-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Age article: "Mining the Good Old Days"

The Age is the biggest quality newspaper in Victoria, and I just discovered it had a feature article about Talbot last weekend... starting with a mention of Amherst!

You can see the original article here, but for posterity's sake I've also pasted it below.

Mining the good old days

Sandy Guy finds a former virtual ghost town that has rebuilt its history into a trove of colonial treasures.

It has been decades since prospectors toiled in the gold mines around Amherst. Like many Victorian ghost towns, Amherst's story is of a town that sprang to life with the arrival of gold-hungry prospectors, then all but disappeared when the gold ran out.

Amherst, along with the nearby town Talbot, was a hive of activity during its glory days in the 1850s when the population is said to have peaked at around 30,000. But while most of Amherst's buildings - which once included seven general stores, an inn and a hospital - have been destroyed by bushfires over the years, you can still see relics of one of Victoria's busiest goldfields five kilometres away at the wonderfully preserved town of Talbot.

The Ballarat-Maryborough Road runs along the fringes of Talbot, and it can be easy to whiz past without a second glance. But turn into town and you'll be greeted with a streetscape of colonial buildings left largely untouched during the decades Talbot slumbered as a virtual ghost town itself.

A chaos of diggers, dozens of stores and businesses and, it's said, around 100 pubs and sly grog shanties in the 1850s and '60s, today Talbot is a sleepy hamlet with a population of about 300. But its old streets come to life on the third Sunday of each month when more than 2000 people hit town for the Talbot Farmers' Market, regarded as one of Victoria's finest.

Market days see Scandinavian Crescent, Talbot's usually quiet main street, busy with stalls selling a fantastic range of local produce including organic fruit and vegetables, almonds, fresh quail eggs, wood-fired sourdough breads, free-range eggs, fresh pasta, tea blends, honey, dried fruits, goat and cow cheeses, balsamic vinegars, olive oils, fresh-baked pies and cakes, and native drought-tolerant plants.

While the festival-like atmosphere of market day is a great reason to visit Talbot, quieter days when the pace is unhurried and there are no queues at cafes such as the Big Fig and Quince Farm Cafe at historic London House are also good times to visit this unspoiled gold-rush town.

A stroll around Talbot reveals all sorts of colonial treasures, such as Victoria's oldest functioning post office; the Talbot Museum (open Sundays), which is housed in the former Primitive Methodist Church; public library; town hall; classic old banks; historic former court house, and the Court House Hotel, built in 1859, where the beer is cold and the traditional pub fare a bargain with Sunday roasts at $9.50 and bar meals around $5.

Slightly Bent Books in the middle of town is one of those warm and welcoming book shops that feature comfy sofas, a perfect excuse to relax and flick through some old and new tomes. You can unearth vintage clothes at Fanny's Flat, a quirky dress and accessories shop, and the Talbot Astronomical Observatory (open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7pm during the winter months) makes for a fascinating journey into the night skies.

Stay among the history at accommodation options including Chesterfield House B&B, formerly the circa-1866 Bull and Mouth Hotel, which has five cottages and a swimming pool set in pretty gardens, and the added bonus that it's pet-friendly. St Andrews, the old Presbyterian house of worship, has been transformed into luxury self-contained accommodation featuring Chinese furnishings and artworks and a spa in the former vestry, while Saddler's Cottage, a cosy self-contained house near the centre of town, dates from 1862.

There are some fascinating sites to explore around Talbot, including ancient Aboriginal drinking wells and, just off the Maryborough Road, a shelter tree - a large hollowed-out gum said to be about 700 years old where women of the Jajowurrong clan gave birth. You can trace the once-thriving town of Amherst on a walking tour, view the site of a Chinese joss house and baths, and drive along silent gravel roads to the Big Reef - also known as Quartz Mountain - a colossal outcrop of pure quartz hidden in the bush three kilometres from Amherst.

The 1675-hectare Paddy's Ranges State Park, which dominates the area around Talbot, is not only home to more than 140 species of native birds and around 230 species of wildflowers, but a good site to view relics of gold-mining days.

There's evidence of gold mining everywhere throughout the ranges and surrounding areas in mullock heaps, sites of puddling machines, and creeks scarred from sluicing. Today the central goldfields region is regarded as one of Australia's premier gold-detecting regions, and gold continues to be unearthed throughout the region.


Talbot is 159 kilometres north-west of Melbourne midway between Maryborough and Clunes.

Upcoming farmers' markets will be on July 20, August 17 and September 21 from 9am to 2pm.

For further information see www.talbottourism.org.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2008/06/19/1213770829592.html

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