Home » Towns » VIC » Central - Murray River » Heathcote, VIC

Heathcote, VIC

Historic gold mining town

Heathcote is an attractive, historic gold mining town which is surrounded by bushland. It lies beside McIvor Creek in a district known for its wool, timber, cattle, honey and wine. The heart of the town stretches along High Street and is characterised by historic shopfronts, hotels, churches and modest gold-era homes. The trees which line the main street were planted in the 19th century on the advice of Baron von Mueller who created Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. The area has significant gold era remnants.


Heathcote is located 119 km north of Melbourne and 220 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

There are two possible explanations for the name of the town. It was either named after Sir William Heathcote, a British politician, or because the area is known for its extensive areas of wild heath.


Things to See and Do

A Historic Walk Around Heathcote
There is a useful, downloadable brochure titled A Historic Walk Around Heathcote (check out https://images.impartmedia.com/heathcote.org.au/documents/Heathcote-brochure-A-Historic-Walk-Around-Heathcote.pdf) which lists a total of 20 places of historic interest around the town. Fifteen of those twenty places are located along the main street. The highlights include:

1. Mechanics Hall (1900)
Located on the corner of Reef Street and High Street, this charming and unusual building was constructed to replace a timber hall which dated back to 1859. It has always been the town’s venue for social, cultural, health and educational activities – by the 1860s it had reading rooms and was a lending library - and now it accommodates Senior Citizens, Girl Guides and the Lions Club.

2. Old Court House (1863)
Located at 125 High Street, the Courthouse served the town from 1863 to 1989. It was designed by Melbourne architect, John Flannagan, and, as the Victorian Heritage Database observes, the “Court House is of architectural merit as a well composed building influenced by a style known as Victorian Mannerism, which sought to be inventive and playful within the tradition of strict classicism. Early nineteenth century British architects rediscovered the Mannerism of the late Renaissance as a style which released them from cold imitation of Classicism and allowed freedom and 'character' within their design. The well designed and prominent building is an unusual and rare surviving integration of an 1860s court house and shire chambers.” See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/5124 for more details. The building still houses the original witness box and Judge’s Bench.

4. Commercial Bank (1886)
Located at 129 High Street building originally consisted of the banking premises and a manager’s residence. It closed as a Westpac bank in 1995 and now is used commercially as a cafe.

5. Post Office and Residence – 1870
Built by the Public Works Department, this building served as the Heathcote Post Office until 2013.

6. Moore Christie & Spinks Flour Mill (1869)
The brick chimney is still clearly visible from High Street, this mill was powered by steam, and the wheat was ground by stones. When the more efficient steel roller mills reached the district, it closed down. The artist Leonard French lived here and created the stained glass ceiling of National Gallery of Victoria while living in the building.

7. St Johns Anglican Church (1868) and Budd Hall (1854)
Located in High Street, St John’s Anglican was built by Vahland and Getzschmann. The Australian Christian Heritage website (http://www.churchesaustralia.org/list-of-churches/locations/victoria/f-k-towns/directory/84-st-johnand%2339%3Bs-anglican-church- notes that “St John's is the only church in Heathcote still standing on the original site granted by the Government in the land sale of 1853/54. The smaller Budd Hall was the original building, first named Christ Church and built in 1854. Although it has undergone renovations it remains one of the oldest buildings in the town, named after the Rev Theodore Budd, minister from 1856-67. Present church building consecrated on 3 October 1889.”

8. Union Hotel (1856)
Located at 171 High Street, the Union Hotel is Heathcote’s oldest existing and longest-serving hotel still standing in its original condition. In 2014 it was granted a $17,200 loan by the Heritage Restoration Loan Scheme to assist with restoration.

9. Craven’s Store (1853)
Serving as a General Store until 1941, Craven’s also included a bakery and coach service. Since 1997 the building has been used by the Heathcote Winery. The Heathcote Winery website notes that: “Thomas Craven was a pioneering character lured to Victoria by the 1850s gold rush. He prospered by selling supplies to miners from a Heathcote store, now our cellar door. By turns a mail coach operator, publican, and wine merchant, Thomas helped put Heathcote on the map, much like our wine, in fact.” See https://heathcotewinery.com.au for the wines offered in the store.

13. Mona Lisa Gallery (1850s)
Located at 146 High Street, Heathcote’s St Andrews Presbyterian Church was built around 1855 and the hall was built in the 1850s. The Australian Christian Heritage website notes: “The hall was originally a Union Church building. It became solely a Presbyterian Church building in 1859. It was moved to its current location in 1863. It was used by the Presbyterians until 1955, when a new Presbyterian church was built. This new church was opened and dedicated on 12/11/1955. The former church building is now privately owned. For more information check out https://www.churchesaustralia.org/list-of-churches/denominations/presbyterian-church-of--australia/directory/1225-st-andrewand%2339%3Bs-presbyterian-church-former.

14. The Quartz Mill
Located in the Barrack Reserve park on High Street is an interesting remnant of the equipment used to crush gold bearing ore. This Quartz Mill remnant was originally from Redcastle Mine.

15. Heathcote Masonic Temple
Located on High Street this purpose-built Masonic Temple has been continuously occupied since it was built in 1859.

17. Heathcote Powder Magazine
Within the McIvor Range Reserve is the old powder magazine which was built in 1864 to store gunpowder used in gold mining and quarrying. The sign near the building explains: "The Heathcote Powder Magazine was constructed by the Public Works Department in 1864, from high quality locally quarried stone. The builder was H. Cormack & Co. In Victoria, powder magazines stored explosives used in gold mining, quarrying and road making, and were located outside many goldfields towns to avoid accidental explosions close to residential areas. This powder magazine features a brick vaulted space inside a buttressed rectangular building, with a small entry and office space. The vault, buttressing, and baffled air vents were a result of the belief at the time that extensive masonry would help to contain explosives. The gabled roof was originally of slate. Sawn Oregon racks remain in the main room, together with a two-door iron safe with decorative stencilling. The building demonstrates particularly fine stone masonry and brick vaulting work, and is an excellent example of a Public Works department designed powder magazine."

Viewing Rock
Near the Powder Magazine there is a sign indicating a "Viewing Rock Circuit Walk" which is one hour return walk with the Viewing Rock being 0.9 km and the Viewing Rock via Devils Cave being 2 km. Viewing Rock is a rocky outcrop which provides panoramic views over Heathcote and the surrounding area.

Devil's Cave
On a track beyond the Powder Magazine is the Devil's Cave which was occupied by local Aborigines for thousands of years and, after the discovery of gold, was used by  prospectors as early as 1864. The track - it is a pleasant 90 minute walk - leads up a gentle incline through a forest and is signposted from the Valley of the Liquidambers. There are some good views of the town en route and wildflowers in season.

Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve
Located off Pink Cliffs Road, this geological reserve offers a rare insight into the way gold was extracted by the use of water races and sluicing. A 30 minute walk around the site leads past canyons and gorges which were created by sluice mining. The colours of the cliffs range from bright pink to yellow and golden ochre. Follow the path and there are excellent signs which explain the process. These include:
The Mining Process
In 1887 Hedley and the Hon J A Wallace began experimenting with hydraulic sluicing by pumping, instead of relying on the pressure gained from the gravity fed water race. In 1886 sludge in the creek became a significant problem and the The Sludge Inquiry Board was formed. In 1890 the Heathcote Sluicing Company's mining lease was not renewed due mainly to the decisions made by The Sludge Inquiry Board."

And there is also:
Hedley's Water Race
In 1865 the McIvor Hydraulic and Gold Mining Co began constructing a water race from the headwaters of the McIvor Creek near Mt Sugarloaf at Tooborac, to convey water 'at a sufficient elevation to command the whole McIvor gold field'. The race was anticipated to carry six million gallons per day, to operate 60 sluice heads.
"The water was conducted to the sluicing site in an open channel which followed the contour of the ground to a well constructed flume, made of three sawn planks about twelve inches wide and one inch thick. Then it went into a heavy canvas hose, to increase the pressure and at the end of the hose there was a nozzle made of stout galvanising iron tipped with cast iron."
Initially only seven miles (about 11 km) was to be constructed. This required tunnelling for short distances, construction of flumes or aqueducts across gullies as well as the formation of the race walls. The engineering feat of creating the fall of the water along the length of the race was measured using a beer bottle containing water as a level. In 1874 Thomas Hedley continued the water race to bring water to a holding dam he constructed in Long Gully (known now as Hedley's Dam) and on to Red Hill - a distance of 26 miles (about 42 km)."


Other Attractions in the Area

O'Keefe Rail Trail
The O'Keefe Rail Trail, named after Andrew O'Keefe, is a 50 km trail between Heathcote and Bendigo which was built in 1888. The original line was closed in 1968 and from 1993 until its completion in 2015 it was revitalised by a combination of voluntary work and contributions from the local councils and state government. There is a very detailed description of the trail at https://www.railtrails.org.au/trail?view=trail&id=100 which notes that the trail:
* Travels through box-ironbark and yellow gum woodland, along with farmland.
* Trail surface is a mix of asphalt sections (townships) and rolled fine to course gravel in the other areas. For cycling, the trail surface overall is currently most suitable for MTB and hybrid bikes - although flat bar racers with sufficiently wide tyres would be fine.
* In 2015, the extension from Axedale to Heathcote was opened, resulting in a good quality path of 50 km from Bendigo to Heathcote."

Mount Ida Lookout
Located 9 km north of Heathcote via the Northern Highway and clearly signposted, Mount Ida Lookout (450 m) is a short walk from the car park. It offers excellent panoramic views of the district.

Lake Eppalock
Located 22 km north west of Heathcote via the McIvor Highway and the Knowsley-Eppalock Roads is dam wall of Lake Eppalock, the state's fourth-largest reservoir with a wall measuring 700 m long and 47 m high. Eppalock was built in 1964 for irrigation and flood-control purposes. The submerged area covers 3,011 ha. In recent times it has been developed as a recreation area with a focus on water skiing, fishing, boating and swimming. There are barbecue and picnic facilities, toilets and boat ramps. The Moorabbee Foreshore Road offers fine views of the Derrinal Pool which is popular with anglers, swimmers, yachting enthusiasts and power-boaters. There is a boat ramp as well as toilets and dressing sheds. There is a useful website. Check out https://www.bendigoregion.com.au/explore-bendigo/lake-eppalock.

Duigan Memorial - First Flight of an Australian Made Aeroplane
Located on the Mia Mia-Lancefield Road, to the west of Heathcote, is a memorial to the first flight by an Australian-made aircraft. This historic event occurred in 1910. The website, Monument Australia records: "John Robertson Duigan, with the collaboration of his brother, Reginald C. Duigan of Spring Plains, built and flew the first Australian made aeroplane to achieve controlled flight in Australia. In July 1910, John Duigan flew an aircraft (a seven metre hop), at James Cullen`s property `Spring Plains` at Mia Mia, near Kyneton.  The plane flew for approximately 180 metres at an altitude of approximately 3.5 metres. This is acknowledged as the first powered, controlled flight of an all Australian designed and built aeroplane and occurred less than seven years after the Wright Brothers' Flyer lifted off at Kittyhawk, North Carolina." Check out http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/technology/industry/display/32582-first-flight-of-an-australian-made-aeroplane for more information. The full story of the development of the plane is told in great detail by a member of the family. Check out https://www.aarg.com.au/the-duigan-history-4.html.



* Prior to European settlement the Woiwurrung Aborigines inhabited the district.

* The first Europeans in the area were the party of Major Mitchell who passed through in 1836. Mitchell named McIvor Creek after a member of his party.

* Pastoralists moved into the area in the 1840s and there was a track (with a couple of roadside inns) along which produce was carted to sheep stations.

* The town developed as a result of goldrushes along McIvor Creek which commenced in 1852.

* In 1852 a major strike occurred at Golden Gully behind Heathcote's old court house.

* By 1853 there was a substantial goldfield in the area and settlement had grown up around it. The population was estimated as up to 40,000.

* Around this time an estimated 3000 Chinese walked to the diggings from Robe in South Australia where they had disembarked to avoid paying a tax levied upon Chinese disembarking at Victoria.

* By 1854 the gold prospectors had moved on and the population was around 2,000. Land sales occurred in this year.

* In 1854 an Anglican church and National School were built. Land was offered for sale in the town.

* By 1855 reef mining had commenced.

* A hospital was opened in 1859. That year the Heathcote borough was created.

* By the early 1860s the town had three breweries, 22 hotels, two flour mills, a bacon factory and several wineries.

* In 1863 the Court House and Council Offices were built.

* A powder magazine was built in 1864.

* A Catholic Church was consecrated in 1865.

* A state primary school was opened in 1875 at South Heathcote.

* In 1882 the Heathcote Agricultural, Pastoral and Horticultural Society was established.

* During the 1880s a railway line was opened between Bendigo and Heathcote Junction.

* Other local mining communities were Balmoral (later known as 'Redcastle') which once had 17,000 people but ceased to exist when mining ended around 1910.

* Costerfield, 12 km north-east, once employed 700 men but closed down in 1925. At one time it produced 92 per cent of the state's antimony.

* Greytown, 30 km north-east, allegedly had 60,000 on its fields but was short-lived.

* In 1910 the Duigan brothers made Australian aviation history when they built and flew the first Australian-made aircraft at Mia Mia, 18 km south-west of town. The contraption lifted off the ground for a total of seven metres.

* The passenger service railway to Bendigo was closed in 1965.

* Vineyards were planted in the district between 1975-1979.


Visitor Information

Heathcote Visitor Information Centre, High and Barrack Streets, tel: (03) 5433 3121. Open from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm daily.


Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out https://www.heathcote.org.au.

Got something to add?

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

1 suggestion so far