Home » Towns » VIC » Great Ocean Road » Penshurst, VIC

Penshurst, VIC

Small town at the north eastern edge of Victoria's volcanic plain

Penshurst is small town which is located on a lava plain two kilometres from the extinct volcano named Mount Rouse which is known as Collorer to the local First Nations people . It stands 367 metres above sea-level. The low mountain was mined for scoria until recently. It has now been reforested with native trees and turned into a recreation area which offers panoramic views across the rich volcanic plains.


Penshurst is located 276 km west of Melbourne via Geelong and 32 km south-east of Hamilton via the Hamilton Highway.


Origin of Name

It is believed that Penshurst was named after Penshurst in Kent although no one is sure who decided on the name ... or why it was chosen.


Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings
Penshurst has a number of interesting historic buildings. A leisurely stroll around the town (it is small and manageable) will allow visitors to inspect them. The most interesting include:

Post Office & Court House
Located at 31 Martin Street (on the corner of Bell Street) the Court House is part of a complex which includes the Post Office. The Victorian Heritage Database describes the two properties as "The complex is an asymmetrical, single storey, rendered brick building. The two main functions are expressed by different masses and roof forms. The Post Office is on the south side and the Court House is on the north side of the complex. It was built in 1877 to a standard design prepared by the Public Works Department. As well as the postal service, the building included a telegraph office and a residence for the postmaster. Along with all post and telecommunications services, the building passed to the Commonwealth after Federation in 1901. The Post Office facade, on Martin Street, is little altered  ... the Court House has not been altered. Consequently the complex remains relatively intact externally to its original design." See http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/23329?print=true.

Mt Rouse & District Historical Society
The Court House at 31 Martin Street is the home of the local historical society which is open on the first Saturday of each month between 9.30 am - 12.30 pm. The courthouse contains the original ‘court’ furniture. The magistrates room and the clerk’s room are now used as research rooms for the use of members and the general public. For more information check out http://home.vicnet.net.au/~penshist.

Madigan's Store
Opposite the Post Office (on the south-western corner of Bell Street) is Madigan's Store, a handsome bluestone bulding which dates from 1863. It had previous owners but, by the beginning of the 20th century, it was owned by Ellen and Timothy Madigan and, later, their son, Jack Madigan. The Heritage Place document describes the building as "Madigan's Store is a typical single storey general store. The walls throughout are in corsed rockfaced bluestone. It has a bullnose verandah supported by and partly cantilevered from timber posts. The façade, which faces east on Martin Street, includes two entrances with substantial timber doors and five double-hung two-paned (possibly modified) sash windows. These openings have simple architraves, shallow segmental arches and keystones all in painted render. The parapet is very simply detailed in an abstracted Classical style with a shallow pediment supported by consoles. It includes the words 'Penshurst Store, est. 1867'. The frieze below is painted with the words 'General - T. Madigan - Merchant'. See https://www.sthgrampians.vic.gov.au/planningdocs/datasheet/DataSheet240-MadigansStore-MartinBellStreetsPenshurst.PDF for greater detail.

Mount Rouse Shire Office
Located at 23 Martin Street, and now known as the Volcanoes Discovery Centre, the former Mount Rouse Shire offices which were built in two stages. The front section, constructed of rock-faced basalt, dates from 1864. The Shire chambers were added in 1877 and the extensions to the rear were built in 1962. The shire was amalgamated in 1994 and became the Shire of Southern Grampians.

Volcanoes Discovery Centre
Located at 23 Martin Street, the Volcanoes Discovery Centre is an essential stopover for anyone interested in the vast volcanic lava plain which covers so much of this area of Victoria. Penshurst is at the north-eastern tip of the plain which extends down to Port Fairy and across towards Portland and includes the volcanic hills of Mount Rouse, Mount Napier and Mount Eccles. It is a detailed and interesting centre which, as the website and brochure explain: "An unusual experience awaits you at Penshurst. Here, you will be transported back thousands of years when volcanoes were erupting right across the Western District and into South Australia. At the Volcanoes Discovery Centre you will find how volcanoes are formed, their geology, their history in the Western District, a video simulation of Mt Rouse erupting, the interaction of the Koorie people with volcanoes and a section aimed at school children. The highlight is a six minute extravaganza combining high fidelity sound, computer modelling and stunning imagery. It is a fitting culmination to a memorable experience."
Open Thursday 10.00 am - 2.00 pm, Friday - Sunday 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. Tel: 0402 083 782 or check out http://volcanoesdiscoverycentre.com.au.

St Joseph's Catholic Church
Located on the corner of Watton Street and Martin Street, St Joseph's Catholic Church was constructed of bluestone in 1867 with the sacristy, transcepts and a new sanctuary added in 1897. The adjacent presbytery dates from 1925. The Heritage Place website describes the building as  "in the typical Early English Gothic revival style ... With its historic extensions, it is now cruciform in plan. The facade incorporates a doorway, tripartite lancet window and bellcote. The walls are constructed of coursed local hluestone. The roofs are slate with ventilators immediately below the ridge line. The interiors are typical of the period and style although the altar reflects the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council." See https://www.sthgrampians.vic.gov.au/planningdocs/datasheet/DataSheet236-StJosephsCatholicChurchComplex-MartinStreetPenshurst.PDF for greater details.

St Andrews Presbyterian Church
Located in Martin Street, the former Presbyterian (now Uniting) Church was built in 1865 and was constructed of bluestone in the Gothic Early English Rudimentary style. It is recorded in the Heritage Place listings and described as "a simple rectangular nave, with an entrance porch and Vestry. Stained glass leadlight lancet windows are positioned between buttresses, which rise in two stages with sloped ends. The window surrounds and buttress ends appear to be made of cement render painted white. The church has an unusual gable of intermediate pitch containing a nimbus, an elliptical relief of the Burning Bush, beautifully carved in contrasting stone in a highly stylised form, with a scroll bearing Latin text below." For more information check out https://www.sthgrampians.vic.gov.au/planningdocs/datasheet/DataSheet098-StAndrewsUnitingChurch-MartinStreetPenshurst.PDF.

Masonic Lodge
Located at 77 Watton St, to the left, is the former Temperance Hall (1872), a single storey symmetrical stone building which was used as a Masonic Lodge from 1914-1987. Heritage Place notes: "Its form, scale and Classical style are typical for such public buildings, and can be compared with the contemporary Penshurst Courthouse. The gabled roof is perpendicular to the street, incorporates three ventilators and is clad with corrugated iron. The fascia boards are decorated with a simple ogee scalloped edge. The walls are constructed in local rock-face bluestone with contrasting quoins in pink rock-face sandstone or quartzite from the Grampians, a rare and distinctive combination. The facade includes a pair of large semicircular arched windows, apparently fixed, the combined sills of which are at half the height of the walls." See https://www.sthgrampians.vic.gov.au/planningdocs/datasheet/DataSheet269-TemperanceMasonicHallFormer-77WattonStreetPenshurst.PDF for more details.
It offers a brief summary of the Temperance movement which built the hall. "The Temperance Movement advocated abstinence from alcohol. It was supported by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Victoria and linked with various friendly societies, such as the Rechabites, the Order of the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society and the Independent Order of Good Templars ... More generally it was associated with Protestant Wowserism', specifically Methodism and, to a lesser extent, Presbyterianism."

National Bank
Located at 85-87 Bell Street, the former National Bank (c.1874) "is a single storey, symmetrical building of rendered brick (or bluestone?). The façade is subdivided by a composite trabeated and arcuated system of simulated structure. The Order is Tuscan. The parapet is balustraded behind which there is low pitched hipped corrugated iron roof." See https://www.sthgrampians.vic.gov.au/planningdocs/datasheet/DataSheet153-NationalBankFormer-85-87BellStreetPenshurst.PDF for more detailed information.

Bank of Victoria
Located on the corner of Martin Street and Cox Street is the former Bank of Victoria (1876) which is now a private residence. To the rear is a weatherboard house dating from c.1860. The amusing sign outside explains: "The original weatherboard house at the rear was built by Mrs Miriam McIntyre (Grazier) in 1852 as an Overseer's residence. Scandalised by the goings on between the overseer and the maid, she sold the property to the Bank of Victoria in 1876. On 4 August, 1898 the bank was robbed by James Slattery (alias Ryan). It closed as a bank on 29 June, 1942."

Cricketer's Arms Hotel
Located on the corner of Dickens Street and the main road to Hamilton (past the Botanical Gardens) is the former Cricketer's Arms Hotel (1871) which is now privately owned. It is a handsome bluestone building. It is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database which notes: "The former hotel is single storey, built of dressed bluestone, with eight bedrooms and three living areas. A bluestone and timber stable is located to the rear of the property. The hotel was constructed in 1871 for Publican William Coleman, who was associated with early hotels such as the Mount Rouse Inn from 1863, and continued to be operated by the Coleman family until William Coleman's wife committed suicide in 1888. After this, the hotel went through a variety of owners until it was delicensed and converted into a private residence in the later twentieth century." See https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/23226 for more details.

Botanic Wetland Gardens
The Penshurst Botanic Gardens is a reserve of approximately of 5.3 hectares and bounded by Chesswass Street, French Street, Cox Street and Martin Street which includes, off Chesswass Street, the Penshurst Wetland Garden. 
The Penshurst Botanic Garden can be accessed from Cox Street and there is a car park near the tennis courts. The land was set aside as early as 1876 and the planting of the gardens completed in 1889. By 1993 it was being developed along the idea of a "never failing spring" with a lake being developed and a walking track through to the Penshurst Water Gardens. This section of the Botanic Garden was based around a natural spring (the "never failing spring" ) that used to be the town's water supply. There are picnic, barbecue, toilet and playground facilities.
The Penshurst Botanic Gardens Master Plan describes the Botanic Gardens key features: "With the exception of the ‘never failing spring’, the oldest part of the gardens is the collection of European trees located to the east of the gardens. The majority of these trees are English Oak (Quercus robur), Algerian Oak (Quercus caneriensis) and a number of hybrids between the English Oak and the Algerian Oak. There are also specimens of Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica), Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara), Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Peppercorn (Schinus molle), White Poplar (Populus alba), Golden Willow (Salix alba) and Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica).
A key feature of the Penshurst Botanic Gardens is the chain of ponds downstream of the ‘never failing spring’. The ponds and channels are divided into four planting zones of Australasian, Asian, American and European ... A man-made channel (swale) links the Australian wetland to the American wetland. The American wetland has a rotunda that is a key feature accessed by a timber bridge ... There are approximately 20 Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum) both in the lake in earth mounds and some to the perimeter of the lake. There is a strong and diverse range of European trees within the gardens." See http://www.penshurstvictoria.com.au/documents/Penshurst%20Botanic%20Gardens%20Master%20Plan%20Report.pdf.


Other Attractions in the Area

Yatmerone Wildlife Reserve
Located 2 km west of Penhurst via Ritchie Street, Yatmerone Wildlife Reserve is a 13 ha wildlife reserve with the Deep Freshwater Marsh wetlands which are spring-fed and provide an important home for local flora and fauna including over 30 types of bird species including the Blue-winged Shovelers, Black Duck, Brolga, Latham’s Snipe, Black Swan, Coots, and many more. It is also home to over 30 floral species including Weeping grass, Kangaroo Grass, Southern Water-ribbons, Kangaroo apple and Nodding saltbush. The fauna in the reserve includes wallabies, tiger snakes, native swamp rat skinks and marsh frogs.
The Yatmerone Swamp sits on a "stony rise lava field" which formed around 350,000 years ago when Mount Rouse erupted. Over time Mount Rouse has absorbed rainfall which resurfaces as springs and soaks. Yatmerone Swamp is a good example of a spring fed depression. The reserve is open 24 hours a day. For more information tel: 1800 807 056 or check https://www.grampianspoint.com.au/attractions/yatmerone-wildlife-reserve.

Mount Rouse Park
Located 4 km south-east of Penshurst, Mount Rouse is an extinct volcano which erupted around 350,000 years ago. By visiting the Volcanoes Discovery Centre it is easy to observe how Mount Rouse produced the longest single lava flow in the Newer Volcanic Province of Victoria (which stretches south to Port Fairy). In recent times it  has been quarried for scoria (solidified lava). The local website notes: "The mountain’s peak is a vantage location for panoramic views of the entire lava plain and the region around it. You can drive almost all the way to the summit and then climb the last few steps to the top to be rewarded with far-reaching views."
In the 1970s  the area around the mountain was planted with tussock grasses, kangaroo apple, sheoak, sweet banksia, manna gum, black wattle and tree violet. These may not have been native to the volcano. No one is sure what was originally there because Europeans started cutting timber from the slopes as early as 1841. It is possible to see black wallabies, grey kangaroos, echidnas and eagles, which nest in the old quarries, within the park. The total walk to the crater and the cairn from the Car Park is 1640 metres and takes around 34 minutes but it is possible to take a shorter walk from the car park just beyond the main gate. Check out https://www.grampianspoint.com.au/attractions/mount-rouse for useful additional information and an detailed map of the Mount Rose Walking Tracks.

Chateau Kolor
Located 1.2 km south of Penshurst on the Penshurst-Warrnambool Road, is Kolor (or Chateau Kolor) an elegant and charming single-storey bluestone Classical Revival mansion (1868) which is a fine example of bluestone masonry and is notable for its impressive three storey tower with its bellcast roof. The house, which is private (it was last on the market for $5 million - it included outbuildings and 296 acres - 120 ha) can be viewed from nearby Mount Rouse, was designed as an Italian villa and was completed in just 12 months with 40 stonemasons working on it. At one time there were a total of 70 workers on the site.

Burger Cottages
Located 4 km west of Penshurst at 71 Springfield Lane, the Burger Cottages, which were probably built around 1853, are a rare insight in the German migration into western Victoria which took place at this time. Peter Burger (1795-1878) and his family were one of 400 families of Wends who migrated to South Australia in 1851. The Wends, also known as Sorbs, were a Slavic people from Saxony in north-east Germany. They spoke Wendish at home and German in the community. The Burgers established a property on stony ground at Mount Rouse in a small community which was called 'Gnadenthal', meaning 'Valley of Grace'.
The Victorian Heritage Database has an extensive entry on the Burgers and their rare cottages. "The two early vernacular structures on the Burger farm have solid timber frames with the spaces between the timbers in the ceiling of the cottage and the internal partitions of the stable filled with long cylinders made by the unusual lehmwickel or 'earth winding' technique. These are made up of split stakes of the local Blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon, wrapped around with layers of mud and straw to form a cylinder about 100 mms in diameter. These were packed closely together in parallel rows in the spaces between the framing timbers or ceiling joists. The ceilings were originally lined with calico. The cottages each have two rooms, a corrugated iron roof replacing what was probably first a shingled roof, and a skillion addition along one long side. The main cottage, with a living room and bedroom, has a skillion with walls of large bluestone rubble blocks, a fireplace and chimney of coursed bluestone blocks replacing the original weatherboard, and a small attic reached from the exterior. The other building was probably originally a stable with a separate bedroom at one end. In the 1930s the front and rear walls were clad with corrugated iron. According to the owner the detached kitchen, built at the same time as the other two buildings, fell down in about 1930. A dry stone wall surrounds the area in which the old buildings are located, adjacent to the early twentieth century homestead ... Since 1983 the two vernacular buildings have been used as a museum, and they house a collection of objects such as furniture, photographs and household and farm objects. About half of these are directly associated with the Burgers, the rest have been purchased or donated." See http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/12960?print=true for more information. Visits are by appointment only and a small donation is appreciated, tel: (03) 5576 5236 or ask at the Volcanoes Discovery Centre.

Lake Linlithgow Lake Reserve (Jenawarra)
Located 15 km north-west of Penshurst, Lake Linlithgow (it is 1015 ha) is ideal for water sports, fishing, picnicking and bird-watching. It is possible to take a track around the lake which has picnic, barbecue, toilet and parking facilities and a boat ramp. The site is open during daylight hours. There is an outstanding, and very detailed, description from the Hamilton Field Naturalists Club - check out https://www.hamilton-field-naturalists-club-victoria.org.au/images/pdf/lake-linlithgow-lake-reserve-jenawarra.pdf. It provides extensive lists of the flora and fauna which can be seen around the lake - 56 native species of shrubs and ground flora and 58 species of bird have been recorded including "Large numbers of Black-winged Stilt, Banded Stilt, Red-necked Avocet, Red-necked Stint, Red-capped Plover and Whiskered Tern."

A History of the Local First Nation People
The Mount Rouse district was occupied for tens of thousands of years to the Nareeb Nareeb and Kolor First Nation people who prospered on produce from the rich local volcanic soils and constant water from the many natural springs and creeks. The Kolor people shared their name with Mount Rouse which they called 'Collorrer'.
It is relevant to note, in the context of Bruce Pascoe's remarkable book Dark Emu, that all the evidence suggests that the local people were well established, and relatively sedentary, on the volcanic plains. Major Thomas Mitchell, who moved through the area and sighted Mount Rouse during his Australia Felix expedition in 1837, described "two very substantial huts" that he saw. On a rainy day he expressed a desire to "return if possible, to pass the night there, for I began to learn that such huts, with a good fire between them, made comfortable quarters in bad weather." And when he climbed Mount Napier he noted: "Smoke arose from many parts of the lower country, and showed that the inhabitants were very generally scattered over its surface. We could now look on such fires with indifference, so harmless were these natives, compared with those of the Darling, and the smoke, now ascended in equal abundance from the furthest verge of the horizon." He was seeing permanent settlements across the plains.
Nareeb Nareeb and Kolor First Nation people had a pre-eminent elder who consulted with the other elders in their tribal groupings. It was believed that some of the elders had special contact with the spirit world. These people were also regarded as healers. Tunrap Warneen, an important elder of the Kolor tribe, was a noted healer whose reputation drew people to the area. He spoke many dialects and, at corroborees and meetings, his face was marked with red pigment with white lines beneath the eyes. A band around his temple bore the feather of a turkey bustard or the crest of a white cockatoo. Tragically the manager of a station in the district shot and killed Warneen. Before European settlement up to 20 tribal groups would attend corroborees at a large marsh south-east of Mount Rouse. At these meeting they would feast, hunt and socialise, often with a view to marriage. There were complex laws governing sexual relations which were designed to prevent inbreeding. A local squatter wrote that he understood that: "The aborigines are everywhere divided into classes, and everyone is considered to belong to his mother's class, and cannot marry into it in any tribe, as all of the same class are considered brothers and sisters."
When Europeans moved into the district and established sheep properties, the First Nation people found their food sources destroyed or driven out and, of necessity, they turned to that stock for food. The squatters retaliated and there are numerous episodes of killing of the Nareeb Nareeb and Kolor First Nation people.
The government's response was to establish a number of reservations and Mount Rouse was chosen as a suitable site. John Cox was forced to remove his stock from the land and an Aboriginal Protectorate was opened. In spite of these measure the First Nation population was so diminished that the "Protectorate" closed. It operated either from 1840 to 1842 or 1842 to 1849, depending on which source is to be believed.
In 1858 Acheson French noted: 'The number of aborigines must have very much diminished since my arrival eighteen years ago as I seldom see any now though I used to constantly employ them formerly.' That same year Henry Gottreaux of 'The Gums' thought that there were about 150 to 200 First Nation people in the district. They were all that was left from five or six tribes in the county of Villiers.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the land around Mt Rouse was home to the Nareeb Nareeb and Kolor First Nations people.

* Major Thomas Mitchell sighted Mount Rouse during his Australia Felix expedition of 1837.

* The first European to take up land at Mount Rouse was John Cox who had established a sheep station by 1839.

* By 1840 the government of New South Wales (Victoria at this time was part of New South Wales) established a reservations which was named Mount Rouse Aboriginal Protectorate.

* The Mount Rouse Aboriginal Protectorate operated either from 1840 to 1842 or 1842 to 1849. Sources vary.

* After the Protectorate closed the government opened the area up to squatters and the Twomeys paid an unusually high sum for the license to the Mount Rouse estate.

* In 1851 a location was a town was determined.

* Numbers of Lutherans moved from South Australia to the Penshurst area following the goldrushes in 1852.

* In 1857 a post office was opened.

* The town's first school was opened in 1858.

* A Wesleyan Church was built in 1860.

* Mt Rouse Shire, with its seat in Penshurst, was created in 1864.

* A Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1865

* A Catholic Church was consecrated in 1867.

* In 1870 a local flour mill was opened.

* The Post Office and Court House were built in 1877.

* Seven people were killed and another ten wounded in a horrendous railway accident which occurred in 1890 when a train hit a stray bullock about 3 km from Penshurst during the construction of the railway to Koroit. The rail to Koriot opened in 1890.

* A butter factory was opened in 1899.

* A local golf course was built in 1904.

* In 1925 a bush nursing hospital was opened.

* The local swimming pool was opened in 1960.

* The Penshurst Magistrate's Court was closed in 1981.


Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information Centre in Penshurst. The nearest is the Greater Hamilton Visitor Information Centre, Lonsdale Street, Hamilton, tel: 1800 807 056.


Useful Websites

The Penshurst Progress Association website is useful. See http://www.penshurstvictoria.com.au.

Got something to add?

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