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Smythesdale, VIC

Historic gold mining town

Smythesdale, like so many small settlements in Victoria, started life as a gold mining town. It was quickly bypassed by the hordes of miners who found the prospect of gold in nearby Ballarat more attractive. Today it has a small number of historic buildings and its main attraction is the Jubilee Mine - an historic remnant of the district's early history.


Smythesdale is located on the Glenelg Highway, 19 km south-west of Ballarat and 134 km west of Melbourne.


Origin of Name

Smythesdale was named after John Smythe who arrived in the area and took up a pastoral lease named Nentinball in 1849.


Things to See and Do

Historic Precinct
The Historic Precinct in Brooke Street comprises the Smythesdale Court House, the Police Station and Lock-up, sculptures of a Chinese family of miners, the story of the Nieder-Weiselens Germans in the area, some stables and the gallows from HM Prison Ballarat. It is listed in the Victorian Heritage Database. Check out http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/35063?print=true.

Located at 62 Brooke Street is a lock-up which was built in 1869. The building is recorded in the Victorian Heritage Database: "The Lock-up is a reasonably rare surviving example of a sizeable country lock-up in bluestone in a substantially intact state. The structure is notable for its design, with the central projecting gabled wing and for its detailing in bluestone. The structure is utilitarian Classical Revival in style and is typical of the work of the Public Works Department." Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/67906.
The sign outside explains the usage: "This three cell, bluestone lockup was built in 1867 and replaced the portable two cell lockup. The cells were used to hold prisoners being tried in the Smythesdale Court and those who had had too much to drink. It was used as a stopover for prisoners being transported from the Western District and to house the mentally impaired, vagrants, women and children waiting to be transported to various institutions."

The sign outside this simple whitewashed building explains: "The Stables were built in 1859 and are unique as they are the oldest brick-rendered stables remaining in Victoria. The stables had stalls for the four horses used by the mounted police. Feed for the horses had to be accounted for on a daily basis. The horses were better housed than the men. The horses at the original Smythes Creek Camp were housed under canvas tents which had to be replaced often because of the extreme weather conditions. The last mounted constable in Smythesdale was Joe Watts in the 1950s."

Behind the stables are the gallows from HM Prison Ballarat. Beside them is a sign which explains the remarkable history of corporal punishment in Victoria: "The Ballarat Gaol was completed in 1862: the first hanging took place on 29 February, 1864.
There were gallows in Melbourne, Beechworth, Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Castlemaine and Ararat. In total 195 men and women were hanged in Victoria between 1842 and 1967 with 13 being executed at Ballarat. Four of these offenders were from the Smythesdale district.
*Alexander Davis, executed 29 February 1864 for murdering George Sims at Smythesdale.
* James Jones executed 19 March 1866 for murdering Dr Louis Saengar at Scarsdale.
* Joseph Ballan and George Searle executed together on 7 August 1867 for the murder of Thomas Ulick Burke at Derwent Jacks."
There are now only two complete gallows in Victoria and this is one of them. It was acquired by the local historical society in 2088 and, after extensive restoration, was returned to being fully functional.

Court House
Located at 64 Brooke Street, the Smythesdale Court House was built in 1860 as a Court of Petty Sessions. The building is of historic and architectural significance. The Victorian Heritage Database explains: "Smythesdale Court House is one of a large number of brick, slate-roofed court houses, constructed in Victoria from the 1860s to the 1880s. Designed in a Free Classical style, these buildings are characterised by a dominant single storey, gabled structure containing the court room, ancillary rooms to either one side or both sides, and a timber framed verandah at the front. At Smythesdale, openings are of simple arch form and the front gable contains a circular motif." For more information check https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1029.
The Court House is the home of the Woady Yaloak Historical Society which holds a collection of historic records and family histories relating to the Smythes Creek Diggings which covered Smythesdale, Haddon, Smythes Creek, Cardigan, Cherry Tree, Ross Creek, Scarsdale, Newtown, Browns, Italian Gully, Monkey Gully, Staffordshire Reef, Berringa, Springdallah, Moonlight, Illabrook, Happy Valley, Piggoreet, Bunkers Hill, Grand Trunk and Hillcrest. The society is open from 9.30 am - 4.30 pm on Wednesdays or by appointment, tel: (03) 5342 8754.

The Chinese Tableau
Near Brooke Street, in front of the old Police Station, is a tableau of three figures which depicts: "It is October 14th 1859 and Officer W. Armstrong has just arrested Ah Woa, a forty year old Chinese miner, for being without a residence ticket. His distressed European wife follows close behind with their infant child. He will be ordered to purchase a ticket for 20 shillings and incur a fine of a further twenty shillings." The sign goes on to point out that "The Chinese were important miners on the Smythes Creek Goldfields. They extracted alluvial gold and provided labour to the quartz and deep lead mines around the district. They reworked old diggings and recovered gold from mullock heaps. They had camps situated near Haddon, Smythesdale and Browns. The Chinese were not only miners they were also successful market gardeners and store keepers. Some of the Chinese men married European women, hence many families have an oriental heritage.

Neider-Weiselens in Australia
There is an unusual plaque in the Historic Precinct which celebrates the arrival and settlement around Smythesdale of the inhabitants of Neider-Weisel in Germany. The plaque explains that "Neider-Weisel was one of many small, peaceful German farming communities that were deeply troubled by events in Europe during the mid nineteenth century. The crop failures of the 1840s, over population, social grievance and an over-taxed economy caused hardship for local families. Farmers and craftsmen were forced to leave their villages in search of work and a better life elsewhere ... Once in Australia, many German farm workers and others with trade qualifications found work as miners, farmers, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, storekeepers and entrepreneurs. They adapted quickly to their new home, settling into marriage and family life despite difficulties with cold winters, floods, droughts, bushfires, dust and learning English.
"Over 300 Neider-Weiselens came to Victoria where most prospered. But some who were homesick or unfulfilled, returned home to Germany. The past and present descendants of those who remained are estimated to number in excess of 120,000."

Smythesdale Post Office
The elegant private home just along from the Historic Precinct at 50 Brooke Street, was built in 1862. It remained a post office until 1974. The Victorian Heritage Database notes of the building: "This is a particularly distinguished building which uses the Italianate style to combine its official function on the ground floor and its domestic function on the upper floor. It is also a very early and rare example of the use of di-chromatic brickwork by the Public Works Department. The arcaded verandah is a very strong feature as is the original entrance on the east side. It is substantially intact, retains are high degree of integrity and is in very good condition. Loader Street includes several important Quercus robur (English Oak) in an incomplete avenue on both sides of the Highway." See http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/35063?print=true for more details.


Other Attractions in the Area

Jubilee Mine Historic Area
Located 9 km south-east of Smythesdale, the Jubilee Mine area contains old gold mining remnants (old cyanide vats, mullock heaps, brick walls for water tanks, water races and machinery foundations) at a location known as Italian Gully. Between 1887 and 1913, the mine employed around 300 men and produced some $80 million worth of gold. There is excellent signage at the mine site including a 40 minute walk around the site (it includes a map and there are signs along the way) and the sensible advice "Take some time to discover foundations, structures, dwellings, gold treatment plants and water races used in the quest for gold. The area around you is rich in many facets of mining history." To reach the site follow the Glenelg Highway south-west for 3.5 km to Scarsdale and turn left into Pitfield Road. After 4 km turn left onto the Newtown-Berringa Road (bitumen) and after 3 km turn right onto the unsealed Jubilee Road. It is another 3 km to the site, There is a Google Map at https://www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au/mapr.php?id=52502.

Ballarat-Skipton Rail Trail
The Ballarat–Skipton Rail Trail runs 57 kilometres along the old Skipton railway line from Ballarat, south-west through Haddon, Smythesdale and Pittong to Skipton. The total length of the trail is 63 km including a section from Ballarat railway station to the trailhead. One major landmark on the route is the historic timber Nimmons Bridge at Newtown - this is on the 17 km Smythesdale to Linton section. There is a detailed description of the stages of the rail trail at https://www.railtrails.org.au/trail?view=trail&id=145. Bikes can be hired at Linton Bike Hire.

Arthur Alfred Lynch
By any normal measure, Arthur Alfred Lynch was a true Renaissance man. His career is remarkable and proof that he lived by his decision: "If I were to live at all I would live with the utmost effectiveness and with entire dauntlessness of spirit".
Arthur was born in Smythesdale on 16 October, 1861, the son of John Lynch, an Irish Catholic gold miner, surveyor and civil engineer, who had been one of Peter Lalor's captains and had been imprisoned for his role in the famous Eureka Stockade rebellion.
During his incredibly rich life young Arthur became a poet, novelist, polymath, journalist, critic, soldier, parliamentarian, diplomatist and rebel who attained a certificate in civil engineering and a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne.
In the late 1880s he left Australia (he was never to return) and studied physics, physiology and psychology at the University of Berlin in 1888-1889; graduated with a medical degree from the University of London and attained a degree in electrical engineering at Paris.
An anti-monarchical Irish republican, he was sent to the USA to reconcile two Irish political factions, became a powerful journalist and Paris correspondent for England's Daily Mail and later formed and led an Irish contingent which fought for Botha in the Boer War.
The Australian Dictionary of Biography goes on to explain that "Lynch was sent to America to promote the Boer cause before returning to Paris. Meanwhile he had been elected for Galway as a Nationalist and, after announcing his intention of taking his seat in a letter to The Times, set off for London and was arrested at Dover on 11 June 1902. Next January, calmly protesting that he was an Australian, he was tried for treason and sentenced to be hanged, but immediate commutation to life imprisonment followed. After mass petitioning and intervention by King Edward VII he was released a year later and pardoned in 1907. Lynch took up medical studies at St Mary's, Paddington, graduated from the University of London (M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., 1908) and practised at Haverstock Hill. He later found time to graduate in Paris with a diploma of electrical engineering. In 1909 he was elected to parliament for West Clare. During World War I he fought for freedom as ever, he believed. After informal work in France, aiding communication between British and French leaders, late in the war he was appointed Colonel in order to encourage recruiting in Ireland; he had little success. By now he was a close ally of Lord Northcliffe."
The Dictionary concludes: "A hefty man, strikingly handsome, of charm, courtesy and even temper, Lynch was one of the most picturesque figures of his time. He was erratic in his grasp of public affairs but was generally respected for his integrity and extraordinary range of knowledge, and was on friendly terms with many great contemporaries. He had no doubt that his was one of the outstanding minds of the age."
It is a sad comment on our history that he is not well known. He really was a remarkable man.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to Wathaurong Aboriginal people.

* The first Europeans into the area was John Smythe who took up land in 1849. He gave his name to the town and Smythe's Creek.

*In 1853 gold was discovered in the area.

* An Anglican school was opened in 1856.

* By 1861 a Court House had been built in the settlement.

* A local borough council was created on 12 April, 1861. That year the first land sales took place.

* The census of 1861 recorded a population of 1,794.

* By the end of the 1860s a town had grown up with a library, sawmill, brewery, Mechanics Institute and a number of hotels.

* In 1883 the railway from Ballarat reached the town.

* In 1915 Smythesdale became part of the Grenville shire.

* The railway line was closed in 1983.


Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information Centre in Smythesdale but the Ballarat Visitor Information Centre, 225 Sturt Street, Ballarat, tel: (03) 5337 4337 has information. It is open from 9.00 am - 5.00 pm seven days a week.


Useful Websites

There is no dedicated website for Smythesdale. Some useful information is on the Ballarat website. Check out https://www.visitballarat.com.au/things-to-do/beyond-ballarat.

Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • Smythesdale has a pretty active Historical Society which is also on facebook. It’s called the Woady Yaloack Historical Society, which is the name of the local waterway

    Susan Cook
  • The Courthouse at Smythesdale is not bluestone but of brick construction. Fantastic website. Very impressive.
    Jim Brown President Woady Yaloak Historical Society

    James Brown