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Harcourt, VIC

Historic goldrush town now known as the 'Apple Centre of Victoria'

Harcourt is a small historic goldrush town located in a valley at the foot of Mount Alexander (741 m) in the Central Highlands of Victoria. In recent times the goldrush origins of the town have been replaced a district known for apples, cider and wine. 


Harcourt is located 123 km north-west of Melbourne on the Calder Highway and 31 km south of Bendigo. 


Origin of Name

In 1836 Sir Thomas Mitchell, then NSW Surveyor-General, passed through the district and named Mount Alexander after Alexander the Great due to its proximity to Mount Macedon, for Alexander was the son of Philip of Macedon. The Aborigines knew the mountain as 'Lianganook'. The town was named Harcourt after Sir William Vernon Harcourt who was, at the time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Gladstone in the British parliament.


Things to See and Do

ANA Hall
Located at 7 High Street, the ANA Hall is a unique public building. It is named after the unusual Australian Natives Association which was a 19th century nationalistic movement that provided insurance to men born in Australia. This might sound rather ominous in the 21st century but it was important in the evolution of the the movement for Australian federation in the final decade of the 19th century. The hall has a museum with displays relating to the people and industries of Harcourt. It is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 on Wednesdays, tel: 0400 916 527.

Harcourt Viaduct
The Harcourt Railway Viaduct is a three-arch viaduct over Barkers Creek which can be seen on the north side of Symes Road which runs off Victoria Road. It was constructed out of Harcourt granite in 1859 by German masons who came to Australia especially to build the bridge. The three spans are each 12.5 metres and constructed in dressed stone, the voussoirs and the abutments. The viaduct was built on land originally owned by pioneering orchardist Nathaniel Vick and is known locally as Vick's Viaduct.

Harcourt Museum
Located at 7 High Street, this museum has exhibits about the local area which include a history of the apple industry, stories about the local granite quarries, the history of the brief local silk industry and a military history of the area. It is open on Wednesday from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel: 0400 916 527 or check out http://heritage.harcourt.vic.au.

Morris Minor Garage Museum
Located on Ford Road, Harcourt North, this remarkable collection is, sadly, open to Car Clubs and groups by appointment only. The website (http://www.morrisminorgarage.com/) explains that "The Garage is modelled on a 1920’s deco design and is home to Morris Minors and other historical vehicles dating back to 1926. The collection is flanked by advertising memorabilia and dealer signs relating to bygone eras of motoring." It includes such rarities as the Morris Minor used in the TV series Mother and Son, a police Morris Minor, a 1936 Morris A/40 Roadster and a Morris Minor Royal Mail van.

Woop Wood Sculpture Garden
Located at 171 Blackjack Road, the Woop Wood Sculpture Garden is a garden with over 100 sculptures depicting Australian sayings. For more information check out http://www.maldoncastlemaine.com.au/ant/profile/woop-woop or tel: (03) 5474 2871. There are guided tours.

Oak Forest
Located off Picnic Gully Road, Oak Forest is a popular picnic spot on the foothills of Mt Alexander. Around 1900 the Lands Department cleared 20 across and planted oak trees, mostly Valonia Oaks. The acorns were to be used by the local tannery. Many of the oaks have since died but some remain and the area is ideal for camping and picnics.


Other Attractions in the Area

Site of First Gold Discovery
Located 4 km south of Harcourt on the Midland Highway is a turnoff onto Specimen Gully Road and, along the road, about 2 km from the Midland Highway, on the left-hand side, are the remnants of an old stone cottage which was occupied by a shepherd working on the original sheep station which was owned by Dr Barker. A plaque indicates that the shepherd in question discovered gold nearby, which resulted in the local goldrush. There is a plaque on the cairn which reads: "The first gold from the Mount Alexander Goldfield was discovered in this gully by Christopher John Peters on 20th July 1851. Associated with him were John Worley, Robert Keen and George Robinson." Specimen Gully Road continues on to the Calder Highway and can be entered from that end. 

Goldfields Track - Great Dividing Trail and Leanganook Track
There is an excellent and detailed Parks Victoria Park Note which describes in detail the Great Dividing Trail: "Linking Castlemaine and Bendigo, the Leanganook Track completes the northern leg of the Great Dividing Trail. The track passes through the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park, traverses the summit of the Mt Alexander Range and follows the historic Coliban Water Main Channel to the outskirts of Bendigo. Download the notes at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/315605/Park-note-Mt-Alexander-Regional-Park.pdf. The Mount Alexander Regional Park is located 3 km east of Harcourt. The entire track is 58 km and mixes bushwalking with a pleasant walk through Harcourt Valley. 

Goldfields Track
The Goldfields Track, of which the Leanganook Track is a 60 km section, is a 210 km track from Bendigo to Ballarat passing through Daylesford and Castlemaine. It is designed for both bushwalkers and mountain bike enthusiasts. The excellent Goldfields Track website (see http://www.goldfieldstrack.com.au/Pages/Explore.aspx) describes the track as "takes bushwalkers and mountain bikers through some of the most interesting and diverse scenery and Central Victoria's treasures - from diverse forests and spectacular views to the artefacts and cultural heritage of the greatest gold rush that the world has ever seen.  You'll travel through, or very close to some of the most picturesques and hospitable villages in the state and be able to enjoy the spoils of all that they have to offer." 

Mica Grange Garden and Sculpture Park
Open only in the spring and autumn, and located at 373 Faraday-Sutton Grange Road (it is 10 km from Harcourt) these extensive gardens and walkways were created by Mary Gibson, as the website explains, "to envelop the home, utilising the natural contours and granite boulders of the land. A small orchard and large raised vegetable garden provides a year round supply of organic fruit, vegetables and preserves." The sculptures in the gardens are designed to "Merge the wonders of art with the beauty of gardens ... The sculpture exhibitions provide sculptors from Victoria and interstate the opportunity to display their work in a natural garden setting, allowing visitors to imagine how a sculpture may enhance their own garden. The Sculpture Exhibitions involve up to 15 sculptors and over 60 different exhibits. Different sculptures are exhibited on each occasion thereby ensuring new works are always on display. Mica Grange also sources a wide range of small garden art pieces for you to enhance your garden." For more details check out http://www.micagrange.com or tel: (03) 5474 8262.

The Little Red Apple
The district is known for its fine apples and The Little Red Apple at 8795 Midland Highway, Barkers Creek is open seven days a week. Apart from apples it sells apple and pear juice, cider, vinegar and sparkling apple juice. Check out https://www.harcourtcider.com.au for details. Tel: (03) 5474 2483.

Barkers Creek Reservoir
Located north of the town (head out on Harmony Way and turn at McIvor Road) Barkers Creek Reservoir a 58 ha reservoir, was built in 1870, is a good spot for those inland fishing, particularly of trout and redfin. For more fishing information check out http://www.fishingmonthly.com.au/Articles/Display/5895-Barkers-Creek-Reservoir

Mount Alexander
Mount Alexander, which rises 350 metres above the surrounding countryside, was the destination for thousands of prospectors during the goldrush era. It is estimated to be 367 million years old. Today it is the centrepiece of Mount Alexander Regional Park.
It can be accessed by both foot and vehicle. The West Ridge Walking Trail traverses the park as does the Joseph Young Drive which links the Faraday-Sutton Grange Road in the south with the Harcourt-Sutton Grange Road in the north.
Near the top of the mountain, near the television towers, the West Ridge Track goes to Shepherds Flat Lookout and Dog Rocks: a collection of granite boulders surrounded by an unusual tree growth which offers excellent panoramic views. 
Further to the south, as the road bends quite sharply to the left and drops off to the east, and set back in the bush, amidst a pine plantation, is a little Hansel-and-Gretel-style cottage built of granite blocks which is largely intact though lacking a roof. Once surrounded by mulberry trees, this is a remnant of Bladen Neill's failed attempt to establish a Victorian silk industry on the slopes of the mountain. The relics are not visible from the road. There is a useful Park Note from Parks Victoria which can be downloaded at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/315605/Park-note-Mt-Alexander-Regional-Park.pdf.

The Ruins of the Victorian Ladies Sericultural Company Limited (VLSC)
In 1872 a woman named Mrs Sarah Florentia Bladen Neill decided that she would create an industry which would give poor rural women useful work. The following year she created the wonderfully named Victorian Ladies Sericultural Company. What was it?
Sericulture, the breeding of silkworms for the purpose of producing silk, was practiced in the nineteenth century in Europe and in 1825 it was suggested that silk production could be a profitable industry in Australia. As the industry is dependent on mulberry trees the successful growing of mulberries was seen as pointing towards a viable future for a silk industry. 
Successful silk worm farming needs Mulberry trees, silkworms, buildings, and equipment. Mulberry leaves were required to feed the silk worms. Two buildings were required for a certain time each year. The first was the magnannerie for the breeding of worms. The building was divided into three rooms. One of the smaller rooms was used for hatching the worms and had two stoves at one end; the other was used for preparing, cleaning and sorting the leaves. The larger room was fitted with shelves and used to rear the silk worms. A second building was needed reeling room where spinning the cocoons for silk could occur.
In 1871 Mrs Bladen Neill travelled to England and southern Europe to study silkworms and mulberry species. She returned to Australia to train female grainers – the grain is the term used for silk worm eggs. The idea was to get the “grainers” to train wives and daughters and to get a viable silk industry in rural areas. 
In 1872 she set up the Victorian Ladies Sericultural Company Limited (VLSC) – only women were eligible to be directors. The aim: “The production of grain and cocoons, and the reeling of raw silk; the carding of pierced cocoons; and the encouragement of silk farming throughout the whole of the colonies.”
The VLSC secured 1000 acres on the edge of Mount Alexander to establish a sericulture operation. The locals objected (there were 69 petitions) on the dubious grounds that the 1000-acre grant would reduce common and grazing land in the area.
The project went ahead. An article in the Castlemaine Mail dated 17 November 1874 provides a detailed description of the silk worm farm, noting the existence of a cottage, the magnannerie and a new building called the Leaf Room. It also indicates that the VLSC had commenced taking in pupils to teach them the skills needed for sericulture. According to Public Works records by 1875 they had planted 10 or 11 acres of land with mulberry trees and shrubs and had trenched, ploughed, fenced and cleared the ground, constructed a large dwelling house, kitchens, a magnannerie and offices at a total cost of around £678.
Sadly, in 1877 the mulberry trees were removed to Corowa (the area around Harcourt had proved too hot in summer, too cold in winter and possums had stripped the bark and leaves) and, by 1878, the land had been sold. It was the first and last attempt at silk production in Victoria. All that is left today are the ruins, now Heritage Listed. Check out http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/5256 for detailed information.

Located at 4912 Calder Highway, Ravenswood Homestead is a stately historic mansion which was built c. 1866. It is set amidst five acres of English gardens and was converted into an upmarket B&B in the 1980s. It was sold in 2005. 
The building itself is on the Victorian Heritage Register which records that "Ravenswood homestead is built of face brickwork with hipped roofs. The main two storey house has a centrally located single storey brick entry porch, with arched opening and simple arcaded balustrade above. A single storey concave verandah, supported on paired timber columns, flanks this porch and returns around the south side of the house. A grouping of five columns supports the verandah at the corner. To the north, the verandah terminates in a parapetted wall. Window openings are rectangular, with simple bay windows to the lower south facade ... Ravenswood homestead is of architectural significance as an early, and possibly the first, substantial homestead built in the district. A refined example of a simple Regency composition, the building exhibits fine face brickwork and brick detailing. The later, classically derived dining room bay, provides an interesting contrast to the earlier plain exterior." For a detailed historic assessment check out http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/967/download-report.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the valley was home to the Dja Dja Wurrung Aborigines. The Liarga Balug and Gal Gal Gundidj clans moved through the area.

* The first European in the area was Major Mitchell in 1836-37. 

* The first white settler in the region was a Dr Barker whose Ravenswood No.1 Run encompassed the present townsite. He built his head station in 1845.

* By 1845 most of the local Aborigines had been displaced from the area. 

* On Ravenswood No.1 Run a shepherd named John Worley found gold in 1851. 

* Harcourt township was officially surveyed in 1853.

* A school was opened in 1859.

* One arrival was notorious bushranger 'Mad Dog' Morgan who was arrested for the first time at Barker's Creek (just to the south-west of town) where he ran a slaughterhouse.

* During the 1860s the area was planted with orchards for apples and stone fruits.

* When the railway arrived in 1862 the road between Castlemaine and Bendigo shifted to meet it and the township of Harcourt emerged on that road.

* The railway station, made of bluestone, brick and granite, was completed in 1863.

* A Methodist church was built in 1864. 

* A reservoir was built on Barkers Creek in 1868.

* The Harcourt Valley began to supply fresh food for the miners in the district. 

* In the 1860s quarries were opened to exploit the granite in the area. Granite from Harcourt was used for Parliament House in Canberra, the John Flynn Memorial at Alice Springs and  the pedestal of the Burke and Wills statue in Melbourne. 

* Mrs. Bladen Neill made an attempt to establish a Victorian silk industry on the slopes of Mount Alexander between 1873 and 1877. It did not succeed.

* In 1881 a water supply channel used for sluicing gold was tapped to irrigate the Harcourt orchards.

* A local irrigation trust was established in 1889.

* In 1905 the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission took over local water storage and irrigation.

* In 1908 a local co-operative fruit-drying company was formed.

* Stanley Park was opened in 1914.

* The railway closed down in 1969.

* In 1995 a ceremony was held to celebrate 150 years of European settlement.

* The town was bypassed in 2009.


Visitor Information

Harcourt Valley Heritage & Tourist Centre, 7 High Street, Harcourt, tel: 0400 916 527.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://harcourt.vic.au.

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