Feb 2022, Chewton, Vic
Situated on the Pyrenees Highway, these days Chewton feels a little like a suburb of nearby Castlemaine. Both towns are splendid examples of Victoria’s gold mining past. When gold was discovered in Victoria in 1851 towns quickly sprung up to service the needs of the miners who were arriving from all corners of the globe. Chewton was then known as Forest Creek and was a part of the Mount Alexander goldfield. It’s easy to lose yourself for an hour or two at the site of the Forest Creek Gold Diggings and at the remains of the Garfield Water Wheel which was part of the gold battery operations. When this battery was in operation the noise could be heard in Castlemaine. They may have been living in the bush but life wasn’t quiet in the goldfields.
Equally, the Main Street (Pyrenees Highway) of Chewton is a fascinating one to explore. There’s the vine-clad Red Hill Hotel that jumps with live music on weekends. Built around 1854 it was the first licensed pub in Chewton and we’re not the only ones pleased to see it still pouring beers. The Penney Bakery building dates from the 1860’s when it was known as Manchester House, are those old slates on the footpath out front?
The Primitive Methodist Church looks anything but primitive and nearby someone has created a rail-inspired artwork. To add to the experience there are some interesting stories along the street that give an insight into life in this town, in particular, the story of Mrs. Frances White as quoted in the Castlemaine Mail of 8th June 1948. “…Mrs. White had been talking to her son near the back fence and had turned to retrace her steps into the house when her foot sank into what she thought was an old posthole. Looking down suddenly she saw the earth breaking away and called to her son. At the same time she grabbed at a branch of a tree growing near the edge and was able to save herself from falling. Looking over her shoulder as she clung to the branch she could see the earth slipping away from where she was standing and leaving a deep yawning cavity.” The property was atop the underground drive of a gold mine.
For the history buff, there’s so much to see in this town, the portable police lockup, the town hall that is a fraction of the size of the pub and pretty post office that was built much later than the gold rush, no doubt when the state was flush with the prosperity that the gold brought.