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Stawell, VIC

Town known as the 'Gateway to the Grampians' and famous for the Stawell Gift professional foot races

Stawell is a former gold mining town which is now a significant rural service centre. The town is known around Australia because the Stawell Gift, a 120 metre foot race, is one of the world's great, and rare, professional running races. The town has a large number of interesting historic buildings many of which reflect the wealth generated by the gold in the district.


Stawell is located 238 km west of Melbourne and 28 km north-east of Halls Gap. It is  231 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

The settlement was originally known as Pleasant Creek but when the government proclaimed the town in 1858 it renamed the settlement 'Stawell' after Sir William Foster Stawell, an attorney-general in Victoria's first legislative assembly (1856) who became the Chief Justice of Victoria in 1857.


Things to See and Do

Stawell Cultural Heritage Trail
This brochure lists 33 places of historic interest on a "Golden Trail Through Time" and can be downloaded by accessing Stawell Cultural Heritage Trail through http://www.melbourneplaygrounds.com.au/melbourneplaygrounds-info.php?id=52492. It is a PDF file.
The highlights of the trail include:

1.Old Shire Hall
Located on the Western Highway the Shire Hall was built in 1866 with the two back rooms being added in 1873. It was used to administer the Shire from 1866-1995. In 1995 the shire was amalgamated and, since then, it has been used as a community meeting hall.

2. Pleasant Creek Court House
Located on the Western Highway at 46 Longfield Street, the Pleasant Creek Court House has been the home of the Stawell Historical Society since 1981. It was built in 1860 and by 1878, because it was so far from the centre of town, it was turned into the Mounted Police Barracks. As the goldfields began to diminish the population centre shifted north-east to the Big Hill area. Consequently, in 1880, a new courthouse was opened in Patrick Street and the old building became the police barracks and, in 1912, a private residence. The Museum, known as the Old Pleasant Creek Courthouse Museum, contains photographs taken in the 1860s, 19th-century costumes, goldrush artefacts and local history documents. It is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm or by appointment, tel: (03) 5358 3789. See https://www.ngshire.vic.gov.au/Events/Events-Calendar/Events-Directory/Stawell-Historical-Society-Museum-and-Research-Centre for more information.

3. Police Residence
Located on a large block of land on the corner of Leslie Street and Griffiths Street, the Police Residence is listed by the Victorian Heritage Database (see http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/69518) which notes of the building: “The former Police Residence … forms part of a coherent group of government, civic and community buildings that have significance for their close associations with the foundation of the town. The former Police Residence is a relatively intact single storey Victorian brick villa with encircling verandahs, having hipped slate roofs and a gabled service annex clad in galvanised corrugated iron (to the west). The police residence was built in 1869 to accommodate the Police Superintendent of the Wimmera. The service annex was added in 1885.” Some of the trees, planted when the residence was built, still remain.

4. Gold Discovery Memorial
Located on the corner of Black Range Road and Burgh Street is the Gold Discovery Memorial, a memorial which commemorates the discovery of gold on the creek by William McLachlan who, in May 1853, was shepherding the sheep of Dr Blunden on what was then 'Concongella' station. It was this discovery which ultimately led to the settlement of the townsite. The memorial was unveiled in 1953 on the centenary of gold being discovered in the district.

5. Literary and Scientific Institute
Located at 54 Longfield Street, the “Literary and Scientific Institute stood on its own institute reserve in 1870 and probably dates from 1866 or earlier … An exact date for the construction of the Institute has not been established. The earliest reference to the building is 1866. The veranda may be a later addition because it cuts across the "pilasters" and is not usual with this Regency form. It is particularly severe in its detailing. The internal planning of the building is not unusual. Originally the front rooms on both floors were the full width of the facade. They have since been divided by light timber partitions. Presumably these date from about 1876 when the building became a residence. A small staircase leads to the upper floor. There are two smaller rooms at the rear, one of which was used as a kitchen and the other as a bathroom. A timber skillion has been added at the rear.” For more information check out http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/1124?print=true.

6. Diamond House
Located at 24 Seaby Street, the highly unusual Diamond House was built as a private residence for John Hearne in 1868. The Victorian Heritage Database notes: “Constructed of rectangular, parapeted wall planes, the building features highly unusual and intact brown and quartz stone facades shaped in diamond patterns and bordered by timber slats. The idea and construction was conceived by the original owner, John Hearne, miner and wine merchant, with the work being carried out between c.1866 and 1868 … Other intact qualities include the uniform appearance of the carefully cut and fitted stones, decorative brick and stone parapet band, screw fixings, flat roof behind the parapet, unpainted and multi-corbelled chimney, and the paired elongated timber framed casement windows with herringbone pattern glazing that continues the diamond theme. There are few if any known comparisons with the Diamond House in Australia.” In 1982 it became known as the Diamond House Heritage Restaurant. Check out https://www.diamondhousestawell.com.au/restaurant for more details.

7. Railway Station
Located in Napier Street, and now the Stawell Railway Station Gallery, the railway station was built in 1876 and opened in 1877 and was, for a time, the temporary terminus for the railway from Ararat. It has been listed on the Victorian Heritage Database (see https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/112534) which describes the building as: “The Main Station building demonstrates original and early design qualities of a mid Victorian, Classical Revival style. These qualities include the tuck pointed polychromatic brick wall construction, central two storey hipped roof form punctuated by central gables, and flanking single storey hipped roof wings. Other intact or appropriate qualities include the slate and galvanised corrugated iron roof cladding, narrow eaves with decorative timber brackets, eleven polychromatic brick chimneys, projecting platform verandah supported by round and fluted cast iron columns with decorative capitals, cream brick quoinwork, dark brick and rendered bands, rendered lintels, and the timber framed windows and doors.”

8. Hall of Fame
Located in Lower Main Street as part of Central Park, the Hall of Fame is a celebration of the remarkable Stawell Gift foot race – a race open to both professionals and amateurs run over 120 metres. The Hall of Fame has artefacts, memorabilia, archives and multimedia displays dating back to the first race in 1878. It is open Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 am – 4.00 pm. For more detailed information check out http://www.stawellgift.com. There is more information about the race on the "Other Attractions" section.

9. Central Park
Located on Main Street the Central Park is famous around the world as the site of the Stawell Gift professional running race. The signage explains: “Known as the Cricket Ground in the 1860s, this area was the scene of many matches between local Pleasant Creek teams with nearby Ararat. The Stawell Athletic Club was formed in 1878 and the Easter foot running races moved from the Botanical Reserve to this site in 1898 and have been run here ever since. Central Park is also home to football, netball and cricket. Many weddings and family reunions etc are held in its beautiful surrounds."

9a. Memorial Gates
Located on Main Street outside Central Park, the Memorial Gates signage explains: “These magnificent gates, designed and built at the local foundry of George Kay & Co., were erected in 1903 “to Commemorate the Patriotism of Those who from this Town and District Served in the Boer War 1899-1902.” Out of 40 entries to an Australia wide design competition the local entry was judged the most appropriate. The gates cost £270 and were paid for my local effort.”

9b. No. 1 Grandstand
Clearly visible from Main Street this impressive and historic grandstand has an interesting history as the signage explains: “The site for the grandstand was decided in December 1898 after the first Easter Gift held here. The contractor took less than three months to build this grandstand at a cost of £593. It was ready for the 1899 Easter Sports. This stand was restored in 1990-1991 at a cost of $80,000. With access to the original building plans, the stand is now as near as practicable to the original.”

9c. Sundial
Located near the Grandstand in Central Park, the Sundial signage explains: “Mrs W G Simmons and her daughters in memory of their late husband and father (Mr Walter G Simmons) presented this Sundial and Seat to the Borough of Stawell. Mr Simmons, with his brother Edward, were the main shareholders of the Oriental Mine. Stawell born and educated Charles J Merfield carried out design and calculations for the Sundial. The memorial of Grampians freestone was unveiled on May 29 1931 by Miss J Simmons."

10. Oban
Located at 3 Scallan Street, Oban was, as the sign outside explains, “Built in 1898 as a private home for Mr and Mrs Edward Simmons who, with Mr Simmons’ brother Walter, were the main shareholders in Stawell’s Oriental Mine.” The Victorian Heritage Database notes: “Architecturally, Oban is a fine example of a large "transition style" house, featuring elements of both late Victorian and Edwardian residential architecture. Its large size, generous setting and central hill-top location make it a landmark in the town of Stawell, a significance it retains despite the loss of the verandah. Historically, it is important as the only real "mansion" built by any of the citizens of Stawell made rich by gold in the nineteenth century, and is a monument to Edward Simmons, one of the great Stawell gold tycoons. See http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/69497.

11. St Matthew’s Uniting Church
Located at 13 Scallan Street, St Matthews Uniting Church was completed in 1868. It was originally a Presbyterian Church. The sign explains: “This landmark of Stawell was built as St Matthew’s Presbyterian Church and was opened with a special dedication service on 11th April 1869. St Matthews was built at a cost of a little over £2000, and an anonymous donor at a cost of £1352 paid for the tower and the spire. The 40,000 bricks needed were purchased for 35 shillings per 1000. The last brick was laid on the 148ft spire on 10 March 1869. Earlier Presbyterian services had been held on the goldfields in tents and in 1860, a church was built in Church Street that had iron sides and a shingle roof. A pipe organ was dedicated in February 1921 as a Peace Thanksgiving Memorial after the 1914-1918 war.”

12. Baptist Church
Located at 17 Scallan Street, the Baptist Church signage explains: “Numerous Welsh Baptists were among the early mining population and there had been two Baptist chapels at Pleasant Creek from 1859 to 1869 – one Welsh and the other English. In 1869 the Welsh chapel closed and this Baptist Church was built. At the dedication on 6 February, 1870, five services were held – two were in Welsh and the other three in English. Members of this church were known for their Welsh singing at their services and they had a renowned choir. The cost of the church was met by contributions from the congregation and a member who had benefited from some of Stawell’s gold liquidated the remaining debt.”

13. St Peter’s Lutheran Church
Located at 32 Scallan Street, the simple and elegant St Peter’s Lutheran Church was originally built as a Congregational Church in 1874. It was designed by the Reverend J.G. Wilson and brought together English and Welsh Congregationalists who had previously held separate services. The church held 250 worshippers and cost £800. It was the first church in Stawell to have gas lighting. The Lutherans purchased the church in 1957 and made major alterations. The Church is a painted brick building and has fittings from two Lutheran churches including a carved altar and pulpit from Murtoa and a 17th century lectern which was brought from England. The organ dates from 1858 and was made in London. For more information check out https://www.churchhistories.net.au/church-catalog/stawell-vic-st-peters-lutheran.

14. Old Fire Station
Located at 1 Byrne Street the Old Fire Station (bought by a local chiropractor in 2019) is a rare example of a fire station before telephones and speedy communication. The Victorian Heritage Database explains: “Architecturally the building is of importance. It is one of a small number of fire stations erected in Victoria which included bell towers as part of the main building. It was designed by a local Stawell architect, George C Inskip, who was later to become a prominent Melbourne architect. With new means of communication, the functional use of the towers was to become less important, thus heightening the importance of the few examples of this building form which illustrates the requirements of the early firefighters in this state.” Set in an elevated position, the tower offers some of the most impressive views of the town and the Grampians National Park. Check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/69483 for more information.

15. Duke Sands
Located off Darlington Road, just beyond the roundabout, Duke Sands is the site of some of the richest gold mines in the Stawell area. There are remnants of the old mines and evidence of the Magdala-cum-Moonlight and Oriental mine shafts.

16. View of Stawell from Big Hill
Located on a clearly marked road at Upper Main Street, the Big Hill Lookout offers panoramic views across Stawell towards the Black Range and the Grampians National Park. At the top is the Pioneers Memorial. The signage explains:

16a. Pioneers Memorial
The Pioneers Memorial is located at the Big Hill Lookout. The signage explains: “This memorial was erected on Big Hill in 1938 to honour the early residents of Stawell. A committee headed by the Mayor Cr. S. P. Freeland worked to raise sufficient money to build this very distinctive memorial on the crest of Bill Hill. John Shirlow, who had some of his schooling in Stawell, designed the memorial. The Stawell Progress Association in 1947 presented the centre Directional Disc.” The Monument Australia site (see https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/landscape/settlement/display/33578-pioneer-memorial) records an article in The Age on 3 August 1938: “The Stawell pioneers memorial, erected on the summit of Big Hill, at a cost of £500, overlooks the spot where the first quartz gold was discovered in 1856. Stawell was then known as The Reefs. The foundation stone was laid down by Lord Huntingfield on October 7, 1935.  On Saturday August 6, the Lieutenant Governor (Sir Frederick Mann) will perform the unveiling of the memorial. There are 73 residents of Stawell whose age is 70 years and over, and who have resided in the town for over sixty years. They will be introduced to Sir Frederick Mann and Lady Mann. A number of former Stawell residents from Melbourne and other parts of the state will take part in the dedication ceremony.”

16b. Dane Memorial Seat
The signage reads: “This seat was erected in Memory of Robert William Dane who came with a party in June 1856, and opened a prospect on the Big Hill. Mrs Dane was the first white woman to set up a home there and their daughter was the first white child born on the field. Lillian Dane had the seat erected in honour of her grandfather in the 1950s.”  See https://www.grampianspoint.com.au/attractions/big-hill-lookout for more information.

16c. Quartz Gold Memorial
The signage reads: “Just inside the arboretum at the foot of Big Hill, is the Quartz Gold Memorial. This memorial marks the location of the site of a very rich quartz crushing in 1856 when Dane and party put their first lot of selected stone through the Berdan Crushing machine which yielded 49 ozs to 54 oz to the ton. Erected by the Stawell Progress association in 1953, it is constructed with local quartz stones overlaid with concrete crosspieces to represent the poppet head.” For more information check out https://www.monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/technology/industry/display/33570-quartz-gold-memorial.

17. Stawell Secondary College
Located at 79-97 Patrick Street, the Stawell Secondary College is an impressive building and, as the Victorian Heritage Database describes it “a relatively externally intact example of an unusual High Victorian Eclectic Gothic style. Built in 1877 and derived from the Education Department's Competition School design”. It goes on the describe the building as “These qualities include the gable roof form that traverses the site, together with two flanking gables that project at the front and rear, a castellated tower and a minor gabled porch that also project towards the street frontage. Other intact or appropriate qualities include the asymmetrical composition, single storey height, rendered and unpainted brick chimneys with projecting cornice cappings, modest eaves, coursed granite base walls, cream brickwork forming horizontal bands, quoinwork, pointed arched window voussoirs and voussoirs framing the oculus ventilators in the main gable ends, large timber finials in the main gable ends, trefoil motif in the minor porch gable end, timber framed double hung multi paned windows, pointed windows and ventilation openings, together with blind pointed arches of the tower, stuccoed label moulds to the pointed arches of the windows, brick buttresses with stuccoed copings, stuccoed tablet on the main facade and the stuccoed castellated 1 parapet to the tower.”

19. St Patrick’s Church
Located at 33 Patrick Street, St Patrick’s Church “was designed in a Victorian Gothic Revival style typical of the influential English architect, Charles Hansom. This design has been attributed to Henry Caselli who was greatly influenced by Hansom. The building is largely intact both externally and internally and represents one of few extant Hansom-influenced Victorian Gothic Revival styled churches in Victoria.” See Australian Church Histories (https://www.churchhistories.net.au/church-catalog/stawell-vic-st-patricks-catholic) for more information. It is also listed on the Victorian Heritage Register at http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/112550?print=true which notes of the building: “These qualities include the steeply pitched and parapetted gable roof form of the nave and chancel, and the projecting transepts, and the octagonal tower at the side. Other intact qualities include the Grampians freestone wall construction, clad roof cladding and ventilation dormers, gable crosses, buttresses with gabled copings, gabled drip moulds and incised quatrefoils (based on octagonal turret), Decorated tracery windows, freestone drip moulds, and the pointed double door openings. There are also internal features that contribute to the significance of the place. These features include the timber lined ceiling adorned with timber scissor trusses, gallery with decorative timber balustrade, Gothic Revival styled marble altar with elongated pinnacles, timber seating and other furniture, plastered wall finishes and quoinwork about the main arch.”

21. Stawell Court House
Located at 11 Patrick Street, the signage outside the Court House explains “The foundation stone for this building was laid in December 1878 and the building was occupied for Court purposes in June 1880. This Court House was built to Public Works Department plans and is similar to many other Court Houses in Victoria except this Court House is faced with Grampian Freestone and its other walls are plastered with moulded pressed cement. This building replaced the Pleasant Creek Court House and was opened in June 1880. The iron gates at the arched entrances were made at the local foundry of Messrs Kay, Wayman and Co. This Court House has been renovated but is basically in the original style.” See https://dulkeith.net.au/stawell-court-house-using-heatherlie-quarry-stone/ for more detailed information. It notes “The building is significant in its use of the local Stawell sandstone from the nearby Heatherlie quarry; stone from this quarry was also used in some Melbourne buildings including Parliament House.”

23. Powder Magazine
Located at behind the Main Street and accessible via Pioneer Walk, the Powder Magazine is a rarity. It was “erected in Main Street (now Gold Reef Mall ) seems to have been erected in 1870 for Thomas Brown, an Ironmonger and timber merchant. Privately owned and run powder magazines were licensed by the Mines department. The magazine was no longer in use by the end of 1917.” For more detailed information check out http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/search/nattrust_result_detail/69503.

24. Post Office
Located at 87-89 Main Street, the Post Office was opened in March, 1875. This impressive and dominating building is listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List (see http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;place_id=105513 for more information) which notes: “constructed in 1874-5, is an important two-storey public building in the Victorian Italianate style … The Stawell Post Office, probably designed by A. T. Snow, is a fine example of a substantial mid-Victorian second generation combined post and telegraph office and residence designed by the Victorian Public Works Department between 1870 and 1878 under the guidance of William Wardell. Typically, an essential element was the public loggia, or verandah, from which the postal transactions were conducted.  The substantially intact original form, fabric and planning including elements such as the colonnaded elevations, private side porch and stair hall, kitchen wing and first floor rooms demonstrate the combined functionality of the building.
Stylistically, Stawell Post Office is a handsome and imposing composition, albeit displaying restrained ornament typical of the mid-Victorian palazzo idiom … its bold palazzo style with rusticated ‘basement’ and corner siting contribute to its stateliness and monumental expression.”

25. Town Hall
Located at 63-65 Main Street, the Town Hall is a hugely impressive part of Stawell’s main street. The structure’s design is an architectural combination of features of interwar Art Deco and eclectic Victorian Classical design. “These are evident in the front section’s five bayed compositions, while its central bay creates an arcuated portico. Other notable features on its exterior include the round-arched tripartite windows, circular balcony, Art Deco clock tower, and window balustrade among others. The tower’s detailing is impeccable: it also features an Ionic aedicule, triple-arched corbelling, figures of cast miners, octagonal capping, and much more. Architecture-wise, the structure’s front area was designed by an acclaimed Stawell Shire Engineer named John D’Alton in 1872; though other elements were added later on, such as the landmark clock tower and the rear hall.” For more information check out https://www.grampianspoint.com.au/attractions/stawell-town-hall. The building has Grampians Freestone facing and the animated figures and chimes were added 1969. The chimes are activated at 9.00 am, noon and 3.00 pm.

26. Town Hall Hotel
Located at 62-68 Main Street, the Town Hall Hotel, according to the Victorian Heritage Database, was “Built initially as a single storey hotel in 1873 for W. Candy, the hotel has been extended and altered on at least three occasions in 1897, 1913 and at an unknown date … It demonstrates original and early design qualities originating from its construction in 1873. These qualities include the rendered parapet with projecting stringcourse and crowning curved and stylised pediments with flanking scrolls, and the irregular bays of single, timber framed double hung windows on the ground and first floors that delineate the changes to the building. Other intact or appropriate qualities include the two storey height, face brick wall construction, rendered quoinwork, rear double hipped roof form (clad in galvanised corrugated steel) with clinker brick wall construction and timber framed double hung and shallow-arched window openings, rear larger hipped roof form (clad in galvanised corrugated steel) with face red brick wall construction and parapeted and corbelled side walls, rear timber framed double hung windows and four panelled timber door on the larger hipped wing, rear face brick chimneys, and the smaller, recessive, hipped roof section clad in galvanised corrugated steel with face red brick and parapeted wall construction.” For more detailed information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/112468.

27. The War Memorials
Located on Main Street near St George Street, the signage explains: “The memorials commemorate men and women of Stawell who died serving at war. The “Girls Remembrance League” of Stawell funded the World War I memorial, the Marble Soldier, erected in 1922. The order for the memorial was given to local monumental masons, Messrs. Robson & Gray. Mr G H Robson completed the work. Mr W Gray did the lettering. The marble figure was carved in Italy and was erected by Mr. George Robson. He and his family volunteered to clean the monument for the next 33 years. The memorial was unveiled in November 1923 by the Archeadcon T P Bennett, former AIF Chaplain of Stawell."

27a. John D’Alton Memorial Fountain
Located on the corner of Main Street and St Georges Street, the inscription explains that “This fountain commemorates the achievements of John D`Alton, the first engineer of the Borough of Stawell.  Mr. D`Alton designed the town`s water supply which is brought from Fyans Creek in the Grampians, passes through the mountain via a tunnel and is piped into Stawell`s holding reservoirs.”  For more information check out https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/government---local/display/33567-john-d%60alton.

28. Salvation Army Citadel
Located at 50 Main Street, the Salvation Army Citadel was constructed in 1934 and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database which notes of its significance: “It demonstrates original design qualities of an interwar Free Classical style. These qualities include the single storey height, symmetrical composition, unpainted brick construction, stepped parapetted gable and the gable roof form. Other intact qualities include the main gable end with its projecting central bay and terminating broad, stepped piers having incised darker brick construction, rectangular panels and vertical recessions, projecting string courses, square reliefs and soldier course cappings. Further intact qualities are identified by the projecting central vestigial pilasters capped with soldier course cappings, pedimented drip mould, central arched drip mould, "The Salvation Army Citadel" title, blind oculi window, 8 paned double hung windows with segmentally arched darker brick voussoirs and sills, darker brick base, flanking, parapetted and flat roof side porches, and the galvanised iron ventilation stacks on the roof.” For more information check out http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/result_detail/112466?print=true.

29. Holy Trinity Anglican Church
Located at 49-51 Main Street, the Holy Trinity Anglican Church was constructed in 1870-72 to a design by the eminent Melbourne architect, Leonard Terry. The Victorian Heritage Database notes of the church’s significance that it “demonstrates original design qualities of a Victorian Decorated Gothic Revival style. These qualities include the steeply pitched and parapetted gable roof form clad in slate. Other intact qualities include the unpainted brick wall construction, freestone quoins, drip moulds, stringcourse, door lintel, buttress copings and parapet blocks, large Decorated Gothic stained glass tracery window on the main gable end, flat-headed door opening, small lancets, unpainted brick buttresses, pointed leadlight windows, granite wall base, and the crowning crosses. Although there have been changes to the interior, there are internal features that also contribute to the significance of the place. These features include the open, timber trussed roof space, apse, Gothic Revival styled timber chancel screen, choir stalls, timber seating, and plastered wall finishes.” For more information check out https://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/112464/download-report.

30. Federation Memorial
Located on the corner of Barnes Street and Lower Main Street, the Federation Memorial is a true rarity. The sign beside the monument notes: “The Memorial commemorates the Federation of the Australian States into the Commonwealth of Australia in January 1901. The Memorial proposed by the Australian Natives Association in late 1900, cost about £100. The structure was a memorial, a drinking fountain and a light. Four columns of rose granite, imported from Scotland, support the dome and light. The bases and caps of the columns are black marble. The Memorial was unveiled on 24th August 1903. The original gaslight was replaced by electric in the early 1920’s. A reproduction of the original light was added in 2001, paid for by Stawell Progress Association and unveiled by Morris Robson, a son of the original stone mason. This is said to be the only purpose built Memorial to Federation in Victoria."


Other Attractions in the Area

Sisters Rocks
Located 6 km south of Stawell on the Western Highway, the Sisters Rocks are a collection of very large granite boulders. Sisters Rocks were named after the three Levi sisters who were among the district's earliest European settlers. To prevent the stones being destroyed and used as building material for Stawell, Sisters Rocks were officially declared a protected area in the late 19th century. It is ironic that this early, successful attempt at conservation has resulted in the rocks being covered with graffiti, some of which dates back to the 19th century. Check out https://www.goldfieldsguide.com.au/explore-location/268/sisters-rocks for more information.

Bunjil's Shelter
Located 11 km south west of Stawell, Bunjil's Shelter is a cave in the Black Range which features important Aboriginal rock art depicting Bunjil, a major spirit figure for the Aborigines of south-eastern Australia. Oven mounds and tool quarries have also been located in the area which was in use 5000 years ago. The Grampians and Parks Victoria describe the cave as "this is the only rock art painting of Bunjil known. It is widely regarded as one of the most significant cultural sites in south eastern Australia. "Bunjil does no harm; I think he does well." These words were spoken by John Connolly, of the Jardwadjali people and recorded by A.W. Howitt. In 1884 Connolly added that Bunjil was a man, and was the father of all his people.
"Bunjil Shelter sits within the Gariwerd, a cultural landscape that supports our people both physically and spiritually. Bunjil created our land, our people, the plants and animals, our religion and the laws by which we live. He is the leading figure in our spiritual life, essential in teaching our young people the importance of our laws and beliefs," noted Levi Lovett, a local custodian. To access the site head out of Stawell on the Pomonal Road for approximately 7 km. There is a signposted road on the left which leads a further 3.5 km to a car park. The shelter is a scenic 45 minute walk. The site is well-situated offering fine views of the Grampians which rise from the plains in the near distance.

Lake Lonsdale
Lake Lonsdale is located 17 km west of Stawell via the Western Highway and Sandbar Road. GMW Water explains that it is "a large, shallow reservoir on the Mt William Creek. It fills from its own catchment and is reliant on natural inflows. Although the catchment can be a substantial producer of water during wet years because of its very large area, it isn't reliable during times of drought. Given its relatively shallow depth, the lake also has high evaporation losses over summer months." This means that when it has a reasonably high water level it is a good fishing spot and also a popular waterskiing spot with boat ramps, sand dunes and bush camping. For more information check out https://www.grampianspoint.com.au/attractions/lake-lonsdale.

Lake Fyans
Located 22 km south west of Stawell, Lake Fyans has sandy beaches, a boat ramp for fishing, sailing and water skiing, a swimming area and a caravan park. The lake is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, brown trout and redfin. There is also a 9.6 km walking track around the shoreline which is ideal for walkers interesting in plant and bird life. For more detailed information check out https://www.visitgrampians.com.au/products/lake-fyans.

Dadswells Bridge and the Giant Koala
Located 30 km north-west of Stawell on the Western Highway is the Giant Koala. In his excellent book Big Things, David Clark explains: "The Giant Koala story begins in early 1988 when Beryl and Jim Cowling commissioned Dutch sculptor Ben van Zetten to construct a giant koala beside their Koala Kountry Motor Inn and roadhouse to attract passing motorists. Van Zetten had just completed the Giant Cornish Miner in Kapunda in South Australia. The Giant Koala took twelve months to build on site, and is made from cold cast bronze and fibreglass set in a steel substructure. The head was built separately and lowered into position by crane and a fibreglass paste was used to create a rough, hairy effect on the exterior ... Van Zetten completed the work in December 1988 and it was officially opened a month later." For more information check out https://visithorsham.com.au/activities/giant-koala.

A Brief History of the Stawell Gift
The Stawell Gift is the most famous professional foot race in Australia. It has been held since 1878 and is now held every Easter over the long weekend. It attracts thousands of runners, both professional and amateur, as well as athletics fans from all over Australia and from around the world. The other attraction is the gambling component and bookmakers have been an integral to the appeal and drama of the races.
For most of its history it was a male-only competition. Today the carnival includes events for both men and women of all ages across distances from 70m to 3200m. The main event is a 120 metre dash – that is known as the Stawell Gift.
Professional foot running reputedly originated in the English midlands in the 19th century, where the winner of footraces received a small nugget of gold. The Gift distance of 130 yards (now 120 metres) is believed to have originated from the distance between two local pubs in the English town of Sheffield.
Australian professional foot running began in the colonial period as entertainment for miners on the Victorian goldfields, and from there the sport thrived with athletic clubs springing up all over the nation.
The first Stawell Gift was held on a sandy gravel surface at the Botanical Reserve in 1878. It did not move to Central Park until 1898. The inaugural winner, farmer William Jackson Millard, won by inches and collected a first prize of £20.



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

* The first European to pass through the district was the explorer Thomas Mitchell in 1836.

* The first station was 'Concongella' in 1841.

* Gold was discovered on Pleasant Creek by shepherd William McLachlan in May 1853.

* By 1857 there were an estimated 20,000 miners in the area. They set up a canvas-and-wood settlement known as Pleasant Creek.

* The government proclaimed and renamed the settlement 'Stawell' in 1858 after Sir William Foster Stawell, an attorney-general in Victoria's first legislative assembly (1856) who became the chief justice of Victoria in 1857.

* The original town centre and administration buildings were established near the Pleasant Creek goldfields. A Court House was built in 1860. A Wesleyan Chapel and Presbyterian Church opened that same year.

* The Anglican Church was consecrated in 1863.

* Stawell Shire was declared on 30 December, 1864.

* In 1868 the Magdala Mine began operating to the north of the town. That year saw the first edition of the Stawell News and Pleasant Creek Chronicle.

* The Borough of Stawell was created in 1869. The population at this time was around 5,000.

* A boom period started in the 1870s which saw new administration buildings erected near the Big Hill mines.

* The Stawell Shire Offices were opened in 1873.

* A Literary Scientific Institute was opened in 1874.

* The railway from Ararat to Stawell reached the town in 1876. A flour mill opened that year.

* The Easter Athletics Carnival, the setting for the Stawell Gift, was first held on Easter Monday in 1878. It was entertainment for the miners. It is Australia's best-known, richest and oldest professional foot-race.

* In 1881 water from Fyans Creek weir reached the town.

* A railway workshop was built in the 1880s.

* In 1887 the first edition of the Stawell Times was published.

* In 1900 - 23,254 ounces of gold were extracted from the mines in the district.

* A local high school was opened in 1912.

* A school of design began at the Mechanics Institute in 1916.

* Reef mining ended in 1920, by which time around 58 tonnes of gold had been extracted.

* The North Western Woollen Mills began operations in 1926.

* A local timber industry started in 1937.

* In 1968 the Stawell Council appointed a Tourism Officer.

* By 1991 the town had over 6,000 residents.

* The North Grampians Shire was formed in 1995 with its head office in Stawell.


Visitor Information

Stawell & Grampians Visitor Information Centre, 44-46 Longfield Street (Western Highway) adjacent to The Stawell Historical Society and the Old Pleasant Creek Museum, tel: (03) 5358 2314 and 1800 246 880.


Useful Websites

There is a useful website which can be accessed at http://www.grampianspoint.com.au/attractions/stawell.

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • A great horse-racing town, Stawell is favoured with one of three racetracks within 30 kilometres of each other. Neighbouring Great Western hosts one race meeting per-year, sponsored by Seppelts, and is only a short drive from Ararat which conducts several meetings per year. There are not one but three running clubs in the region…The Stawell Athletic Club, which administers the Annual Stawell Gift at Easter, the Stawell Amateur Athletic Club and the Stawell And Ararat Cross Country Club, which hosts an iconic Easter Fun Run. The latter two cater for runners of all levels of ability and each hold around 20 cross country per season.

    Keith Lofthouse
  • Thank you for this thorough overview. It has formed the basis of our biking tour of the town.

  • There is now a statue of the late great comedienne and journalist Stella Young in Cato Park

    Elsie Miller