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Blackwood, VIC

Historic gold mining town

The tiny and historic gold mining town of Blackwood sits at the northern end of the Lerderderg State Park in the Macedon Ranges. While there is little remaining gold, when the price is right mining still occurs in the area. Today Blackwood, with its timber cottages, is situated amidst the eucalyptus-covered hills and its main attractions are bushwalking, exploring the goldrush history of the town and wandering around the genuinely fascinating historic cemetery.

Location

Blackwood is located 89 km north-west of Melbourne via the Western Highway through Bacchus Marsh.

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Origin of Name

Blackwood was known as Mount Blackwood until 1921 when the name was shortened to Blackwood. It was named after a Captain Blackwood, Commander of a ship named Fly from 1843-1845.

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Things to See and Do

The Blackwood Cemetery
Cemeteries are always interesting places, particularly historic cemeteries like the one at Blackwood which was gazetted in 1860.  It has some particularly fascinating nineteenth century graves. There is a map available which can guide the visitor through the orchard and gardens which combine native flora with introduced species.
There are nine graves, located at the back of the cemetery, of the Chinese miners who started arriving in the district in 1857. It is claimed that most of these Chinese came from Canton.
There is the grave of a Frenchwoman, Madame Pauline Bonford, who cut many of the water races which supplied the water required by the diggings. Blackwood Publishing records: “'Madame Pauline Bonfond, a French woman made an excellent living contracting to cut races for the diggers. She built the water races for sluicing gold around the hills on the opposite side of the gully from Golden Point, Blackwood. The story states that many a thievish miner carried the marks of her shovel to their grave, when they thought they could get the better of her. She was said to have sold the water in her race for a shilling for so much water for sluicing." It also records that her real name was Pauline Bounefond or, maybe, Pauline Bonnefond.
There's the grave of one of the town's true pioneers, Bridget Cruise who built the Blackwood Hotel in 1868, after the death of her husband. The Blackwood Hotel still stands in the centre of town.
There's 'Little Doaty's Grave' (23 October, 1878), the resting place of an unfortunate four year old whose real name was Josephine Margaret Rowan, who died from diphtheria. According to legend was found drowned after getting lost in the bush but this is more legend than fact.
There is a huge and elegant tombstone and vault (reputedly “one of the most costly memorials of a pioneer and his kin that has been erected on any goldfield in the Commonwealth”) for Matthew Rogers, a stonemason and gold miner, who constructed the Garden of St Erth at the former mining settlement of Simmons Reef. He named his handiwork after the region in Cornwall where he was born. There is a very detailed account of the cemetery at http://www.blackwoodpublishing.com/aspects-of-early-blackwood-history-and-pioneers/.

All Saints Anglican Church
It is surprising how a small, unimpressive timber church can have an interesting history but, in the case of All Saints it was gazetted in September, 1864 and dedicated on 29 October, 1865 with the first Bishop of Melbourne, Bishop Charles Perry, officiating at the dedication. Most interestingly in its early days the pulpit played host to a lay preacher from Bacchus Marsh named George Andrew Scott who later was known as Captain Moonlight. He went from clergyman to bank robber and, when he shot and killed a policeman, he was captured and hanged in 1880. The blue windows and cross pattern on the frosted glass was added when the church was used for both a wedding and a funeral in the 1993 movie The Man From Snowy River. It was placed on the Register of the National Trust with the citation: "“A charming naïve timber Church in primitive Gothic style with classicising details, dated from 1865. The windows have Gothic glazing bars and the roof is capped by a square bell cote."

Miners Hut
On Whalebone Road there is one of the original cottages which dates from some time between 1855 and 1864. It is one of four huts in the town. All are indicative of the simple building techniques of the time. In this case the use of huge logs and simple mortar is an unusual vernacular technique.

Blackwood Mineral Springs
The Blackwood Mineral Springs Reserve is located off Golden Point Road east of the town centre. The park ranger's office has maps of the area. There are picnic and barbecue facilities in the park along the banks of the Lerderderg River. The Soda Spring is located on the car park side of the river, while another mineral spring is situated directly on the other side of the river, accessed via a footbridge. From this other spring begin a couple of scenic walking tracks. Across a small bridge there is a track which wanders along the shore of Shaw's Lake (it was a reservoir providing water for the goldminers) and on to Sweets Lookout with its panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. Below Sweets Lookout is a trail which leads past Golden Point, where the miners' water races, carved into the mountains' flanks, are still visible. From there the paths return to the township of Blackwood.

Garden of St Erth
Located at Simmons Reef Road, to the west of Blackwood, is the Garden of St Erth, a sandstone cottage set in beautiful gardens, which was built by Matthew Rogers in the 1860s. It is currently run by The Diggers Club, an organisation committed to sustainable gardening. Their website http://www.diggers.com.au/gardens-cafes/gardens/st-erth.aspx explains that "The Garden of St Erth features an extraordinary range of espaliered fruit, heirloom vegetables and drought tolerant flowers. Thousands of naturalised daffodils carpet the lawns in September, and through the summer months the herbaceous border features Diggers perennials and grasses. The garden culminates in an extravagant display in March for our Autumn Festival. May marks the end of our gardening year with a blaze of autumn-coloured trees and late perennials. Cocooned in the Wombat State Forest, the bush garden plays host to a variety of native birds, as well as being a place of restful contemplation. The natural spring of Koban's pool is a cool place to escape the summer heat." Tel: (03) 5368 6514.

The Grave of Isaac Povey
Across the creek and to the west of the Garden of St Erth, at a place now named as Deadman's Hill, is the grave of Isaac Povey who died from fever in 1855. He was only 24 at the time. It is a sad irony that he was travelling with Edward John Hill and in the year of Povey's death Hill, who had dug his friend's grave, found gold and was largely responsible for the rush that created Blackwood. There is a local folk tale that it was while digging Povey's grave that Hill found gold. The iron grave was established after fire destroyed the original wooden headstone in 1926.

Jack Cann Reserve
Located beyond the Garden of St Erth, the Jack Cann Reserve is an excellent place to enjoy interesting bushwalks. There are walking tracks across to Foster's Lookout, to the tunnel, sluices and open-cut mine of Simmons Reef, and up the Lerderderg River to Crown Dam, where the path leads across the dam and back down the opposite bank of the waterway.
On the other side is the Whipstick Loop Walk, a circuit of 5 km which will take around 2 hours. There is an excellent downloadable brochure, complete with map, at http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/225599/FS0112_-_Whipstick_Loop_Walk.pdf which points out that "Along the walk there is historical evidence of various types of mining with both vertical and horizontal shafts. All of the mining in the area was conducted by hand in very difficult conditions. There is a fenced area with a viewing platform along the track, where you can safely view one of the old mine shafts. Take the time to look and appreciate the extent of works undertaken but for your safety, please stick to the track.
"Further along the trail you will also get to walk along the remnants of a water-race. Miners hand dug these trenches to direct water both to and from their mine workings. At one section of the track a boardwalk has been constructed around an old tree through which the miners once diverted the water course.There is also evidence of a structure that once spanned the creek that may have been a tramway or bridge foundations."

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Other Attractions in the Area

Lerderderg State Park
The Lerderderg State Park lies to the south of Blackwood and covers 14,250 ha. It is noted for the 300 m gorge which cuts through the park as it heads southwards towards Bacchus Marsh. The gorge helps create a sense of diversity of vegetation (there are over 320 tree species in the park) with fern gullies, dry open forests (stringybark and ironbark forests exist) and wildflower displays in the spring. The main appeal of the park lies in its proximity to Melbourne. It offers camping, (O'Brien's Crossing is the only designated camp site in the park), bushwalking, picnicking, fishing, swimming and driving.
It should be noted that the park is a nesting site for both Wedge-tailed Eagles and Peregrine Falcons; has significant stands of Blue Gums and Manna Gums; and is recognised as being of international geological importance. The Lederderg River is recognised as a Heritage River. About 1 million years ago the land was uplifted along the Rowsley fault and the Lederderg River cut through the sediments and more resistant sandstones to produce massive cliffs. At the southern end of the park the river cuts through and exposes rocks which date from the Permian era (280 million years ago) which show signs of glaciation.
There are a number of good walking tracks in the park. The most challenging is the three-day walk from Blackwood to Mackenzie's Flat along the Lerderderg River. There are many other shorter walks including a walking track which follows a gold mining era water race.
Both Mackenzie's Flat and O'Brien's Crossing have good picnic facilities with toilets and electric barbecues. Standard two-wheel drivers will find that there are excellent views across Lerderderg Gorge from O'Brien's Road.

There are three short walks mentioned on the Parks Victoria website.
(1) Mackenzie's Flat to Grahams Dam return - 3 km, 1 hour, an easy walk upstream to a pool which, in summer, is ideal for swimming.
(2) Blackwood Mineral Springs to Shaws Lake and Sweets Lookout - 3.5 km, 90 minutes which passes the historic "lake" and provides excellent views from the lookout.
(3) O'Brien's Crossing - Byers Back Track - The Tunnel - 3 km, 90 minutes - this track follows the old water race around the valley and provides fine views of the valley.
There is also excellent and detailed information at http://bushwalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=4933 with lots of informed walking commentary.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area was occupied by both the Woiwurung and Wathaurong Aboriginal language groups both of whom had lived in the area for tens of thousands of years.

* In the 1830s settlers moved into the Bacchus Marsh area south of Blackwood.

* In 1854 two teamsters, Harry Athorn and Harry Hider, found gold at Jacksons Creek.

* On 4 January, 1855 Edward Hill found gold at Golden Point. By the end of that year there were 13,000 prospectors living in Blackwood and panning the creeks and sluicing the river banks and hillsides.

* In 1855 the post office, known at the time as Mount Blackwood, opened for business. This was also the year when the Blackwood Police Stables were built.

* By 1857 there were possibly more than 1,000 Chinese miners in the area.

* In 1865 All Saints Church was dedicated by the Bishop of Melbourne.

* It has been estimated that between 1869-1880 the Sultan mine at Barrys Reef yielded 65,801 ounces of gold.

* By 1882 most mining in the district had stopped. The returns were too poor.

* Today Blackwood is only a hint of the thriving settlement which existed in the first rush of gold.

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Visitor Information

Blackwood Visitors Information Centre, 21 Martin Street, Blackwood, tel: (03) 5368 6525. There is a Parks Victoria office in the Main Street of Bacchus Marsh, tel: (03) 5367 2922.

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Useful Websites

There is a wonderfully comprehensive website - http://www.blackwoodpublishing.com/home - which has extensive details about the attractions in the area.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 suggestions
  • thanks for adding my website with history of Blackwood – I have also written 3 books on the history of the area.. see http://www.blackwoodpublishing.com thanks, Margot Hitchcock.

    Margot Hitchcock.
  • My Great grandfather [Laurence Hayden] lived at Blackwood from approx. 1856 till his death 1905. He along with his wife Catherine [nee Goodge from Barry’s Reef] and 3 of their 12 children are buried at Blackwood cemetery. He along with others founded the ‘Morning Star’ mine, as well as being a sawmiller. I would like to get copies of any photos related to these activities or any other information regarding living conditions of those gold rush times. Margot Hitchcock has been most helpful with information.

    Martin Hayden
  • My Greatgrandfather Walter Reddicliffe is listed as a shareholder in the New North Cohens Gold Mining Co Mount Blackwood in 1873. Do you have any information on the mine and whether it was successful? He later moved to central Queensland to the goldfields of the Calliope area. I am doing research on his life and times.

    Carolyn Reddicliffe Albanis