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Buninyong, VIC

Historic town and Victoria's first proclaimed inland settlement

Buninyong was the site of the first inland town in Victoria. It is an almost perfect example of the consequences of gold hysteria having been a quiet village, and a stopping point for bullock teams, until 1851 when gold was found. By 1871 the population had reached 2,281 but with the discovery of gold at Ballarat, just up the road, the town did not grow and many miners and prospectors headed to the larger and richer centre. Today it is a charming historic village which is well worth exploring. Its Botanic Gardens are excellent and the nearby Lal Lal falls are accessible and suitably modest.


Buninyong is located 120 km west of Melbourne via the Western Freeway and 11 km south of Ballarat via the Geelong Road.


Origin of Name

It is accepted that the name comes from a First Nations word, 'Buninyouang' which was supposed to mean "man lying on his back with his knees raised" which was a description of Mt Buninyong or "bun-a-yung".


Things to See and Do

Buninyong Walks
There is an excellent booklet, Buninyong Heritage Walks, which was compiled by the late Neil McCracken and is for sale at the Buninyong Information Centre. It provides details of 50 places of historic interest around the town. There is also a project which places blue plaques outside places of interest in the town. These are called the Buninyong Village Heritage Plaques (there are 26 around the town) and the information on each can be downloaded at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~buninhis.

Buninyong Heritage Walks
This is a shortened list of the most interesting places recorded in Neil McCracken's excellent guide to the town. The walk starts at the Visitor Information Centre:

1. De Soza Park
This small park, near the Old Library, was named after Henry Joseph De Soza, a mining engineer and philanthropist, was reclaimed in 1983 and now contains:
* the start of the Australian Road Cycling Championship Circuit - a 10.2 km circuit which is "highly regarded in the cycling fraternity as the ultimate road race circuit for competitive road cyclists. To win a race on this course the rider must have enduring strength, powerful hill climbing ability and technical bike skills to tackle the risky downhill section." There is a detailed information board at the Warrenheip Street side of the park.
* Nearby is the unusual B.C.A. E. Gold Mill Sculpture, a Rotunda and an interesting short history of the town specifically from the perspective of its gold mining history.
* There is also a replica of a poppet head which was built in 1982 and there is the site of the town's reservoir dating from 1862.

3. Glencairn
Located in Eyre Street, 'Glencairn' was built around 1857 by Robert Allen, the Mayor of Buninyong from 1870-1876. When it was built it was characterised by wide verandas and a steeply-pitched roof covered with thick iron sheets. The house and its large garden overlooked the township.

4. Clifton Villa
Diagonally opposite Glencairn in Eyre Street is 'Clifton Villa'. It was built in 1867 by the local chemist, Edward Newmans who based it on the family home in Bristol. It is a fine example of pattern book Gothic architecture, with its decorative timber barge boards and distinctive brick twist chimneys. There was originally a ballroom though it was later dismantled and reassembled elsewhere as a church. The huge iron gates are from Queens Grammar school (now ACU Aquinas campus), in Mair Street, Ballarat.

7. Whykes Grocery Store
Located on the corner of Eyre Street and Warrenheip Street is a 19th-century shop with an intact facade. There were three Whyke brothers in the town - a grocer, a butcher and a draper. This small, neat shop was owned by the grocer.

11. Eagle Hotel
Located in Warrenheip Street, the former Eagle Hotel (1855) is an impressive two-storey structure which was built by Andrew Davies (a saddler). It was classified by the National Trust, burnt to the ground in 1899, and rebuilt shortly afterwards. It ceased to be a hotel in 1917 and has had a number of commercial uses since then. Note the ornate facade of the gold-boom era with its decorative columns and heads.

12. Mechanics' Institute, Old Library and Information Centre
On Warrenheip Street, on the left-hand side of the road is the old Mechanics' Institute (1861) which was a gift to the town from Robert Allen, the original owner/manager of the Crown Mine and a pioneer flour mill owner at Kilmore. The mock masonry and timber facade (made from oregon and sugar pine) is thought to have been imported from the UK. This is now a library and historical reference centre with maps, booklets and information on local walks and tours. It was restored in 1988.

13. National Bank
Located on the corner of Warrenheip Street and Learmonth Street (the Midland Highway), the National Bank building on the south-eastern corner dates from 1867-68. The plaque outside explains: "The present brick building, built on land purchased from John Adams, was completed in 1868, and served as the community bank until 1974, when it was sold by the banking company to become a private residence. The handsome edifice is typical of many country banks built in the nineteenth century."

14. Camellia Cottage
Located in Warrenheip Street is 'Camellia Cottage' (c. 1862), thought to have been built by Dr Casey, the grandfather of Lord Casey, a governor-general of Australia.
The blue plaque explains that: "This pleasing Victorian residence was built for one of Buninyong’s early medical practitioners around 1862. In 1865 Dr. C. Gavin Casey was medical practitioner at Buninyong, living at this site. Later David Davies MLA lived here, followed by the Town Clerk James Jordan in the early years of the twentieth century. From the 1920s, the popular head master at the Buninyong State School, Mr William Nagle, lived here with his family and the house was a social centre of Buninyong."

16. Presbyterian Church
Located in Learmonth Street is the former Presbyterian (now Uniting) church, a Gothic structure which was built in 1860. One of the stained-glass windows depicts Thomas Hastie who served as the clergyman from 1847-1888. Buggies and horses were once tethered in the large shady yard. It became the Uniting Church in 1977.

18. Botanic Gardens
The Buninyong Botanical Gardens, located on the corner of Scott and Inglis Streets, were established in the 1860s. They celebrated their 150th anniversary in 2011.Designed by Ferdinand Von Mueller, who was responsible for Melbourne's Botanical Gardens, they feature a lake, barbecue facilities, a children's playground, 1870s swimming baths which have been converted into a courtyard garden, and the Queen Victoria rotunda (1901). The gardens were created after the local council set aside 10 acres in 1859. For more information check out https://www.buninyong.vic.au/botanic-gardens which describes the gardens as "The Main Gardens consist of an Upper and Lower Section. The Upper Gardens centre around "The Gong", a small lake which is encompassed by a walking path. The ground to the North and East rises steeply to the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter and Pauls. On these slopes there is a scattering of introduced European trees. This area has been recently developed with specimen trees of the Maple family (Acer species)" and "The picturesque Lower Section of the Botanic Gardens contains an historic Victorian Rotunda, an old walled Swimming Pool (since converted to a garden area), an ornamental pool with an island, and a variety of exotic labelled specimen trees and shrubs."

20 & 21. The Gong and Brewery
On the far side of Cornish Street is a lake known as The Gong or Upper Reservoir. The lake was intended to supply most of the town's water needs. On the southern side of the lake (off Cornish St) is the Buninyong Brewery, a "bluestone and brick structure was built for Robert Allen in 1855. From 1857 until his death in 1873 Thomas Sheppard operated Sheppard’s Crystal Malt Brewery on this site using waters from the Gong. For almost 100 years it was used as a barn and for storage, and fell into disrepair. Since the 1970s it has been restored for use as a home and function venue by its present owner."

22. Hastie's Hill
Head north along Lal Lal Street and to the right is Mount Innes, commonly known as Hastie's Hill as Reverend Hastie (the town's first Presbyterian minister) is thought to have established, in 1848, the first Presbyterian school on this hill which offers views over the town. There is also Hastie's Spring which supplied water to the school.

24. Brim Brim
On Lal Lal St is 'Brim Brim', built in 1859-1860 for a local magistrate, Judge Warrington Rogers. It is now a private home.

25. St Peter's and St Paul's Catholic Church
Located in Fisken Street, St Peter's and St Paul's Catholic Church is the oldest church in Buninyong. It was commissioned in 1853 and completed in 1858. It has been considerably altered over the years with a large modern extension being completed in 2013-2014.

27. Town Hall and Court House
Located in Learmonth Street, and built in 1886, is the handsome town hall and court house. The courthouse section has historic displays with a large collection of photographs and local records. The plaque outside explains: "Municipal government came to Buninyong in 1858, and in the early years Council met in various hotels. In 1886 this complex was built to house the Buninyong Borough Council, the Town Hall and the Court House, replacing an earlier building adjacent to the Gardens. The Italianate Town Hall was built of locally produced bricks. The architects were Tappin, Gilbert and Dennehy of Melbourne. The builder was the local, Richard Rennie, and the interior was painted by the firm of Whitlaw and Ruddock. The Court closed in 1980, and the Town Hall moved to the control of the City of Ballarat in 1994."

30. Crown Hotel
Located on the corner of Warrenheip and Learmonth Streets, the Crown Hotel was issued the first inland hotel licence in 1842. This building dates from 1852 when it was opened by George Selleck. It therefore claims to be the oldest continually licensed premises in the state, although the present Gothic-inspired building dates from 1885 after a fire destroyed the original on 31 December, 1884. It was quickly rebuilt with the architect being George Lorimer of Ballarat. The hotel is at the corner of De Soza Park, named after Simon De Soza who made his fortunes on the local goldfields. It was originally the Buninyong Creek and Tannery Reserve as there was a tannery on the creek bank to the west.

31. Post Office
Located in Learmonth Street, and built in 1873, the post office is the culmination of a service which started in 1845. The blue plaque outside notes: "Buninyong’s first post master was John Veitch, appointed on 1 January 1845. Non-official post offices operated from various Buninyong stores until this new post and telegraph office opened in October 1873, erected by the Public Works Department. It served as the post office until 2000." In other words, the town had non-official post offices for 29 years before this building was finally opened.

37. Netherby
Located in Warrenheip Street on the north-western corner of Scott Street is 'Netherby' which was built around 1860. The plaque explains: "This gracious house is one of Buninyong’s earliest, associated with Dr. Sparling, a medical doctor in Buninyong. It incorporated some of the stone building material of the old Buninyong Hotel. A feature of the residence is the beautiful Victorian garden, laid out in the nineteenth century. Later the Graham family from the tannery, and the Howard family from the Box Factory, lived in this house, and from 1973 to 2012 it was the home of Derick and Shirley Leather."

38. Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Located at 706 Warrenheip Street, the Holy Trinity Anglican Church was built 1861-62 and consecrated in 1862. The Sunday school hall was erected in 1857 as a common school. Adjacent is the vicarage, constructed in 1857, although the veranda and cast-iron lace work are later additions. It is now a private residence.

45. Former Methodist Church
Located at 802 Warrenheip Street, the former Wesleyan Church and Hall. The red brick church replaced the original wooden church in 1866 and kept holding services until it closed in 1974.


Other Attractions in the Area

Ballarat Bird World
Located 2.5 km north of Buninyong at 408 Eddy Avenue is Ballarat Bird World which contains parrot aviaries; photo opportunities with black cockatoos; a 500 metre raised boardwalk leads past rainforest ferns, a waterfall, waterlilies, orchids, climbers and flowering natives; and a 1200 metre free flight aviary. It is open Friday to Monday from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, tel: 0409 002 527. For more information check out http://www.ballaratbirdworld.com.au.

Mount Buninyong
Mount Buninyong is an extinct volcano which offers panoramic views from Melbourne to the Grampians. It is located 6 km from the centre of Buninyong. To access it head east on the Midland Highway and turn left onto Mount Buninyong Road. Follow the sealed road to the summit which is 745 metres above sea-level. There is a car park at the foot of the mountain and a footpath which winds up to the summit (45 minutes). This is the spot from which Europeans first surveyed the Ballarat district in 1837. Long before that it was a spiritual home for the local Aborigines. It was set aside as a public park as early as 1866. There is a lookout tower and there is a picnic area in the crater.

Lal Lal, Historic Blast Furnace and Bungal Dam
To reach the Lal Lal Blast Furnace Ruins: Head south-east on the Midland Highway for 12 km and turn left onto the Clarendon-Lal Lal Road (signposted for Lal Lal Falls). Beyond the hamlet of Lal Lal, on Lal Lal Falls Road, turn right onto Ironmine Road. The total distance is 19 km. The Blast Furnace Picnic Area has with information boards in a bush setting and the Lal Lal dam spillway is a short walk away.
A walking track leads to the Lal Lal Blast Furnace which is National Trust listed and considered an industrial site of great historical significance. The Lal Lal Blast Furnace is now the only example of its type of blast furnace from the colonial era; is the only 19th century blast furnace in the Southern Hemisphere; and is recognised as a superb example of a 19th century blast furnace.
An iron ore quarry on the west bank of the Moorabool River and the smelting works were established by the Lal Lal Iron Mining Company in 1874. At its peak 160 men were employed (some were Cornish miners) at these works which initially supplied Ballarat with iron for the production of mining machinery and railway locomotives.
Charcoal from local timber, brown coal from the area and Ballarat coke were all used as fuel for the smelting process. The stone and brick blast furnace which remains was the third on the site, being built in 1880-81. It produced 2,260 tonnes of pig iron from 4,429 tonnes of ore before the venture folded in 1884 due to a fall in prices and declining demand from Ballarat. The historic remains include the furnace, a Cornish flue, a tramway bed, mines, machinery sites, stone quarries and charcoal sites. These elements are situated in five hand-hewn terraces which were cut into the side of the hill. The furnace was situated on the lowest level with a steam engine, boiler, pumps and other machinery on the next two strata and stone sheds and stockpiles on the top two levels. For more information check out https://www.buninyong.vic.au/lal-lal-blast-furnace.

Lal Lal Falls
Located 18 km east of Buninyong, the Lal Lal Falls drop 34 metres down a gorge, which was created by the collapse of a lava tunnel, into a tranquil pool below. The local Aborigines are said to have believed that Bunjil, their creator, resided at this  place. The name is thought to be Aboriginal for 'dashing of waters'. There is an excellent website - https://www.goldfieldsguide.com.au/explore-location/104/lal-lal-falls - which explains that access to the falls is very easy. "You can take a short 200m walk to a viewing platform that looks down over the falls, or go a little further around the gorge on the Von Guerard View Track for a long distance view across the gorge."
A sign at the falls recounts the European history: "These Falls on the west branch of the Moorabool River were discovered by a Government Survey Party led by Frederick D'Arcy early in 1837. They were known to the Aboriginals as Lal Lal or running water. The area has been a well known and popular picnic spot for some 130 years. On the reserve opposite, a Race Meeting was held on every New Years Day from 1860 until 1938, attracting crowds of up to 20,000 people."



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Wathaurong First Nations people called the area their home.

* In the severe drought of 1837 a party of Scottish squatters left the Geelong area and headed north in search of superior sheep and cattle pastures. One of the party, Somerville Learmonth, climbed Mt Buninyong before returning to Geelong.

* In 1838 the first pastoral run was named Boninyong. It was settled by Somerville Learmonth and his brother, Thomas Livingstone Learmonth. The Learmonths initially settled with 2000 ewes on the banks of the Barwon River.

* By 1839 they had established their home station south of the future townsite.

* In 1841 with the Learmonths' permission, a store and eating house was set up and it was soon joined by a blacksmith and some sawyers and splitters.

* In 1842 the first hotel license for an inland hotel was issued to the newly-established Crown Hotel. The village picked up trade from the bullock teams on the track to Portland and

* A post office opened at a local store in 1845.

* A Presbyterian minister arrived in 1847.

* A boarding school was opened in 1848.

* The area was surveyed in 1851 and land sales started in May, 1851.

* On 8 August 1851 a blacksmith, Thomas Hiscock, found gold in a gully 3 km west of the townsite.

* Within weeks the area was thick with prospectors and a court of petty sessions was proclaimed at Buninyong on September 30, 1851.

* A police camp was gazetted on October 3, 1851.

* The influx of diggers led to the discovery of gold at Ballarat and the goldfields administration had been moved by the end of 1851.

* A Roman Catholic church was consecrated in 1853.

* The Methodist Church was opened in 1856.

* By 1856 local storekeeper, John Adams, was buying 1,000 ounces (28 kg) of gold from local miners every week.

* In 1857 the Buninyong Gold Mining Company started operations on the Learmonth's property.

* In 1858 the Buninyong Freehold company paid £20,000 for 58 ha of land owned by the Learmonth Brothers.

* In 1859 the town was made a municipal borough.

* The local Mechanics Institute opened in 1861. This year also saw land reserved for the Buninyong Botanic Gardens.

* Holy Trinity Church was built in 1861-62.

* Buninyong Shire was created in 1864.

* Much of the alluvial gold had been recovered by the 1860s.

* By 1871 there were 2281 people and 20 hotels at Buninyong. The prosperity of the period is evident in the town's wide  main street.

* A government school was opened in 1873.

* The railway arrived from Ballarat in 1889.

* The railway passenger service closed in 1931.

* The railway closed down in 1947.

* Today Buninyong is part of the Greater City of Ballarat. Its population is around 1700.


Visitor Information

Buninyong Information Centre, 408 Warrenheip Street, tel: (03) 5341 8211, Open 10.00 am - 3.00 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.


Useful Websites

There is a useful community website which can be accessed at https://www.buninyong.vic.au.

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • I understand that my Great Grandfather- George Arthur Hale who arrived in Buninyong from England in 1855 was the President of Buninyong Shire Council in 1868 and wondered if there were any photos available at the Information Centre or elsewhere of him as I am trying to put a story on my heritage for my children and grandchildren.

    Rodney Hale WPHills Sydney
    • Hello Rodney, Photographs of George Hale MAY be held by the Buninyong and District Historical Society. The Society is open each month on the third Saturday and can be contacted by email (buninhistsoc@gmail.com) or by writing to The Secretary Learmonth Street Buninyong, Victoria, 3357. Website: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~buninhis/ The Society also has a facebook page. The Society also has a collection of family ‘folders’. I a not sure if the Hale family is in the collection. Betty.

      Betty McGuinness
  • My Great ,Great Grand-parents lived in Buninyong. They were William Henry COAD and Mary Matilda COAD Nee: SMITH.
    My Great Grandmother was Ethel Emily COAD born on 15th October 1881.She was one of 13 children. Her brother Joseph Gordon COAD was killed in action in France on the 9th August,1918.
    I was wondering if you have any information on the COAD family or could lead me in the right direction.

    Deb Cooper