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Central Victoria’s 19th century goldrush bankrolled rich towns and expansive gardens. 


These days the riches are metaphorical gold for the traveller and garden lover– gorgeous towns, fine wines, indulgent food treats set against a backdrop of trees turning red and gold. Sandra finds it irresistible.


The goldfields of Central Victoria must be one of the prettiest regions in the state; and the old mining towns are rich in history and heritage. Maldon is probably my favourite. Quaint old shops have lovely wide awnings; hotels are wreathed in decorative wrought iron and the entire streetscape has been restored intact. It’s like stepping into an old movie and it’s easy to see why this town is classified “Australia’s first notable town”, by the National Trust.


The goldfields towns remain a treasure trove of VIctorian and Georgian architecture. Elegant villas, baroque mansions and Gothic cathedrals were all funded by the riches, and the civic pride of the goldfields towns. Photo - Sandra Ross


Or perhaps my favourite is Ballarat with it’s lovely wide main street with a band rotunda set in the middle! It was spring last time I was there and the gardens all through the goldfields were enchanting. The again it’s glorious in autumn with the backdrop of coloured foliage.

The miners of the 1850 gold rush could not have known that this would be the world’s richest shallow alluvial goldfield. But the evidence is clear in the growth of centres like Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Maldon and Daylesford. The rich, gold-dusted dreams of flower-filled shady gardens and green lawns, band rotundas and duck-filled lakes, survive like mirages, 150 years later.

Gold wealth financed the development of some fine public gardens that were free for all to enjoy. Some were planted with new plant species under the direction of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, who supplied Goldfields gardens with cuttings and seedlings. He had travelled extensively in Australia collecting plant specimens and classifying them. On one expedition to the North West he collected nearly 2,000 species of plants. He sent huge amounts of plants and seeds to grateful public gardens, herbaria, institutes and individuals throughout the Australian colonies and overseas.

Castlemaine Botanic Gardens was one such recipient. The garden originated in heavily worked gold diggings along Barkers Creek in 1860, making it one of the earliest of Victoria’s many botanic gardens. Philip Doran arrived as its first curator having worked at Chatsworth House in England. He worked here from 1866 to until his death in 1913. The gardens retain his original design and major plantings, with typical characteristics of nineteenth century gardens such a carriage drive, and avenues of elm and oak. The Castlemaine Botanical Garden is on the register of the National Estate and the Victorian Heritage Register.

Castlemaine is a town that now serves a substantial fruit-growing and farming area. The fine public buildings, wide streets, ornate hotels and lovely old shops define its historic status. Each year Castlemaine hosts a Festival of Gardens, when 25 gardens will be open over Melbourne Cup week. The lovely old colonial homes of Castlemaine are noted for their early Australian architecture and gardens are a diverse lot, including large town gardens, small cottage gardens and rambling country gardens.


Tuberous begonias make stunning hanging basket specimens and are ideal in a conservatory-type situation with bright light but no direct sun. These beauties are in Ballarat's Botanic Gardens Reseve. The first tuberous begonias were introduced here in 1889, not long after they were first 'discovered' in Peru and Bolivia by European plant hunters. Photo - Sandra Ross

Ballarat Botanical Gardens Reserve has a central garden in the 'gardenesque' style of the Victorian pleasure garden. On either side there are open parkland buffers. Located on the western shore of Lake Wendouree, the Gardens are an invaluable heritage and recreational resource. The first tuberous begonias were introduced to the gardens in 1889, not long after their discovery in Peru and Bolivia. This began a tradition that has been highlighted by the annual Ballarat Begonia Festival. This year it is scheduled over the Victorian Labour Day long weekend, March 8-10. There are also azalea, camellia, dahlia, rose, and Australian native gardens. A number of trees in these gardens have been registered by the National Trust.


Goldfields Indulgence


Wine tasters should follow the Great Grape Road Touring Route or the Bendigo Winemakers Trail to some of the best cellar doors in the country. Grapes were first grown around Ballarat in the 1850s, when Europeans came with the Gold Rush. But the wine ran out when the gold did! Yellowglen was the first of the contemporary vineyards, planted in the 1970s. The cellar door is open seven days a week, on Whytes Road at Smythedale, on the outskirts of Ballarat.



Seven kilometres north of Daylesford, you will find the Chocolate Mill. Fresh chocolate is made here in the old-fashioned European way, using natural ingredients and quality European chocolate, with no preservatives and additives. Every month Jennifer Gregory and Chris Weippert melt down over a tonne of imported Belgian courveture chocolate and turn it into delicious indulgences.



Gillies Pie Shop, in Hargreaves Mall, Bendigo, is a local institution, famed for its beef pies, every which way and any size you like. And for vegetarians, there are also quiches and vegetarian pie options.


Text: Sandra Ross

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Author: Sandra Ross