Saturday, January 29, 2011

The one about Castlemaine

I think I fell a little bit in love with Castlemaine during my day trip there last Wednesday. It really is a charming town. So much history, lovely old buildings, quaint cottages and quite a lot to see and do for such a small place.  I feel like I only scratched the surface.

I arrived an hour later than planned because I realised on the way to the station to catch the 9.15 train that I should have been on the 8.15 train! Oopsie. The ticket man let me catch the later train at no extra cost (not that I would have minded paying another $12, especially as it was my own stupid fault I missed it).

I took a book to read but I spent the whole 1.5 hour trip looking out the window and wishing I could stop the train to take photos. I saw a young foal gallivanting joyfully around his paddock, old bath tub stock troughs, sloping green fields dotted with rolls of hay, and a little girl in a pink hoodie waving as the train went by. There was a lake (I forget where) with steam rising eerily from it and a tree full of those black and white ibis.

I especially wanted to take photos of some of the old country train stations we passed through (but didn't want to risk being left behind). Most have been renovated to retain their old world charm, but others - Malmsbury and Kyneton spring to mind - are getting rather ramshackle, and those are the ones I like the most. 

It was overcast when I left Melbourne but as I neared Castlemaine, the clouds broke up and the sun shone. It was a perfect day when I arrived - warm but with a light breeze.

I wandered down the main street to the Tourist Information Centre and picked up the Eureka Reef Heritage Walk podtour (after being assured that if I was used to walking a lot, the walk to Eureka Reef from town wouldn't be too demanding...).

I grabbed a quick bite to eat from a bakery and ate it in the gardens where the town's Australia Day celebrations were in full swing. After a burst of pipes and drums from the Castlemaine Highland Band, I set off for Eureka Reef (as in gold, not coral).

I poked my head into the Theatre Royal on the way, but the foyer is small and there's not much to see. One day I'll go back to see a movie.  I do like the way they've repurposed the old theatre seats as cafe seating though.

I passed a lot of of old buildings and cute little old cottages on the highway. I turned right at Eureka Street, crossed the rail bridge and kept going as the bitumen gave way to unsealed gravel...and walked...and walked...and walked and wondered if I was on the right track. There wasn't another soul around, just a swarm of dragonflies and the buzzing of cicadas.

I saw this sign in the bush on my right which gave me a moment's pause, given I was in the bush all on my own with no phone reception, but then I remembered it's a low security prison (clearly). What would they do? Defraud me?

I pushed on, admiring the colours and textures of the stone on the side of the road. Eventually I saw a sign pointing to the car park for the Eureka Reef. Eureka indeed. The car park was empty. I didn't mind the solitude.

Eureka Reef is part of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, which, I learnt from the podtour, is World Heritage listed because of its cultural significance. Men - some with wives and children - came from all over the world in the 1850s to try their luck on the gold diggings.  Nearby Forest Creek, according to a sign on the highway, was the site of the "world's richest shallow alluvial goldfield ever".

Ruins of the mine manager's cottage

There are still remnants of the gold diggings in the bush, among them ruins of miners' cottages, the mine shaft and tunnel and remains of a puddling machine (which my brain keeps reading as 'pudding machine' and getting a bit excited about). The mine shaft and tunnel are one of only two places in the state where the actually rather uncommon Common Bentwing Bat gives birth to and rears its young. Only these two places have the perfect temperature and humidity for the bats to bring their offspring into the world.

The entrance to the mine

The bush was also booby trapped with spider webs. Before I even got to the first stop on the podtour I had to duck under a web across the path with its occupant sitting smack bang in the middle of it. I didn't account for the bulk of my backpack, however, so I quickly dropped it to the ground and did that panicked oh-my-god-there's-a-spider-on-me! dance (I'm not even that scared of spiders; I just don't want them on me). I had to keep my wits about me and my eyes ahead after that.

Waiting patiently...

The bush was also teeming with those browny-orange butterflies. With nearly every step I took, one or two would take flight, which was quite pretty, but seeing something moving out of the corner of my eye was also mildly startling since the spider encounter had me a little on edge. I didn't see any other wildlife, but I did spot some scat with large seeds in it though! (I'm sparing you a photo of, I didn't take one!)

When I got back to the car park I was also startled by the sight of another human being. There was a guy with a metal detector going over the old tailings pile. It was whoop-whooping away as I passed by on my way back to the road. 

Not for drinking...

They used cyanide and arsenic to mine the gold. This tank dates from the
 1950s when the ground was worked over again.

I headed back to town (it turned out to be a 2.5 hour round trip!), dropped off the podtour at the Information Centre and got myself a cold drink. I then headed for a quick wander around the Botanical Gardens, then back to the station for the train home, foot sore and worn out, but happy (and a little bit sunburnt).

While it was a lovely day out, I don't recommend going on a public holiday if you want to poke your nose around the shops and galleries. Most of them were closed. I think I'll head back another time to see the stuff I missed out on. There's an art gallery and museum, a historic mansion, some other podtours, an old cemetery and I'd also like to ride the old Goldfields Steam Railway to nearby Maldon. 

Mostyn Street shops

Old telegraph building on the right, main street

Castlemaine Station


a work in progress said...

i LOVE maldon omg! i so wanted to move there at one stage. so many cute tiny cottages.

wish i could come tripping with you, looks like so much fun :)

Brunswick Girl said...

It's a lovely place did a day trip there few weeks ago - can highly rec the Gallery if it was closed - some lovely pic and sculpture there.

so lovely to get away for a wee while

mykalel said...

Nice travelogue Jayne. You should try submitting it to the tourist guides & travel magazines.