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Rutherglen, VIC

Historic gold town turned wine-growing district near the Murray River.

Today Rutherglen is recognised as one of the premier wine growing regions in Victoria. Historically it grew overnight when, in 1860, the dream of gold and vast wealth drew thousands of prospectors to the district. Today the town has a pleasant 19th century charm with historic buildings, attractive veranda-fronted pubs, antique shops and tea rooms. Located only 10 km from the Murray River, in recent times the district has attracted bushwalkers, cyclists (the Murray to Mountains Trail is popular), people interested in exploring the gold mining history, and "foodies" and "wine buffs" eager to explore the local cellar doors. There are approximately twenty wineries in the area.


Rutherglen is located 296 km north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway, Federation Way and the Murray Valley Highway.


Origin of Name

In September, 1860 gold was found near Rutherglen. A town named Barkly appeared overnight as prospectors poured into the area. Shortly afterwards another site was discovered 500 metres to the east. In October this second site was named Rutherglen after the Scottish birthplace of John Wallace, who established the Star Hotel on the new town site. It is claimed that Wallace, as the publican of the Star Hotel, was told "Shout the whole bar and you can call this town whatever you like." So he bought a beer for everyone in the pub and called the town Rutherglen.


Things to See and Do

Rutherglen Heritage Walk - A Self-Guided Tour of Rutherglen's Historic Streetscapes.
There is an excellent, downloadable Rutherglen Heritage Walk brochure at http://www.rutherglenvic.com/attractions/rutherglen-heritage-walk which lists a total of 38 places of interest around the town. It is significant that 19 of the 38 are located on Main Street. To cover all the sites takes about 45 minutes with most self-guided tours starting at the town's historic Visitor Centre at 57 Main Street. The most significant sites include:

1. 57 Main Street - remarkably this modern-looking building which houses the Rutherglen Wine Experience and Visitor Information Centre was built in 1862 as a general store. It was a classic general store of its era with a flying fox to deal with money and a delivery cart. The original building was added to in 1896.

5. Bank of Australasia - Located at 80 Main Street this typical bank building was constructed in 1899 and opened for business as the Bank of Australasia in 1900. In 1951 it became the ANZ Bank and continued to operate until 1996.

8. Victoria Hotel - This landmark hotel opened in 1894 and replaced a gold rush hotel which had been built on the site in the early 1860s. It is said that it used 350,000 bricks in the construction and there was a lamp outside which burnt through the night to help travellers along the main street. The original was erected in Drummond Street in 1860 and was moved to its present site c.1863 where it became one of the most popular hotels on the goldfield. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1893-94 with brick additions in 1897. A two-storey brick structure with rear wings and a large stable block, it has a decorative rendered facade, a two-storey cast-iron veranda and an ornate parapet. On the left is the town mortuary which dates back to the 1860s.

9. The Post Office - Located at 83 Main Street this rather unassuming building has sections which date from 1863. It once housed the town's Post Office, Telegraph Exchange and the Victorian Customs and Excise Department. The square next to the building is an amusing demonstration of the strategies of a clever entrepreneur. It was originally land owned by Shadrack Gollings, mine host at the Victoria Hotel. He turned it into a square and this meant that travellers from the railway station would have an uninterrupted view of his hotel.

13. Common School - Located in Murray Street is the Common School. The first two rooms were erected in 1872 and the school opened in 1873 with 84 pupils. It grew rapidly and by the end of 1873 there were 300 pupils. This rapid increase in size saw a wooden extension added in 1874. The present primary school was opened in 1909 and the Common School was remodelled for science and cookery classes. When Rutherglen High School opened in 1962 the building was threatened with demolition but was preserved owing to the efforts of the local historical society which set up a local history museum display in the front room with a Victorian schoolroom re-created in another. It is open Sundays from 1.00 pm - 4.00 pm.

15. St Stephen's Church and Rectory - Located in High Street St Stephen's Anglican Church was built in 1864-65. The turret is topped by a belfry with an open-work bell cage. Extensions were made in the 20th century and, in 1984, all the wooden parts of the spiral were replaced and exactly reproduced in stainless steel.

20. Lake King and Viewing Platform - Lake King was constructed in 1877 as a water supply for the town. A swimming pool and jetty were built and the local rowing club practiced here. Today there is a walking path around the circumference of the lake. The lake is home to tortoises and rich flocks of waterbirds.

26. Poachers Paradise Hotel - Located at 120 Main Street and built in 1860 as the Golden Ball Hotel, it was renamed the Rutherglen Hotel in 1863 and became the booking office for coaches bound for Melbourne. The two-storey section at the front was added in 1924 using bricks from the Globe Hotel.

31. The Star Hotel - Located at 105 Main Street - this is the site of the original Star Hotel which was built at the beginning of the Rutherglen goldrush in October 1860. Its owner, John A. Wallace, purchased the Eagle Hotel in Ballarat for £450 and transported it to Rutherglen. Wallace named the new townsite after his birthplace in Scotland. The original hotel burnt down in 1902 and was replaced by the present building.

 38. The Water Tower (The Big Wine Bottle) - Located in Hunter Street is a 70,000 gallon (318,226 litre) water tower which was built in 1899-1900 to serve as the town's water supply. A new reservoir was built in 1945 with water being pumped from the Murray. The steel mesh wine bottle was added to the top in 1969 with funds from the Rutherglen Wine Festival.


Other Attractions in the Area

Rutherglen State Battery
Head out of town on High Street until you reach the Barkly Street roundabout. Turn into Hopetoun Road and then into Battery Road which leads to a rather unassuming building which was built in 1908. It was originally powered by steam and designed to crush quartz and extract gold. The signs explain that it was "in use until 1994 yielding 5650 oz of gold from 6549 tons of quartz crushed during that period. The battery was restored and upgraded for visitors as part of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in Rutherglen in 2010." It is well worth visiting because it is like Dr Who's Tardis - it seems modest outside but inside is the remarkable government stamper battery and the equipment used to maintain it. For more information check out http://www.indigogoldtrail.com/About_Indigo_Gold_Trail/The_Rutherglen_Gold_Battery.

The most sensible way to explore the local wineries is to visit the Rutherglen Wine Experience and Visitor Information Centre in Main Street, explain exactly what you are looking for, get some suitable maps and head out to explore the huge diversity of wineries and cellar doors in the district. Robust fortified wines (ports and muscats) and dry reds matured in oak casks are a speciality of the region. The vineyards are sited on well-drained river flats and rely on natural rainfall rather than irrigation. A detailed guide to the wineries in the area can be found at http://www.rutherglenvic.com/wineries/winemakers.asp. It offers a detailed description of each winery and an evaluation of the specialised wines.

To get you started here are a few modest suggestions:

Chambers Rosewood Winery
Chambers Winery is located on Barkly Street. Started by William Chambers who planted his first vines in 1859, it is now a fifth-generation family business. It is known for its particularly fine Chambers Rutherglen Muscat. The cellar door is open Monday to Saturday from 9.00am - 5.00pm and on Sundays from 10.00am to 5.00pm, tel: (02) 6032 8641.

Campbells Winery
Campbells is a fourth-generation family affair established in 1870 by Scottish gold prospector, John Campbell.  There is a self-guided tour of the winery (the cellars date from 1885), displays of antique equipment and museum memorabilia. The cellar door is open daily from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm except on Sundays when they open at 10.00 am - 5.00pm. The winery is known for its excellent Bobbie Burns Shiraz, The Brothers Shiraz and 'The Barkly' Durif. The cellar door is located 3 km west of Rutherglen on the Murray Valley Highway, tel: (02) 6033 6000. See http://www.campbellswines.com.au for more details.

Stanton & Killeen Wines
Stanton & Killeen Wines is a sixth-generation business. Timothy Stanton, and his son John, purchased land in Rutherglen in 1864. Their first official vintage appeared in 1875. Head west along the Murray Valley Highway for 2 km and turn right into Jacks Road. tel: (02) 6032 9457. See http://www.stantonandkilleenwines.com.au.

Lake Moodemere
Lake Moodemere is a former Aboriginal camp and attractive lake which is known as one of the state's premier destination for rowing regattas. The lack of wind on the lake has resulted in it holding Victoria's oldest rowing regatta. It was first held in 1866. It is connected to the Murray River and is known for its waterbird communities particularly black swans and pelicans. There are picnic, barbecue and toilet facilities and fishing, boating, water skiing, rowing and swimming are popular on the lake.

The story of gold mining in the Rutherglen District.
The story of gold and Rutherglen is the story of mining in Australia. It is a story of boom and bust; of hysteria and abandonment; of craziness and disappointment; of gambling and of sheer luck.

The gold rushes in Victoria started in the 1850s and by the 1860s they had all run their course but there were still prospectors eager to find their fortune and the search for more gold was as frenzied as it had been in the early days.

One of the last rushes in the state occurred in September, 1860 when gold was discovered at Wahgunyah, only 10 km north-west of Rutherglen. The Wahgunyah find was followed by a deep lead which was found underground on the present townsite of Rutherglen. At the time the hastily constructed settlement was named Barkly. It appeared to the west of the claim and it was soon followed by another claim 500 metres to the east.

The latter claim was named Rutherglen in October after the Scottish birthplace of John Wallace, who set up the Star Hotel on the new townsite. Wallace was not the first trader at Barkly. By October, and this captures the sense of chaos, there were forty stores and dozens of pubs (mostly just tents) on the goldfields. By December 1860 there were 12,095 people living and prospecting in the Indigo Division which was made up of Rutherglen, Indigo and Chiltern.

The goldrush was incredibly short-lived. By early 1861 (less than six months after the initial find) the area’s production had dropped dramatically. Production fell from 28 kg a week in mid-1861 to 21 kg by the end of the year. The number of miners working on the Indigo Division dropped from 6,411 in January 1861 to 5,070 in August and it had dropped further to 3,235 by July 1862. By January, 1863 it had reached 1,815 and by March, 1864 it was down to 763. There were only 200 people by March, 1865 and 46 by March, 1867. The dry leads were exhausted in 1866 and both people and equipment left the district. In the June quarter of 1867, only 1.4 kg of gold was produced.

The goldrush was over but people and companies refused to give up. In the mid-1880s the Great Northern Mine was sold by its owners, who had given up after finding nothing to a depth of 216 feet (65 metres). The new owners, after digging a mere six feet (2 metres) further, found a lead which was a metre thick and 15 metres wide. This became one of the state's richest mines, producing 107,000 ounces of gold.

Returns from the gold mines began to decline again after 1900 although the industry struggled on until about 1919, by which time the Rutherglen goldfield had produced a total of 24,156 kg or 1.58% of Victoria's total.

It had been everything. Boom, bust and, in the end, a source of great wealth for the state.



* The land around Rutherglen was once occupied by the Whroo people, a subgroup of the Kwat Kwat, one of the clans that formed the Yorta Yorta people, who lived on the banks of the Murray River.

* The first Europeans to pass through the district were  the explorers Hume and Hovell who crossed the Murray in November 1824. They were followed by Charles Sturt who explored the Murray River in 1829-30.

* By 1835 the first squatter had arrived and settled on land beside the river near the future site of Albury.

* In 1838 John Foord, searching for fresh grazing land, set off from Yass with 1000 head of cattle. He established the 'Wahgunyah' run on just north of the present site of Rutherglen. Seven years later all the best land in the district had been taken up by squatters.

* By 1841 it was estimated there were 1,200 Aborigines living around Rutherglen but by 1860 there were less than 60 in the entire north-east of the state.

* In 1858 gold was discovered at Indigo, 11 km south-east of Rutherglen. By November, 1858 Indigo had eight hotels and 41 stores.

* By early 1859 it was estimated that there were 13,000 people were in the district.

* In September, 1860 the Wahgunyah goldrush started when a deep lead was found underground on the present site of Rutherglen. The settlement of Barkly sprang up west of the claim and it was followed by Rutherglen 500 metres to the east. Prospectors and business people poured in and within a month there were more than 40 shops and pubs.

* By October, 1860 the first newspaper was printed and the first postmaster appointed.

* By November, 1860 there were three schools and a police camp.

* By December 1860 there were 12,095 people on the goldfields at Rutherglen, Indigo and Chiltern of whom 1,925 were Chinese.

* In April, 1861 a Court of Petty Sessions was established and a Presbyterian church opened the same month.

* The townsite was surveyed in 1861.

* The town was declared a municipality in September 1862.

* A brick post office was built in 1863.

* St Stephen's Anglican church was erected in 1864-65.

* The dry leads in the goldfields were exhausted in 1866 and both people and equipment left the district.

* In the June quarter of 1867 only 1.4 kg of gold was produced.

* Rutherglen was declared a shire in 1871.

* A National School was opened in 1872.

* A Bank of Victoria branch was established in the town in 1874.

* A Catholic Church was consecrated in 1875.

* By 1877 the town had both Congregational and Wesleyan churches.

* The railway reached the town in 1879.

* A revival of gold mining was sparked in the mid-1880s when the Great Northern Mine was sold by its owners and the new owners found a lead which was a metre thick and 15 metres wide. This became one of the state's richest mines, producing 107,000 ounces of gold.

* In 1899 phylloxera was first noted in the local vines. It seriously damaged the local crops and nearly destroyed the local wine industry.

* A Viticultural College was established in the 1890s. The college began providing resistant American vines. The industry slowly recovered.

* The first Rutherglen wine festival was held in 1967.


Visitor Information

Rutherglen Wine Experience & Visitor Information Centre, 57 Main Street, tel: (02) 6032 9166, or free-call 1800 622 871. See http://www.rutherglenvic.com/visitorinfo/ for more details.


Useful Websites

The town's official site is http://www.rutherglenvic.com which has a particularly useful section on the wineries of the area.

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