Victorians all know about the State's famous Gold Rush areas, which include Bendigo, Ballarat, Beechworth and Castlemaine.
Most people probably don't know, however, that Melbourne had gold fields virtually on its doorstep, in the area northeast of the metro area.
Centred around Queenstown, which is now the hamlet of St Andrews, miners hoping to strike it rich worked the Caledonia diggings which encompassed areas including Hurstbridge, Kinglake, Diamond Creek, and Smith's Gully, and got as close to Melbourne as Kangaroo Ground and Research (formerly known as Swiper's Gully).
Most of the gold had to be extracted from quartz, though there was also a small amount of alluvial gold (small nuggets and particles carried in water). Who knows, it might be worth tossing a metal detector and gold pan in the back of the car when you go on your next picnic in the area ... just in case!
Not much remains of the Caledonia goldfields, due to the ravages of nature. Many historic buildings in the area have been lost in bushfires which are a tragic reality in our forests.
However, you can still see the original Queenstown Cemetery in Smith's Gully, between Panton Hill and St Andrews.
Maintained by the Queenstown Cemetery Trust and Friends and Relations of Queenstown Cemetery, it is a great piece of little-known Victorian history right on Melbourne's doorstep. The cemetery remained operational from its first burial in 1861 for over a century, right up until 1981.
Sheltered by mature native trees and situated on a hill, it's a very peaceful and pleasant place. Many of the graves are in disrepair, but the steady and dedicated work by volunteers is resulting in some restoration and it is interesting to read some of the gravestones.
The volunteers have their work cut out for them in keeping the grass under control, so make sure you wear long pants and decent shoes, especially in warm weather, as I would imagine this would be prime snake territory. However, the main entrance and quite a lot of the cemetery is well-maintained and easy to walk around.
The cemetery is well worth a visit if you are interested in local history. There is a board with a complete listing of everyone buried here, in order of the year they were buried.
We lived in Smiths'sGully for over 20 years and drove past this cemetery on most days. It's worth a look around, but be very careful of snakes. Down by the creek you will find the remains of the old battery which was used to extract the gold. We looked for gold when we lived up there but we're never lucky enough to find any.