- Bush walking
- Prospecting for gold
- Campfire under a star-filled sky
- Historic town of Maryborough
Paddys Ranges State Park is a small gem tucked away in the heart of the Victorian goldfields. The park, 180km north-west of Melbourne and just south of Maryborough, owes its name to an Irish miner by the name of Paddy who lived in the area in the 1800s. Today, it is a great place for a getaway with plenty of walking tracks to explore and gold mining relics to discover.
Bush camping is the only option here and the signs along the Karri Track make it easy to find the large campground. The flat, grassy area is a camper’s dream, but be aware of the march flies and mosquitoes, which attacked us as soon as we stepped out of the car. Five-year-old Chantelle was given the job of chasing the little critters away, and our $2 fly whacker came in very handy.
Camping is free but the facilities are limited to a long drop toilet and a small rainwater tank. It is a great place for kids with heaps of space to play or ride a bike without annoying your next-door neighbour.
Spring is the best time to visit the park as the wildflowers are at their best. More than 230 species grow in this area, including more than 30 species of orchid. Golden wattle blankets the forest’s understorey in bright yellow during September and October. The park boasts more than 140 different native birds and you might even spot the rare painted honeyeater in spring and summer.
The short drive to the Settling Ponds picnic area is a must and is well sign-posted. There are tables, a toilet and wood barbecues, but you need to bring your own firewood. A walking track winds its way through the forest and information boards along the trail provide interesting details about the history of the area.
The diggers’ holes tell of a bygone era. Back in the 1800s, more than 25,000 people flocked to these goldfields to try their luck. In its heyday, the gold escort took out over 8000 ounces of gold a week.
Gold mining methods included panning, ground sluicing, cradling, puddling and digging shafts. Once the surface gold was exhausted, mining shafts were dug to bedrock, where extensive deposits of gold were often found in quartz. The people of the goldfields depended on the forest for resources. It was stripped of timber for mining operations, railway sleepers, fence posts and firewood. The soil was constantly dug over and disturbed in the relentless search for gold.
The kids had a closer look at the holes but gold was nowhere to be found. If you’re keen on doing some fossicking yourself, there are designated areas within the park where you are allowed to prospect. You will need to purchase a miners’ right and get a map at the Coiltek Gold Centre in nearby Maryborough.
At the end of the track, the old dam is a reminder of the eucalyptus oil distillery that took place in the early 1900s. The oil was made by steaming the leaves in a large vat, then condensing the vapour and drawing the oil from the condensed liquid.
From the picnic area, it is a quick trip to the Ballarat-Maryborough Road and the Goldfields Reservoir. The reservoir was built in 1862 as a water supply for Maryborough but today it is used for recreation.
Driving back toward Maryborough, turn right onto Lean Street, continue along Gillies Street and turn right onto the Majorca Road. Turn right onto Graves Track and follow the signs to Battery Dam, which is located in the Craigie State Forest. An easy 1km track takes you to the Bull Gully Rock Wells. These wells were dug by the Jajawurrung people, the area’s first inhabitants, and used to collect rainwater. The wells’ holding capacity is 168L and they have never been known to dry up.
Battery Dam was also the location of a large gold discovery. In 1854, a 15.25kg gold nugget was found about 1km north of the dam. Hundreds of diggers’ holes are evidence of extensive mining in this area. Deep lead mining commenced in the late 1850s and chemical extraction using cyanide took place in the 1870s. Today, the area has a beautiful picnic area with picnic tables and barbecues.
Leaving the forest, head north along the Maryborough-Majorca Road until you get to Maryborough’s town centre. The township breathes history and the many heritage buildings are testament to a rich past. Pick up a leaflet at the Maryborough Visitor Information Centre and take the self-guided discovery tour. The impressive post office was built in 1877 in typical Victorian style. The historic Maryborough Railway Station dates back to the 1890s and has the longest platform in country Victoria.
This building was remembered by Mark Twain as ‘a station with a town attached’. Queen Elizabeth II visited the station in 1954 but, unfortunately, only days before the queen’s arrival, an outbreak of polio was reported so the train did not stop. The royal couple waved from their carriage to the large crowd.
The station also has its own ghost story. An unfortunate accident occurred in 1891, when 25-year-old Richard Swain was killed during demolition of the old railway station. It is said you can hear Richard’s screams when you walk through the foyer on a windy day. Today, it houses the Antique Emporium.
Beautiful Worsley Cottage was built in 1894 by stonemason Arthur Worsley. It is home to the Maryborough-Midlands Historical Society. Established in 1881, the Flour Mill was one of the town’s longest employment industries. The building now contains a display of over 200 vintage, antique and toy sewing machines and is also used for art exhibitions and historical displays. Up on Bristol Hill, the Pioneer Memorial Tower stands 905m above sea level, a fantastic place to watch a sunset. From here it is an easy 5km drive back to the campground where you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the bush.
We enjoyed four wonderful days in Paddy’s Ranges State Park where we were treated to beautiful weather, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, and had lots of fun. We didn’t strike any gold but the memories made are much more precious.
MEET NEVILLE AND CHERYL
Neville and Cheryl had been on the road for four weeks when they pulled into the Karri Track camping area. They call Brisbane home but like to hook up the van as often as they can. On this trip they had cruised through country New South Wales to follow the mighty Murray and find its source. When I met them, they had travelled 5000km and were slowly heading home.
Relatively new to the caravanning world, they bought their van two years ago – “After careful research,” Neville added with a smile. Having run their own business for 12 years, they took their time picking the van that would suit their needs. “It is catch-up time now,” Cheryl said, “because we had only six weeks of holidays during those 12 years.”
So, what do they enjoy most when they travel? “It’s the lifestyle,” Cheryl said. “Travelling becomes a mindset and you are more carefree.” Whenever possible, they try to find a free bush camp but they make it a point to spend money in the local towns.
“We love the country towns because there is so much history. And the wineries, of course,” Neville said. “There are bottles in the car and under the bed, but don’t tell anyone!”
Their next big trip will take them to the Kimberley. Not sure they’ll find too many wineries there, though…
Originally published in Caravan World #511, February 2013.