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Walhalla, VIC

Superb historic gold mining town.

Walhalla is a masterpiece - a beautifully maintained and lovingly restored historic goldmining town perfectly located in a narrow valley between hills now verdant but once almost totally denuded of their trees. The mining companies which occupied the area cut down the trees to fuel their machines and laid 30 km of tram tracks out into the woods in order to facilitate the collection of timber. It is a genuinely superb goldmining experience with the highlights being a tour of Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine and a journey on the Walhalla Goldfields Railway. It is a place to mooch and savour. A sublime historic experience in a very beautiful setting.

Location

Walhalla is located 185 km east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway and the Moe-Walhalla Road. 

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Origin of Name

Walhalla was originally named Stringer's Creek, after the creek that runs through the valley, but in 1869 the name was changed to Walhalla. The present name seems to come from Valhalla, the hall of immortality in Norse mythology where heroes reside after being slain in battle. There was a gold mine in the area that was called Walhalla. The name of the town is pronounced with a "W".

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Things to See and Do

Exploring the Town
There are a number of ways of experiencing this remarkable town. A sensible starting point is to download the excellent map of the town available at http://www.visitwalhalla.com/wt_download/map/Walhalla_MAP_2014_s.pdf. It suggests, as the town's premier highlights, the Walhalla Heritage Walk, Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine Tour, the Tramline Walkway, the Walhalla Cemetery and the Walhalla Goldfields Railway.

Walhalla Heritage Walk
Since the 1950s the Walhalla Improvement League has fought hard for the preservation and restoration of the town's historic sites and now the town has some of the most comprehensive signage that any visitor could require. All the visitor has to do is take the time and savour the historic ambience of this remarkable town. The map is also available from most businesses in the town. There are a total of 30 signs all of which are located outside the relevant buildings and businesses.
Here are a sample:

The Grand Junction Hotel
The Junction Hotel was built in late 1865 by John F. Williams. In 1872 the hotel was renamed the Grand Junction by its new owner William Fuller. It became Walhalla's only 3 storey hotel. A cow once entered the top storey entrance, off Church Hill Road. It had to be led out the front door! The hotel was de-licenced in December 1913. After a short spell as a boarding house it was dismantled and part of it removed to Traralgon. The large stone retaining wall, behind the hotel and remaining today, was built by John Rutter in 1869.

Walhalla Fire Station
The Walhalla Volunteer Fire Brigade was originally formed in July 1871. It was registered much later, on March 11, 1889. Mr F. Bowden was appointed Captain. The original Fire Station was located in the Long Tunnel Mine yard. In 1901 Mr P. Carey won the contract to construct this building at a cost of £155. The building was built straddling the creek due to the lack of suitable flat ground in the town centre. The Walhalla Fire Brigade was de-registered in 1961. Over the years this building has been utilised for many uses including a public hall and a museum. It is known as the most unusual Fire Station in the state and has been fully restored in recent years.

The office of the Walhalla Chronicle
The Walhalla Chronicle was the main newspaper to service the Walhalla Goldfields. Its full name was The Walhalla Chronicle, Moondarra, Toomboo and Woods Point Times.
The Chronicle was established in 1870 by James Ryan, who brought his printing press over the steep ranges from the remote Crooked River Goldfields in East Gippsland. He quickly developed the paper as an invaluable source of information on social and mining matters in the district.
The original premises were burnt to the ground by the devastating town fire of November 1888. Within days rebuilding had commenced. During construction the newspaper was published at Sandhurst (Bendigo). Nine weeks after the fire the paper was once again being published in Walhalla ... the Walhalla Chronicle ceased publication in July, 1915 and today original copies are valued by collectors and researchers alike.

Walhalla Post & Telegraph Office
A Post Office was opened on Stringer's Creek Goldfield on August 24th, 1864. Mr Ferdinand Duval was the town's first postmaster operating the Post Office in conjunction with his store.
According to early statistics, 1337 items passed through the Post Office in the first year, but by 1868 this had grown to a staggering 157,383 items. In 1870 the telegraph line was completed connecting the town to the outside world. To cope with this increased business, a larger building was opened on March 10th, 1886. The facility grew to be Gippsland's third largest mail centre.
Until the train arrived in 1910, mail was delivered by horse drawn coach. Large crowds would gather outside the building and await its arrival. Overseas mail always created the greatest excitement.
The current building survived the disastrous 1888 township fire after a desperate struggle by townspeople to stop the fire's spread. In 1948 the building was purchased by postmistress, Miss Doreen Hannan, who continued to operate the Post Office until 1963. She lived in the building until her death in 1988.

Walhalla Cemetery
Topographically spectacular, the Walhalla Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 1300 people. The steep hillside was terraced, with pathways and gravesites formed and supported by stone walls. Although a graveyard since 1865, it was not gazetted as a cemetery until 1879.
Many of the headstone epitaphs lament the woes and perils of early life in Walhalla. 'Miners Complaint' led to [sending] many a man to an early grave. Children fell easy victims to diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough and carlatina, all now treatable by vaccination.
Some of the pine trees, planted in 1884, have survived to dominate the cemetery. In 1886, the Sexton's Lodge was "plainly furnished for use by undertakers and clergymen". Exactly 100 years later, it was restored and painted in the original colours as determined by paint scrapings.

Bank of Victoria
A branch of the Bank of Victoria was established in Walhalla around June 1865 with Mr D. B. Liddell as its manager. With Long Tunnel, Walhalla and Golden Fleece mines amongst its customers, it was the larger of the Walhalla's banks. [The Bank of Australasia, which was located almost directly over the road, also serviced Walhalla.]
In March 1868 the Bank of Victoria purchased the present site, and by July, Andrew Lundy had commenced construction.
The building was destroyed in the major town fire of November 1888. Until a new building could be constructed, business was conducted in premises adjoining Catherine Perry's Grand Junction Hotel.
The new premises boasted a more ornate facade and features such as a substantial vault and commodious living quarters for its manager and his family. During its operation the bank vault stored a total of approximately 73 tons [74 tonnes] of gold. The shutdown of Walhalla's mines saw the Bank of Victoria finally close in 1915.

Walhalla Mechanics' Institute
In 1865 the Mechanic's Institute site was purchased by public subscription for £80 from Edward Nelson, a miner. The building was opened following a tea meeting on May 6th, 1867 and provided the town with a place to meet, worship and educate. It was used by all denominations until each could construct its own church. The building was used as the town's first school, with classes being held there from 1867 until the State School was officially opened in 1875.
In 1883 the Mechanics' Institute, under Harry Tisdall's chairmanship, had 78 members, a library of 556 books and 150 more on order. This valuable resource made a significant contribution to adult and technical education in the town. These and many historical documents relating to the town's early history were lost when the building was destroyed in the major fire of 1888. After the fire rebuilding commenced almost immediately.
The new building survived the decline of the town but was again destroyed by a fire in 1945 ... the Mechanic's Institute was again rebuilt between 1983 and 1988 by a group of local volunteers and interested trades people.

Spetts Cottage
Spetts Cottage, one of about a dozen original gold era cottages left in Walhalla today, was built by Swedish-born Charles Spetts and his English bride Eleanor in the early 1870s. It was extended over the years to accommodate their family of seven surviving children. The cottage boasted one of the finest gardens in the valley. An apple, pear and mulberry tree remain today and continue to bear fruit. Members of the Spetts family owned the residence until 1943, when it was sold to another old Walhalla mining family. Under the terms of sale, daughter Caroline Spetts remained in the house until her death in June 1944. Subsequent owners, appreciating the historic significance of the cottage, have undertaken a program of ongoing restoration. 

And there are many more signs around the village. A wander through the village ends up being a fascinating insight into the nature of settlement and the people who decided to live in this harsh, but very beautiful, environment.

Tours and Experiences
The Long Tunnel Extended Mine
The Long Tunnel Extended Mine, which operated between 1871 and 1911, was the most successful goldmine in Victoria and one of Australia's richest, with 13.7 tonnes of gold being extracted over the years. The mine, which remains largely as it was when it closed in 1911, covers ten hectares and consists of 9 km of underground passages to a depth of 1000 metres. Guided tours, which take around 45 minutes, are conducted weekdays at 1.30 pm. On weekends and holiday periods they are conducted at noon, 1.30 pm and 3.00 pm. For more details tel: (03) 5165 6259 or check out http://www.visitwalhalla.com/index.php?EXP=964.

Walhalla Goldfields Railway
The original Moe to Walhalla railway was opened in 1910 after years of lobbying from Walhalla's townsfolk. Unfortunately, this 2"6' narrow gauge railway arrived too late and was never a success. It closed to Walhalla in 1944 but services struggled on for another 10 years between Moe and Erica. After the final closure, the track was pulled up and left to revert to the bush. In 1993, a group of enthusiasts started to rebuild the most spectacular section of the line from the Thomson River up Stringers Creek Gorge to Walhalla. Trains returned to Walhalla in 2002 and now the Walhalla Goldfields Railway operates every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday as well as during public holidays and daily during school holidays [see timetable at http://www.walhallarail.com.au]
Train Times: Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday; Daily from Boxing Day to 2nd weekend in January; Daily over Easter and Easter school holidays; Daily during Sept/Oct school holidays; Public holidays [excluding Christmas Day].
Depart Walhalla 11.00 am, 1.00 pm, 3.00 pm. Depart Thomson 11.40 am, 1.40 pm, 3.40 pm. Check http://www.walhallarail.com.au/index.php for details or tel: (03) 5165 6280.

Windsor House B&B
Now a guest house-B&B, Windsor House, with its thick walls, steep, gabled roof and wine cellar carved out of the cliff, was built in 1878. Located on Right Hand Branch Road, it was built by Johannes Gloz, a local miner, and his son, who also handmade the 90,000 bricks which form the house's structure. It is now listed by the National Trust. For more information check out http://www.windsorhouse.com.au.

Walhalla Cricket Ground
The Walhalla cricket ground is unique. The valley, having no flat ground (or not enough for a cricket ground) led to the community levelling off the top of a hill. The long trip to the town and the half hour, one kilometre, zigzag climb up the knoll just before the match was said to ensure a home team advantage. 

Tramline Walkway
Accessible from a steep path over the road from the Old Post Office or the Band Rotunda; or from Long Tunnel Gold Mine or North Gardens Camping area; the Tramline Walkway is a scenic walk about halfway up the hill to the west of the town. It offers excellent views of the town and, once you have climbed up the side of the valley, it is an easy and leisurely stroll. It is joined at the southern end by the Alpine Walking Track which continues down the valley to the Thomson Station (5 km).

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Other Attractions in the Area

Alpine Walking Track
Walhalla is the southern starting point for the 650 km Alpine Walking Track which traverses the Kosciuszko National Park and continues on to Canberra. The journey can take several weeks and walkers must have good navigation skills, be experienced and self reliant, and be prepared to camp out or sleep in the crude cattlemen's huts along the way. The route is described in great detail at https://theaustralianalps.wordpress.com/experience/aawt which has all the information needed. Of course at Walhalla the track, which joins the Tramway Walkway, runs up the western side of the valley from the Thomson River and finishes at the North Gardens Camping Area. It offers excellent views over the valley and drops down into the town near the General Store.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Walhalla was home to the Kurnai Aboriginal people.

* The European history of Walhalla began in December 1862 when Ned Stringer found gold in the creek which bears his name. 

* In February, 1863 the discovery of the massive Cohen's Reef led to the permanent settlement of the town. This was not alluvial gold and only large mining companies had the capital to exploit the find. The reef runs north to south on the western side of the valley.

* In 1863 the Reefer's Arms Hotel was opened. 

* Ore-crushing batteries were transported to the township via Port Albert.

* In 1863 the Walhalla Post Office was opened.

* The Junction Hotel, later the Grand Junction Hotel, was built in 1865. That same year a branch of the Bank of Victoria opened in the town.

* In 1866 the town was surveyed and the name changed from Stringer's Creek to Walhalla.

* 1866 saw the establishment of a Wesleyan Chapel and a Court of Petty Sessions.

* The Mechanics Institute was opened in 1867.

* The Walhalla Chronicle was established in 1870. That same year a State School opened in the town.

* The Walhalla Fire Brigade was formed in 1871.

* The Borough of Walhalla was proclaimed in 1872.

* By 1879 there was a regular coach service connecting the town to Moe.

* In 1884 electricity arrived in the town courtesy of the Long Tunnel Company.

* The population of Walhalla and the six mining hamlets in the immediate vicinity (Happy Go Lucky, Mormontown, Maiden Town, Black Diamond, Homedale and West Walhalla) peaked at around 4,500 in the 1880s. 

* A major fire tore through the village in 1888. It destroyed a large number of buildings.

* In 1891 a telephone was installed at the Long Tunnel Company.

* The Band Rotunda was built in 1896.

* By 1900 55 tonnes of gold had been extracted from Cohen's Reef. 

* The trees in the area were felled, in part, by Italians from the alpine region in the north of Italy. The timber was used to fire the boilers for the batteries.

* The Valhalla Fire Station was completed in 1901.

* The railway arrived from Moe in 1910. It was used to cart away the town's buildings as the gold supply dwindled and the mines closed in the 1910s. Today the town's economy is largely driven by its tourist appeal.

* The last of the valley's major mines closed in 1914.

* In 1918 the Shire of Walhalla was incorporated into the Shire of Narracan.

* The Walhalla Chronicle ceased publication in 1915.

* In 1945 a major fire destroyed the Bank of Australasia, St Patricks Catholic Church and the Mechanics Institute.

* A sawmill operated near Long Tunnel Mine from 1949 to 1971.

* The Star Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1951.

* The railway line to the town was dismantled in 1958.

* The local school closed in 1965.

* In 1994 Walhalla became part of the Baw Baw Shire.

* In 1993 the Walhalla Goldfields Railway started to restore the railway line from Walhalla to Thomson.

* The town was finally connected to mains electricity in 1998.

* The Star Hotel was rebuilt in 1999.

* Major fires affected the valley, but not the town, in 2005 and 2006-2007.

* A CFA fire station opened in 2013.

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Visitor Information

Visitor Information is available at the Walhalla Corner Store & Museum, cnr Main and Church Hill Roads, tel: (03) 5165 6250.

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Useful Websites

There is an excellent website at http://www.visitwalhalla.com which has details about accommodation and eating in the town.

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