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Clunes, VIC

Beautiful and intact 19th century goldmining town

Clunes is regarded as the best preserved 19th century historic town in the country. It is a feast of historic buildings and Fraser Street, the commercial centre, is wide and elegant, full of 19th-century shops with original store-fronts and distinctive verandas. Historically it can fairly claim that it was the site of Victoria's first gold strike. Located in a steep valley surrounded by hills which are extinct volcanoes, it is known for its antique and collectable stores, its vineyards, its pleasant walks and its charming collection of sandstone, bluestone and brick buildings.


Clunes is located 138 km north-west of Melbourne via Creswick and the M8 and 33 km north of Ballarat. It stands at an elevation of 311 metres.


Origin of Name

The first European settler in the district was Donald Cameron, an overlander from Sydney who took up a pastoral run in 1839. He named it Clunes after his birthplace near Inverness in Scotland.


Things to See and Do

Exploring Fraser Street
It is not surprising that, when film companies are looking for a perfectly preserved 19th century street, they often decide on Fraser Street. It is wide and elegant, full of 19th century shops with original storefronts and distinctive verandas. The joy of Clunes is mooching along this remarkable street. It is like being taken back in time.

The Warehouse
Located at 36 Fraser Street, The Warehouse, is home to the Clunes Museum, the town's Visitor Information Centre and the Library. The building, a two-storey bluestone building that was originally a warehouse (c.1860), was originally occupied by the contractors Nicholl and Wallace who supplied building materials and hardware to miners and local farmers. Over the years it has had a diversity of owners. Between the wars, it was part of the original knitting mill in Fraser Street. During World War II, it was used as a hostel for families. After the war, it was a hairdresser's salon, an upholsterer's, a dressmaker's and even a fish and chip shop.

Clunes Museum
Located at 36 Fraser Street, Clunes Museum, is located in The Warehouse (c.1868). The Museum contains an interesting collection of memorabilia from the gold era in "The Gold Room"; the Sir John Longstaff Kitchen which is a recreation of a miner's cottage kitchen from the 19th century; the Laura Hudson Parlour which is a recreation of a typical miner's cottage parlour; the Mayor's Room which records the history of local government in the town; and the Holly Barkell Gallery which contains "the Musical, Industrial, Farming, Fire Brigade, Dressmaking, Educational and Military heritage of the district." The museum opens at 10.00 am (it is closed on Tuesdays) and closes at 6.00 pm on Monday and Thursday and at 4.00 pm on Wednesday and Friday. It closes at 3.00 pm on Saturday and Sunday. tel: (03) 5345 3359. For more information check out http://clunesmuseum.org.

London Chartered Bank of Australia
Located on Fraser Street, the former London Chartered Bank), now the RSL clubrooms,"was designed by architect Leonard Terry and built in 1871. The two storey, stuccoed structure is symmetrical about a projecting porch on Tuscan columns. The porch had a pierced balustrade of circular motifs, repeated under the first floor windows. The ground floor has round-headed openings and import mouldings and there are string courses, cornice and a parapet with dentils above." For more detailed information check out http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/68549.

Club Hotel
Located at 34 Fraser Street (next to the Museum), the Club Hotel was built in 1870, "The Club Hotel is a two storey, rendered brick building with simple parapet and central pediment. The essentially symmetrical facade has seven bays of double hung windows at first floor level. These replaced original double doors which provided access to the balcony. Slender cast iron columns with decorative brackets are coupled across the facade, supporting the balcony with swag bellied cast iron balustrade panels. The original carriageway has been retained at street level." See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/299 for more details.

State Savings Bank
Located at 28 Fraser Street, and listed on the Victorian Heritage Database (see https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/68551), the State Savings Bank is now a private residence. When it was sold in 2013 the real estate agency wrote of the building: "This incredible example of early Goldfields architecture was built in the 1860's and still displays many of the original period features. Featured in the 2003 movie, Ned Kelly, starring Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom, the Old State Bank was the pinnacle of the Bank Robbery scene, with the original bank vault and counter on display. Both of these amazing historical features are yours to own today! The building has been thoughtfully restored in keeping with the period, and on display in the upstairs formal lounge are the framed window signs, which were found in storage and also lovingly restored." The Bank Vault door was reputedly designed by Heath Ledger.

Union Bank
Located on the corner of Fraser Street and Templeton Street (at 22 Fraser Street), this modest bank was built in 1865, was subsequently turned into an Arts Studio (hence the name Union Bank Arts Centre) and is currently rented to groups of up to ten people.

National Hotel
Located at 35 Fraser Street, the National Hotel was built in 1862.

Bailey Street Buildings
Bailey Street runs parallel to Fraser Street. It has a number of significant buildings which were built shortly after the initial goldrush. Of particular interest are:

Post Office
Located at the corner of Bailey and Service Streets, the post office, was, "Built 1879 by Messrs Lewis and Roberts and replaced a smaller PO built in 1861. The building of a much larger edifice is indicative of the rapid expansion of the town. The building is of significance as a well-executed example of public Renaissance Revival design; as an indicator of the prosperity of the Clunes goldfields area. For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/68527.

Town Hall
Located at 98 Bailey Street, the Clunes Town Hall was "built between 1872 and 1873, is one of the most distinctive Town Halls in Victoria. An important design by the architects Fox and Oakden, it uses the distinctive Venetian pointed windows which are a feature of Oakden's later coloured brick designs. Various striking features of the design are its massing, with a strong two-storey central block flanked by balancing single-storey arcaded blocks housing the borough offices and police court, the eclectic mixture of classical and gothic elements, the rich surface effects created by the bold mouldings and vermiculated voussoirs and keystones, and the steeply pitched roof to the central block with its ornamental iron ridge to a widow's walk." It is a reminder of how important Clunes was when the Town Hall was built. It is now on the Victorian Heritage Database. Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/68528.

The Lee Medlyn Home of Bottles
The Lee Medlyn Home of Bottles Museum is located at 70 Bailey Street. It is housed in the 1870s schoolhouse of South Clunes State School which was a knitting mill from 1923 for over 45 years. The remarkable collection has over 6000 rare and unusual bottles dating back to 1500 AD. It proudly declares that "the bottles cover all types of beverages including beer, wine & spirit, aerated waters, preserves, condiments, ginger beer, chemist and drug companies." it is reputed to be the largest collection of bottles in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is open from 11.00 am to 4.00 pm Thursday to Sunday, tel: (03) 5345 3896 or check http://clunesmuseum.org/about-clunes/the-lee-medlyn-home-of-bottles.

St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church
Located in Bailey Street this handsome bluestone church was "designed by H R Caselli and W B Tappin, built in 1873-4 and based upon plans for St Patrick's, Ballarat and St Patrick's, Port Fairy by the English architect Charles Hansom. An unusually grand design for a small town, this incomplete building has a four-bay clerestoried nave, and west front with a four-light traceried window and statuary niches, flanked by the base of the projected tower." See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/68529 for more information.

Other Churches in the town
Wesleyan Methodist Church
Located at 23 Service Street, and now the town's Uniting Church, the Wesleyan Methodist Church is a bluestone building with elaborate ornamentation, particularly on the octagonal tower with its weighty spire of patterned slates which was begun in 1864. It has "a gallery on cast iron columns dating from 1868, but dating substantially from 1871. The facade incorporates a four light perpendicular Gothic window and a squat octagonal turret with an oversized roof. The interior, though it has subsequently been partitioned into two , includes cast iron gallery balustrading, carved hammer beam ceiling and a small pipe organ of unknown provenance." See http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/68578 for more information.

Esmond Park
Located on the hillside overlooking Clunes, and accessible via Camp Street and Scenic Drive, Esmond Park contains a number of historical mining sites, including relics of the Port Phillip Mine which operated from 1851-1893. It has an excellent lookout which has panoramic views over the town and a walking track which, with its large number of interpretative signs, offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the history of mining in the area. When you reach the top there are information panels with photographs which show what the mining was like when the town was at its height. The park is historically important because it is the site where gold was first discovered in Victoria in 1851 - the exact site is marked by a small monument near the car park on Camp Street. Beware and keep to the paths - the area still has shafts which were used to explore for gold.

Victoria Park and Queens Park
Victoria Park and Queens Park line the northern bank of Creswick Creek and run adjacent to Ligar Street.  Queens Park was constructed out of earth removed from the creek when it was deepened to prevent flooding. The European elms and silver poplars were planted in the late 1870s and 1880s. The parks include a pergola, barbecue area, information boards and a fountain. The fountain, built to celebrate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887, has been restored. The paths are now part of the Creswick Creek Walk.

Clunes Creek Walk
The Clunes Creek Walk starts at The Warehouse, is 2.1 km and takes around 30 minutes. The walk meanders alongside Creswick Creek (where platypus can occasionally be seen), through Victoria Park and Esmond Park and along Fraser Street with its remarkable collection of historic, veranda-ed buildings.


Other Attractions in the Area

Ballarat to Maryborough Heritage Rail Trail
The Ballarat-Maryborough Heritage Trail is a 91 km cycle trail which connects Maryborough and Ballarat via Talbot, Clunes and Creswick.
The Clunes to Creswick section is 24 km and should take around 2-3 hours. The downloadable brochure describes the route as easy to moderate and adds that "Historic pastoral holdings, grand homesteads and vineyards line the quiet lanes as you meander the undulating terrain."
The Talbot to Clunes section is 25 km, of moderate difficulty, and should take about 2-3 hours. The brochure describes it as "dirt tracks through scrubby bushland, darting the occasional wallaby, before bursting into a wide-open landscape offering spectacular views to Mt Beckworth. Aged eucalypts line the quiet lanes before the day finishes in the old gold glory of Clunes."
The brochure of the entire trail, with an excellent map and detailed information about each section of the route, can be downloaded at https://www.bendigoregion.com.au/sites/default/files/inline-files/Ballarat%20-%20Maryborough%20Heritage%20Cycling%20Trail%20Full%20Map.pdf.

Mount Beckworth Scenic Reserve
Located on Mountain Creek Road,  9 km south-west of Clunes, the Mount Beckworth Scenic Reserve offers walking tracks, picnicking, rock-climbing and birdwatching. The Scenic Reserve has more than 250 species of plants, including 35 orchid species, which make it a delight during the spring months. There are also more than 100 species of birds which have been recorded in the area including small finches, honeyeaters and larger parrots, falcons and eagles. There is a lot of useful information on the Reserve at  https://www.goldfieldsguide.com.au/explore-location/395/mount-beckworth-scenic-reserve.

Merin Merin Swamp and Middle Swamp
Merin Merin Swamp and Middle Swamp are located north of Clunes. They lie about 10 km from of town and are known as excellent bird watching locations with Victorian Resources Online recording "Black Faced Cuckoo Shrike, Corella, Galah, Kookaburra, Magpie, Musk Lorikeet, Noisy Miner, Red-rumped Parrot, Red Wattlebird, Richardson’s Pipit, Starling, Striated Pardalote, Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, Welcome Swallow, White-browed Woodswallow and Willie Wagtail." Check out http://vro.agriculture.vic.gov.au/dpi/vro/nthcenregn.nsf/pages/nthcen_enviro_monitoring_sites12 for details about the swamps, their history and their vegetation.

Clunes Booktown Festival
The first festival was held in 2007 and since then it has been held each year in May. With over 60 book traders the festival attracts over 15,000 people and is accompanied by talks, discussion panels and collections of rare books. Check out https://www.clunesbooktown.com.au/ for details.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district around Clunes was home to the Wemba-Wemba First Nations people.

* The first European settler in the area was Donald Cameron, an overlander from Sydney who took up a pastoral run in 1839.

* Gold was found on Cameron's property by a friend, William Campbell, in March 1850. The news of the find was concealed.

* An experienced gold prospector, James Esmond, was shown gold-bearing quartz reefs and his findings were announced in the Geelong Advertiser on 7 July 1851. This resulted in Victoria's first goldrush.

* In 1857 the Port Phillip and Colonial Gold Mining Company struck a deal which gave them the exclusive right to mine some of Cameron's privately-owned land.

* A Church of England was built in 1859.

* By 1860 the town's population was 6,000.

* The Presbyterian Church opened in 1862.

* A government school opened in 1863.

* In 1873 the employees of the Lothair Mine went on strike over the mine owners' refusal to permit a cessation of mining at midday on Saturday. The company tried to use Chinese diggers from Ballarat as strike breakers but they were pelted with debris when they arrived under police protection and were persuaded to depart.

* A hospital was built in 1873. The Town Hall and Court House were completed that year.

* The local Mechanics Institute was opened in 1874. That year saw the Roman Catholic Church consecrated.

* The North Clunes school was opened in 1875. That year saw the opening of the Ballarat-Maryborough railway line.

* The population of Clunes increased from 1800 to 6000 in the 1860s.

* By the 1880s the mining had slowed down.

* By 1900, 50 metric tonnes of gold had been extracted from 3,000,000 tonnes of quartz ore.

* In 1970 sections of the movie Ned Kelly were shot in the town.

* In 1981 the Register of the National Estate recognised the Clunes Central Conservation Area.

* The town was seriously flooded in 2010 and 2011.


Visitor Information

Clunes Visitor Centre, The Warehouse, 36 Fraser Street, tel: (03) 5345 3359.


Useful Websites

There is a very useful, comprehensive website. Check out https://visithepburnshire.com.au/clunes. Also check https://clunes.org.

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