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Avoca, VIC

Historic goldmining town known as the 'Heart of the Pyrenees'

Avoca has one of the widest main streets in Australia. In fact it is so wide that there is parkland in the median strip which is suitable for picnics and a war memorial. Historically Avoca came into existence because of the rich gold deposits in the district and the wide main street is designed so that bullock teams could turn effortlessly. It was so rich that by 1854 there were 16,000 miners in the area. Although gold persists - it still attracts prospectors - today the town is a rural service centre characterised by its wide main street edged by cafes, galleries and specialty shops. The district now has over 50 wineries - big, bold reds are the local highlight - and the nearby Pyrenees Ranges are ideal for bushwalking

Location

Located 183 km north west of Melbourne between Ballarat and St Arnaud.

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Origin of Name

There are three Avocas in Australia - one in Tasmania, one in NSW and one in Victoria. Each town has its own unique origins but it is generally accepted that the meaning of Avoca (which is almost certainly a Gaelic word corrupted when it arrives in English) is  "the meeting of the waters". It was widely known at the time because of the song, The Meeting of the Waters, by Thomas Moore which was inspired by the Vale of Avoca in County Wicklow in Ireland. It is known that this particular Avoca was named by the explorer Thomas Mitchell who passed through the area in 1836 and named the local river Avoca.

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Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings
There is a pamphlet which describes a walking tour of the town's historic buildings and lists around 40 places of interest. Most of the sites are on High Street. Some places of particular interest include:

War Memorial
Located on High Street between Cambridge Street and Russell Street, the war memorial was built in 1921 to honour the local men who fought in the Great War. The memorial was designed as a band rotunda "with eight piers carrying a roof obscured by a parapet. A frieze above the columns contains the names of the main areas where volunteers from Avoca fought: Gallipoli, France, Palestine and Belgium. Low walls on four sides each have a soldier's helmet and pack sculptured in high relief. The entrances on the other sides are guarded by free-standing granite tablets, inscribed with the names of soldiers from the district who fought in the First World War. The tablet on the northern side of the memorial records the names of those who died." It cost £1,100. 

Lalor's Pharmacy - Lalors Prescription Depot
Lalor's Pharmacy, which dates from 1854, is reputedly the oldest continuously-operating pharmacy in Victoria. It still has old style shelving which once held bottle and potions.

Chinese Garden
Located at the end of Cambridge Street, the Chinese Garden, known as "The Garden of Fire and Water" was officially opened in 2014. It is a recognition of the role played by thousands of Chinese miners in the Avoca area in the 1850s. It was created by artist Lindy Lee and designer Mel Ogden. Guided tours are available. Contact the Visitor Information Centre.

Victoria Hotel Complex
The Victoria Hotel Complex comprises the stone-and-brick hotel and stone ballroom (late 1850s) and the stone stables (1872). The ballroom was a venue for travelling performers and was known as the Victoria Theatre. 

Avoca Primary School
Located 118 Barnett  Road, this handsome and impressive building doesn't look like a single storey Gothic Revival School (opened in 1878 although the sign on the building says 1876) built to a design by the Public Works Department. The Heritage of Australia describes it as: "Asymmetrically composed, the design features steeply pitched slate roofs, with bell-cast hips above gabled eaves, decorative vents, a tapering fleche and decorative chimneys. There is an encircling, slate roofed timber veranda, multi-paned windows and brick string courses. The structure is representative of schools of the period." It really is a remarkable building.

Court House
Located at 85 High Street, the small Court House was built in 1859 and was in use until 1979. The Heritage of Australia describes it as: "This Classical Revival brick court house forms part of a complex including a lock-up,  police magazine and residence. The Court House was ... rectangular in plan, it has a gabled porch and shallow, hipped roof. Features are the window and door surrounds, quoins, string and eaves courses, and the round headed entrance door. The building is one of the earliest surviving court houses in the state and representative of its type and era.

Avoca & District Historical Society Museum
Located in the Court House the Avoca & District Historical Society Museum is now the headquarters of the local historical society. It contains a local history and family history resource centre containing thousands of documents, photographs, maps, microfilm of local newspapers and rare books relating to the Avoca district. Check out http://home.vicnet.net.au/~adhs. Tel: (03) 5465 3265. Open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Sunday and by appointment.

Police Station, Lock Up and Powder Magazine 
Some buildings associated with the police camp are to be found in Napier Street between Davy and Camp Streets. They are the coursed bluestone lock-up with a galvanised roof (1867), which replaced the original log lock-up (1854), the police residence (1859) and the powder magazine (1860). They were built at the request of the local council to store explosives. In recent times they have been classified by the National Trust.

Uniting Church and Anglican Rectory
Located on the corner of Rutherford and Russell Streets is the former Anglican rectory (1894). Over the road is the Uniting Church Complex, consisting of the brick Wesleyan Church (1867), Sunday School (1870) and parsonage (1871).

National School
Located at 124 Rutherford St is the former National School (1857 with later additions). One of the first to be established in the state it is a Gothic Revival brick structure. In 1872 it was educating over 300 students. In 1878 it was replaced by the school over the road which is now listed by the National Trust.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Pyrenees State Forest
Located 12 km west of Avoca, the Pyrenees State Forest Within the state forest, can be accessed via Vinoca Road. The main attractions include the Governors Rock Lookout Tower (there is a parking and picnic area) which offers panoramic views across the river flats towards Maryborough and north to the Pyrenees mountains. Box ironbark forest dominate. Gold was discovered in 1854 and slate was also quarried. The entire state forest is criss-crossed by tracks.
There is also the Pyrenees Walking Track, an 18 km walk beginning at the Waterfalls picnic area. There are bush camping sites along the way. For more detailed information check out https://visitpyrenees.com.au/seeanddo/pyrenees-state-forest-walks.

An Image of Avoca during the Goldrush
A description of the Avoca diggings in the 1850s: "Shanties, public houses and shops sprang up rapidly and the place was a veritable beehive of industry -  the whirring of the windlass, the clank-clank of the buckets, the rumble of the 'cradle' and the puddling machine, the tents, the lights innumerable at night, the singing oft bacchanalian the laughter and the brawls made a medley of sound incidental to the bush mining camp."

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to people from the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal group.

* Thomas Mitchell reached the area in 1836. He  was the first European to pass through the district. 

* Around 1839 a number of Dja Dja Wurrung people were killed at what is known as the Blood Hole massacre.

* By the 1840s there were a number of squatters in the area. 

* In 1853 gold was discovered at Four Mile Flat near Homebush.

* A police camp of some 50 troopers was established in 1853. 

* By 1854 the town had a population of 2577 and there were a total of around 16,000 diggers operating in the 6 km of riverbed south of the confluence of Glenlogie Creek and Avoca River. 

* In 1854 a lock-up was built in the town. A post office was opened that year.

* The Bank of Victoria was built in 1854 to capitalise on the new-found wealth.

* The Avoca Hotel opened its doors in 1854. IN 1854 a chemist shop was opened - it is still operating today.

* In 1855 the Union Hotel opened.

* By 1856 a Wesleyan Church had been built.

* A National School was opened in 1857 

* The local Court House was completed in 1859.

* Between 1859-1870 the district yielded gold worth £2.5 million.

* The town's population had dropped to 768 by 1871.

* The Avoca Football Club was formed in 1872. 

* The railway line from Maryborough was opened in 1876. 

* By the 1870s grapes were being grown in the area. 

* The Avoca Primary School opened in 1878.

* In 1887 Edwin Mackereth established a winery west of the town.

* By the late 1890s most of the larger mines in the district had closed.

* In 1911 the Sugarloaf Reservoir was opened.

* The Avoca Soldiers Memorial was built in 1921

* There were no vineyards in the district by 1929.

* Through the 20th century there were various attempts to use dredges to extract gold.

* In the 1970s the area once again became popular with vineyard growers.

* A Chinese Garden, known as the Garden of Fire and Water, was constructed in 2014.

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Visitor Information

Avoca Information and Community Centre, 122 High Street, tel: (03) 5465 1000, 1800 206 622, Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm seven days a week.

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Useful Websites

There is an excellent community website. Check out https://www.avoca.vic.au.

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