Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published July 2nd 2012
It's well known that Marvellous Melbourne was built on the back of the crazy gold rush of the 1850-1870's, when gold seemingly poured from the ground, and people all over the world flocked here in the hopes of making their fortune. Many visitors and residents have had the experience of visiting the ever popular Sovereign Hill in Ballarat for a glimpse into what it was like to live in the goldfields in those days.
The historic town of Steiglitz, however, just over an hour's drive from Melbourne on the edge of the beautiful Brisbane Ranges, between Geelong and Ballan, was one of the richest and most bustling goldfields in Victoria. Today it is a virtual ghost-town, with what remaining buildings there are still intact. It's a really fascinating place to visit on a Sunday drive, and kids will enjoy it too. Volunteers man the Old Courthouse on a Sunday afternoon, and can tell you why the walk along Stawell Street to Sutherland's Creek is known as Deadman's Loop (watch out for ghosts!), and that there were 4 pubs, 2,500 people, 3 schools and 100 sly grog tents here in its heyday. There are really good information plaques showing photos of what Regent Street (the gravel main street) looked like, and information about each of the sites as you wander around, though only the church, two old grocery stores, the post office, smithy's and courthouse remain.
There are some lovely walks which take you along Sutherlands Creek, past the old streets of the settlement and down to the creek where you can still pan for gold today (though you need to obtain a permit). Stay on the tracks though, as there are still hundreds of old mine shafts in the bush around here. There are also enormous mullock heaps, with tailings from the larger mines. You can climb on top of the one on Steiglitz Street (just near the recreation grounds) for views all the way to Port Phillip Bay. It doesn't take much to imagine the bush around here ringing with the sound of picks and shovels.
Bring a picnic lunch if you come, as this really is a ghost town - no shops or cafes, and just a handful of remaining residents. At the end of Regent Street, cross over New Chum Bridge into Brisbane Ranges National Park (note that dogs are strictly not allowed in the National Park, though they are in the area around Steiglitz) and follow the good gravel Steiglitz-Durdiwarrah Road for 2 km and you will come to the very pretty Fridays Campground and Picnic Ground - a great place for a picnic in the shade of the old mature cypresses.
Every two years, the 'Back to Steiglitz Festival' is held, which is an old fashioned family fun day. It will be held this year on 14th October from 10am to 3pm, and will include historical displays, gold panning, lace-making and blacksmithing demonstrations, market and cake stalls, stationary engines and billy cart races. Entry to the festival is free, though a gold coin donation is appreciated. As if you needed another reason to visit this little gem of Victoria's gold mining past!
Loved your article on the town I call home (yes I'm 1 of the 8 residents). It would be a great help to the Back to Steiglitz Association (not-for-profit group who raise funds solely for Steiglitz) if you mentioned us. Although Parks are the caretakers of Steiglitz, their budget has been cut to the bone. Meaning our group have been the ones raising funds to repair & maintain all the public historic buildings that still exist in the town. And we've been doing it for almost 20 years now! How? By creating fundraising community events, such as the Festival you mentioned, though also the award winning Steiglitz Airing of the Quilts & Reunion. We won Australia Day Community Event of the Year recently for this quirky fundraiser (held around 25th Oct). Presently our proceeds are going towards our fight to save the at-risk last surviving Steiglitz School building. It'll take a lot of money, though it's possible, just look at what we've done with all the other buildings, so we're not giving up. Again, great article. I think the town I call home is pretty special too. With sunny Steiglitz smiles, Lindy Allinson