (02) 6032 9166, or free-call (1800) 622 871. It is situated in a building which was built in 1886 as a winery and extended in 1946 and 1970. Tours of the wineries, by bus or chauffeur-driven service, can be organised here and there are mountain bikes are for hire. Over the road is a cairn denoting the discovery of gold near this point in 1860.

Historic Walk
Walk south along Drummond St, through Rutherglen Park and the Memorial Gardens where there is a war cenotaph, to Lake King which was constructed in 1877 as a water supply for the town. A swimming pool and jetty were built and the local rowing club practiced here. Today there is a walking path around the circumference of the lake which contains long-necked tortoises and plenty of waterbirds.

Walk through the parkland to the corner of High St and Church St where you will find the town's original courthouse (1864 with 1905 extensions). Hearings were previously held in a leaky tent.

Over the road is St Stephen's Anglican Church which was built in 1864-65. The turret is topped by a belfry with an open-work bell cage. Extensions were made in the 20th century and, in 1984, all the wooden parts of the spiral were replaced and exactly reproduced in stainless steel.

Walk along High St to the Murray St corner where you will see a 22-metre Moreton Bay fig tree planted in 1877.

Historical Museum
Turn right into Murray St. On the right-hand side is the Common School. The first two rooms were erected in 1872 and the school opened to students in 1873. Growing attendance saw a wooden extension added in 1897 but, as numbers continued to climb, the present primary school (adjacent) was opened in 1909 and the Common School was remodelled for science and cookery classes. When Rutherglen High School opened in 1962 the building was threatened with demolition but was preserved owing to the efforts of the local historical society which set up a local history museum display in the front room with a Victorian schoolroom recreated in another. It is open Sundays from 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. between October and June.

Historic Walk Continued
Continue along Murray St and turn left into Murphy St. At the roundabout turn right into Howlong Road (the Murray Valley Highway) and walk across the railway line. The railway complex was opened in 1879 but is now used only for grain trains. The grain silos were built in 1941. Walk along Howlong Rd a short distance. To the right is the former Methodist Church, built in 1896 and closed in 1974. It is now a private residence.

Continue along to the Hunter St corner. A cairn here honours Lindsay Brown who took up the Gooramadda run in 1839 and planted the district's first vineyard in the 1850s.

Turn left into Hunter St and walk along to the 65 000-gallon water tower which was built in 1899-1900 to serve as the town's water supply until a new reservoir was built in 1945. Water was pumped from the Murray. The steel mesh wine bottle was added to the top in 1969.

Cross Hunter St then walk west along Culbertson St to the High St intersection where you will see Mt Carmel convent, erected in 1927 to replace the 1901 timber original. Over the road is St Mary's School where a new complex surrounds and blends with the original building which was constructed in 1900 as the church hall.

Walk along High St back towards the town centre. To the left is the former Congregational Church built in 1877 and now the Scout hall. Continue south along High St. To the left, just past the Douglas St intersection, is a private residence built in 1891 which once served as a bank.

At the corner of High St and Main St is the Star Hotel, established at the very outset of the Rutherglen goldrush in October 1860. Its owner, John Wallace, named the new townsite after his birthplace in Scotland (legend has it he was assured he had the right to name the site if he shouted the first round of drinks). The present building dates from 1902.

Turn left into Main St. To the left is Gollings Square, named after the one-time owner of the Victoria Hotel. The post office (1910) incorporates two rooms from the 1863 post office. Over the road is the ANZ Bank, built in 1899-1900 as the Bank of Australasia. Adjacent is the Victoria Hotel. The original was erected in Main Street, Barkly (now Drummond St), in 1860, at the outset of the goldrush. The building was moved to its present site c.1863 and became one of the most popular hotels on the goldfield. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1893-94 with brick additions in 1897. A two-storey brick structure with rear wings and a large stable block, it has a decorative rendered facade, a two-storey cast-iron verandah and an ornate parapet.

Walk west along Main St, over High St. To the left is the National Bank, built in 1896 as the Bank of Victoria. The plaque on the building marks the spot of the first town survey.

Just past it is the Poachers Paradise Hotel, built in 1860 as the Golden Ball. It was renamed the Rutherglen in 1863 and acted as the booking office for coaches bound for Melbourne and other towns. The two-storey section at the front was added in 1924.

Slightly further along is the Shamrock Restaurant, built in the late 19th century as the Cumberland Hotel.

Other Historic Structures
Winery Ruins
In Barkley St, just west of the High St intersection, are the ruins of Vidal's Cellars and Brandy Distillery. Built in 1897 it distilled 78 000 gallons of wine into brandy. The company folded in 1925. There is an information board at the site.

Further west along Barkley St are the ruins of Netherby Cellars, established in 1859 and the home of the first steam plough imported into Victoria. These cellars were capable of holding 200,000 gallons of wine. The remnants of both cellars are on private property but they can be seen from the roadside.

Gold Battery
At the corner of High St and Barkley St is a roundabout. Turn into Hopetoun Rd which veers off the roundabout in a north-westerly direction then take the immediate right turn into Battery Rd which will take you to a 27-ton gold battery, built in 1908 and originally powered by steam. There is an explanatory information board and it is still in operating condition.

Rose of Sharon Museum
If you continue along Hopetoun Rd a short distance, you will pass the Rose of Sharon Goldmining Museum which is based on the remnants of the old Rose of Sharon mine, established in the 1860s. A guide will explain the history of the area, lead you through the walk-in underground mine, and demonstrate gold panning, dolly pot crushing, cradling and battery operation. A collection of old newspapers, photographs, records, mining leases and memorabilia is housed in a replica miner's cottage of corrugated iron with a bark interior.There is also a self-guided goldfield walk (with information boards) taking in a puddling machine, bark hut, crushing battery and other mining displays. Other features are an iris garden, a restaurant, barbecue facilities, a pit pony and even an ostrich. The museum is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day).

Great Northern Mine
The Great Northern Road heads south off the Murray Valley Highway opposite Sutherland Smith Wines, 5 km east of Rutherglen. It leads by some mullock heaps (on the western side of the road) associated with the Great Northern Gold Mine which was the first deep alluvial mine in the district. Information boards on-site provide historical details.

Olive Hills
Opposite Fairfield Vineyard, 11 km east of Rutherglen on the Murray Valley Highway, is the grand old Olive Hills homestead, completed in 1886 for Hugh Fraser who had been producing wine since the 1860s. This single-storey building was constructed of Flemish bonded brick with oregon timbers, ornamental ceilings, marble mantelpieces, large windows, wide verandahs and oak doors. A brick tower rises from the centre of the building and there is an extensive four-room basement which was used as a summer refuge. Fraser was ruined by the financial crash of the 1890s and sold up in 1897. There is an information board at the site.

Mount Ophir Estate
Mount Ophir is an extensive brick winery complex which was built between 1891 and 1903 by absentee English landlords, the Burgoynes. It is classified by the National Trust. The restored homestead features very unusual curved gables and arched openings. There is also a three-storey tower with a conical roof, a gatehouse, a building where the yeasts were once fermented for winemaking and a two-storey brick cellar which was excavated into the side of a hill. From 1891 until 1957, when the winery closed, the estate exported 600 000 gallons of wine to England. Today the estate is a 140-acre organic farm with emus and elks. It offers bed-and-breakfast accommodation in the homestead, gatehouse, tower and yeast house. There is an information board at the site. The estate is located in Stillards Lane which runs off the Rutherglen-Chiltern Rd 6 km south-east of Rutherglen, tel: (02) 6032 8920.

The Muscat Trail
The Muscat Trail is a cycling tour of the district which takes in historic points of interest such as Netherby Cellars, Campbells Winery (established 1870), Buller's Bird Park, Lake Moodemere, Carlyle Cemetery (established 1865), the Pioneer Cemetery (established 1859), the Mass Tree, the John Foord Bridge (1892), All Saints Winery (established in 1864), Carlyle Community Hall, Vidal's Cellars and Brandy Distillery, the Gold Battery and the Rose Of Sharon goldmining site (1860s).

Wineries - General Remarks, Events and Tours
Robust fortified wines and dry reds matured in oak casks are a specialty of the region. Many of the grape varieties are low-yielding and high quality. The vineyards are sited on well-drained river flats and rely on natural rainfall rather than irrigation. Some of the wineries date back to the 19th century and so have historic features. Some are still run by the descendants of the original owners.

The Tastes of Rutherglen Gourmet Getaway unfolds over ten days at the district's wineries in March, the Winery Walkabout is held on the Queen's Birthday weekend in June at the local wineries and in Rutherglen's main street. The Rutherglen Wine Show occurs in September and the Rutherglen Tour de Muscat cycling weekend is held in November.

Several companies offer different ways of exploring the more than twenty vineyards in the area, via stretch limousine (ring 02 6032 9588 or 6032 9572), twin-seater Moto Guzzi trike (02 6032 9390) or air-conditioned coach (02 6032 9224).

Chambers Rosewood Winery
Chambers Winery is located in Barkley St on the northern side of town. This is a fifth-generation family business started by William Chambers who planted his first vines in 1859 and is open Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and on Sundays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (closed Christmas Day, Anzac Day and Good Friday). There are picnic and playground facilities and a barbecue can be arranged, tel: (02) 6032 8641.

West of Town
Campbells Winery
Campbells is a fourth-generation family affair established in 1870 by John Campbell. There is a self-guided tour of the winery (the cellars date from 1885), displays of antique equipment and museum memorabilia. They are open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. except on Sundays and Anzac Day when they open at 10.00 a.m. (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday). Campbells Wine & Food Celebration is held at the winery at the end of October. It is located 3 km west of the town centre on the Murray Valley Highway. There is a picnic area with playground and barbecue facilities, tel: (02) 6032 9458.

Stanton and Killeen Wines
Stanton and Killeen Wines is a sixth-generation business. Timothy Stanton planted his first vines in 1875 although the business eventually folded in the 1930s. The family retained the property and the vineyard was re-established in 1968 by Norman Killeen who married into the Stanton family. They are open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. except on Sundays and Anzac Day when they open at 10.00 a.m. (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday). To get there head west along the Murray Valley Highway for 2 km and turn right into Jacks Road. There are picnic and barbecue facilities, tel: (02) 6032 9457.

Bullers Calliope Vineyard and Bird Park
Bullers, established in 1921, is a dry-land vineyard which produces a wide range of full-bodied table and dessert wines, sherries and muscats. The cellar door is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. except on Sundays and Anzac Day when they open at 10.00 a.m. (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday).

Also on the grounds is Buller's Bird Park, which contains over 100 native and exotic species, and a fine garden which has evolved over 40 years. There are picnic and barbecue facilities. To get there head west of the Murray Valley Highway for 5 km then turn right into Three Chain Rd (towards Wangaratta) and it is 1 km along here to the left, tel: (02) 6032 9660.

Lake Moodemere Vineyards
Located on the banks of Lake Moodemere this vineyard offers gourmet barbecue packs (with prior notice) and 90-minute walks around the lake. Buses are welcome by prior arrangement. They are open weekends and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and, on Mondays and Fridays from 10.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. (closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Good Friday). The vineyard is on McDonalds Rd, tel: (02) 6032 9449.

Warrabilla Wines
Warrabilla, established in 1990, has an air-conditioned central building with a wood stove. There are also picnic, barbecue and playground facilities. It is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily and is located on the Murray Valley Highway 18 km west of Rutherglen, tel: (02) 6035 7242.

Eastern Side of Town
Jones Winery
This is the smallest winery in the district, utilising traditional techniques, including fermentation in the original open wooden vats installed in the 19th century. The winery was built in 1860 by Fritz Ruhe (the property was purchased by the Jones family in 1927) and the original bark roof is intact. This was the first winery in the district to be hit by phylloxera.

The cellar door is open Thursday to Sunday and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. It is located in Jones Rd which heads south off the Murray Valley Highway at the eastern edge of town, tel: (02) 6032 8496.

Anderson Winery
Anderson Winery is a small family winery specialising in premium methode champenoise and still table wines produced entirely on the premises. The winery has used unique 'above-ground' cellar construction and traditional equipment imported from France. It is open daily from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Good Friday) and is located on Chiltern Rd about 2 km south-east of town, tel: (02) 6032 8111.

Sutherland Smith Wines
Sutherland Smith Wines, established in 1864 and reopened in 1993, is run by George S. Smith of the fourth-generation winemaking family who operated All Saints Winery from 1864 to 1988. The cellar door is open on weekends and public holidays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. It opens at 11.00 a.m. every Friday and on weekdays during Victorian school holidays and is located in Falkiners Rd, just off the Murray Valley Highway 7 km east of town, tel: (02) 6032 8177.

Mount Prior Vineyard
The Mount Prior vineyards were established in 1860. They closed just before the First World War and were re-established in the mid-1970s. 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. From the tasting area you can view the underground cellars.

Accommodation is available at 'The House' (1880) and the award-winning restaurant offers dinner on seven nights a week and lunches on weekends. There are also barbecue and picnic facilities and a petanque court. To get there follow High St north to the roundabout and turn right into Barkley St then veer left into Gooramadda Rd which heads north-east to Howlong Rd (aka River Rd). The vineyard is on Howlong Rd 14 km from Rutherglen, tel: (02) 6026 5591.

Fairfield Vineyard
Fairfield Vineyard was established by George Morris in 1859. In 1894 it was the largest vineyard in the Southern Hemisphere with 700 acres under vines, a storage capacity of 1 million gallons and 120 Chinese employees. The vineyard was re-established in 1973 and produces wines made in the traditional manner with original equipment.

Fairfield House is an historic 21-room Italianate mansion with ballroom built in 1889 and restored in 1975. It isn open to the public on the Sunday of the Queen's Birthday weekend from 11.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. There are other historic buildings.

The cellar door is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., Saturdays from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and sometimes on Sundays. It is located on the Murray Valley Highway 13 km east of Rutherglen, tel: (02) 6032 9381. There are picnic and barbecue facilities and an information board on-site.

Morris Wines
Morris Wines have a glass-walled, air-conditioned tasting pavilion within the 19th-century cellars. The vineyard was established in 1859 and replanted from 1918 after the phylloxera invasion. Morris's has a reputation for fortified wines and full-flavoured reds. There are picnic and barbecue facilities.

The cellar door is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. except on Sundays when they open at 10.00 a.m. (closed Christmas Day and Good Friday). To get there head east along the Murray Valley Highway for 16 km then turn left into Mia Mia Rd, tel: (02) 6026 7303.

Gehrig Estate
Gehrig's, established in 1858, is Victoria's oldest continuously-operating winery. Being located near the river they utilised the paddlesteamer trade to supply Melbourne and Sydney. There is a gourmet courtyard restaurant, along with picnic, barbecue and playground facilities.

Barnawatha House, completed in 1870 and built of clay bricks formed and fired on the property, features a three-storey belltower which overlooks a citrus and walnut grove where there is a display of historical farming implements.

The cellar door is open daily from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. except on Sundays when they open at 10.00 a.m. There is a display of winemaking equipment. The restaurant is open Thursday to Sunday and every day in the Victorian school holidays from midday (both are closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday). Gehrig's is located at the corner of the Murray Valley Highway and Howlong Rd, 21 km east of Rutherglen, tel: 02 6026 7296.

Lake Moodemere
Lake Moodemere is a former Aboriginal camp. One of their leaders, Tommy McCrae, was a noted artist who camped on its shores and recorded its beauty for posterity. He died in 1901 and was buried on the lake shore.

The lake's windless qualities have given rise to the state's oldest continuously operating rowing regatta (on New Year's Day) which started in 1866. Although a natural lake it is connected by a pipe and valve system to the Murray River for the occasional top-up.

Moodemere has many waterbirds, particularly black swans and pelicans. There are picnic, barbecue and toilet facilities and plenty of fishing, boating, waterskiing, rowing and swimming opportunities. To get there head west along the Murray Valley Highway for 6 km and take the signposted turnoff on the right.

Camel Treks
Linbrae Camel Farm Wine and River Treks undertake explorations of the district by camel, tel: (02) 6026 3452.

Tourist Information

Rutherglen Visitor Information Centre
13-27 Drummond St
Rutherglen VIC 3685
Telephone: (02) 6032 9166, 1800 622 871