I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published November 17th 2015
Historic Grampians Quarry Site
The few remnants of civilization to be found at Heatherlie in the Grampians aren't much to show for a site that once supported a 100 strong workforce and contributed significantly to the construction of some of Melbourne's stately buildings.
Heatherlie, on the Mount Zero road, is about 13.5 Kilometres north of Halls Gap and best known for the quality of its freestone (sandstone) building blocks carved out of the rocky eastern slopes of the Mount Difficult Range.
These simple stone cottages were built by Heatherlie's Italian quarrymen in 1886-87 to house the local workforce Photos: Ian Gill / Footloosephoto
This valuable resource was first discovered in the early 1860's by Stawell stonemason Francis Watkins. Legend has it he was on a hunting trip to Mount Difficult when he stumbled across and identified the very high quality, even grained, weather resistant and easily worked sandstone. He took out a lease over the area and started using it in his work.
By the 1870's Heathrlie stone was in great demand in Stawell for memorials and headstones. At around the same time a huge fire almost destroyed Stawell's main street and Heatherlie stone was used extensively in the re-building process. Surplus and sub-standard stone was also used in construction of a local Police Barracks and railway engine shed.
A stone chimney and rusting compressor chamber on the old quarry site are all that remain of Heatherlie's working machinery Photo: Ian Gill / Footloosephoto
Not long afterwards Watkins completed his first major public building project, construction of the Stawell Court House between 1878 and 1879.
Demand for the stone led to the construction of a tramway from Heatherlie Quarry to the railhead at Stawell.
The quarry 'face' from which Heatherlie's valuable sandstone was cut, some as recently as 1981 for minor repairs to Melbourne's public buildings Photo: Ian Gill / Footloosephoto
Knowing full well that local contracts would not sustain the quarry Watkins worked hard to secure prestigious State Government contracts and submitted countless samples of his stone to the Public Words Department. As persistent as he was it was a stroke of good luck which eventually saw Heatherlie stone selected for a major Melbourne building.
A State Parliamentary party visiting Stawell was so impressed with the newly completed Stawell Court House that they took the decision to have the new Parliament House constructed in Heatherlie Stone, a decision which saw a contract for materials signed in 1881.
The quarry was operating at its peak in 1886 and 1887 with more than 100 men employed there, many living on-site in simple stone cottages. Heatherlie was declared a township in 1888 and a school building was relocated from Darra near Ballan for the towns 33 school-age children.
But the townships prosperity was short-lived and by late 1889 a decline in demand for the stone led to a downsizing of the workforce.
The school closed and the majority of the workers who remained chose to commute to work from Stawell rather than live in difficult conditions at Heatherlie.
The quarry closed in 1893 on the expiration of the Public Works contract, was reopened and worked for several years before again closing in 1938. The Stawell to Heatherlie tramway closed in 1949 and was dismantled in 1951.
Rusting rolling stock from the Heatherlie to Stawell tramway still litters the old quarry site Photo: Ian Gill / Footloosephoto
Very small amounts of freestone were again quarried between 1971 and 1981. Since then the only stone taken has been sufficient to carry out repairs on existing buildings.
Heatherlie Quarry has played an important role in Victorian architecture supplying stone for prominent buildings including Parliament House, Melbourne Town Hall, the State Library of Victoria, the Melbourne Port Authority Building and the Regent Theatre.
In Stawell, as well as the Court House, the Town Hall, the Anglican Church and St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church were all built in Heatherlie freestone.
Today the Heatherlie Quarry is a readily accessible, rustic historic site. The quarry walls are dotted with 'bore-holes' and surrounded by stone debris and rusting artefacts. Of particular interest are several cottages built by Italian stonemasons in the late 1880's.
The Grampians are a great natural attraction and Heatherlie is just one of many interesting and very enjoyable sites to be found there.
Getting there …..
Halls Gap, The Grampians is 253 kilometres west of Melbourne via the M8 and A8 National Highways to Ararat and then the C222 Grampians Road. It's a little under a 3 hour drive in nil traffic conditions.
Heatherlie Quarry is on the Mount Zero Road 13.5 kilometres north of Halls Gap. A 600-meter walking track leads from the car park to the quarry site.