Creswick Heritage Walk, CRESFEST 2022 Notes

Notes for CRESFEST GDTA ‘Creswick Heritage Walk’ participants

 2 & 3 April 2022

Barry Golding b.golding@federation.edu.au

Essential Registration Information

As a part of CRESFEST 2022, the Great Dividing Trail Association (GDTA) presents the ‘Creswick Heritage Walk’ led and interpreted by Barry Golding. This 8.5km walk is rated medium difficulty, with some steep slopes. The loop walk includes the historic Creswick Forestry School arboretum and grounds, the La Gerche Trail, excellent regional views of the volcanic plains from Brackenbury Hill and the picturesque St Georges Lake and Creswick Creek.

NOTE: PRIOR REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED

The URL registration addresses for the two GDTA Heritage Walks as part of CRESFESR are as below:

Saturday gdt.org.au/apr1-sat-2nd-walk-rego

Sunday gdt.org.au/apr2-sun-3rd-walk-rego

WHERE: Meet at the Creswick Information Centre

WHEN: 8am-10am, Saturday & Sunday 2 & 3 April

DETAILS: Those registered will meet at 7.45am to sign in, and will require reasonable walking fitness, suitable walking footwear and dress for the predicted weather. Non-GDTA members who pre-register will need to bring $5 cash on the day to cover the cost of walker insurance as GDTA guests. Registrants will meet at the Creswick Tourist Information Centre at 7.45am for an 8.00 am departure. The loop walk includes the historic Creswick Forestry School arboretum and grounds, the La Gerche Trail, excellent regional views of the volcanic plains from Brackenbury Hill and the picturesque St Georges Lake and Creswick Creek. Participants will require reasonable walking fitness and sturdy footwear for a route which includes several hills and will need to dress for the predicted weather on the day.

Notes for Slower or Time-poor Registrants

We anticipate a diverse range of walkers will register, and some will be slower and less fit than others. The most likely completion time for the whole 8.5km walk is before 10.30am. Anyone who is slower and/or needs to get back by 10am will have the option (after around 3km of walking) to take a guided short-cut back to the start.

Additional Interpretive Notes

We’ll stop briefly a couple of times along the way to chat about what we are seeing. These additional notes are for people who’d like extra information or later reading about several interesting heritage features and sites, in the order we experience them on the walk.

Copies of the ‘Creswick Heritage Walk’ brochure (produced by GDTA with a Hepburn Shire community grant), which includes an excellent map and other useful information if you want to later independently explore the same walk, will be distributed to registrants on the day. The map is available for download via the GDTA website: https://www.gdt.org.au/circuit-walks-rides/creswick The entire walk is marked by distinctive gold-topped wooden posts. It can be walked in either direction by following the arrows on these posts, but having a map is highly recommended.

Dja Dja Wurrung Country

Our walk is on southern Dja Dja Wurrung Country. We pay our respects to Dja Dja Wurrung Elders past, present and emerging. The extensive and rich volcanic grasslands that we see to the north from Brackenbury Hill, then as now, were systematically burnt. These grassland ssupported some of the highest population densities of First Nations peoples in inland Australia before the squatter invasion across the volcanic plains from 1838, after Mitchell’s ‘exploration’ and discovery of this already mapped, named and cultured landscape he dubbes ‘Australia Felix’ in 1836. 

The southern Dja Dja Wurrung boundary approximates the Great Dividing Range to the south. Most of the Dja Dja Wurrung Nation centres on the catchments of the north flowing Loddon, Avoca and Coliban Rivers, extending north to Boort, west to Avoca and the Pyrenees, and east to Bendigo and Mount Macedon.

1980s Laminated Timber Bridge

We pass beyond the IGA carpark over Creswick Creek via one of the first laminated timber bridges, designed by the former Creswick Shire Engineer, Brian Schreenan and lowered onto its concrete footings in the 1980s. The fact that is made entirely of wood is a nod to Creswick’s rich forestry heritage.

Former Victorian School of Forestry

We walk up the hill through the picturesque and historic grounds of the current Creswick Campus, University of Melbourne, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences. Previously the ‘Victorian School of Forestry’ from October 1910, the main building was built almost 50 years before in 1863 as the Creswick Hospital during the peak of the alluvial gold rush. The School grounds include an extensive, historic Arboretum and the Victorian era Tremearne House, built by the Hospital’s resident medical officer Dr John Tremearne in 1881. For most of its life, the Forestry School accepted only male students. Unsurprisingly, many early foresters resident as young men in Creswick, most without cars, married daughters of Creswick area families. 

The expansive Forestry School site includes a range of largely under-utilised buildings from a range of eras and previous uses, most related to land, timber and forest management. For a detailed history of the Forestry School, see One hundred years of forestry education by Rob Youl, Brian Fry & Ron Hateley.

La Gerche Trail

John La Gerche (1845-1914) was a local pioneering and visionary forester, committed to reversing the almost total destruction of Creswick area forests from the 1840s to 1910 associated with gold mining. John almost single-handedly propagated and planted around 19,000 native and introduced trees, many of which were then both radical and experimental. La Gerche’s lasting legacy is an extensive mixed species forest of historic and significant trees, many of which are named and now over 140 years old.

Our walk today includes most (but not all) of the 3km La Gerche Trail, which starts at a carpark near the current Parks Victoria office (for those who wish to walk the whole Trail at a more leisurely pace on a return visit). Our walk leaves the La Gerche Trail and climbs up to Brackenbury Hill. 

We pass the former Forestry School stables in Sawpit Gully, comprised of buildings relocated in 1918 from the new Australasian Gold Mine. There are many ‘Sawpit Gullies’ in the region, named after sawpits created to hand saw huge logs. The man on the top of the huge saw became what we still refer to as ‘top dog’. The ‘bottom dog’ got the sawdust.

NOTE: Those who are slower or need to get back to the start before 10am have a choice to take a leader-guided short-cut by completing the La Gerche Walk and returning the same way we set out.

Brackenbury Hill

At an elevation of 535m, Brackenbury Hill provides excellent vistas over the surrounding Creswick State Forest and the plains beyond. The hill was a feature of an effort (a century ago) to encourage ‘hill climbs’ by cars up the nearby ‘Tourist Road’ as part of early local tourist promotion. A brass pointer on the cairn indicates the direction of some visible peaks on a clear day. 

The PeakFinder app (available on line for approx. $8, which works internationally and is highly recommended for those who want to explore landscapes) identifies 63 theoretically ‘visible peaks’ from Brackenbury Hill (assuming no line of sight obstructions). Some of these visible peaks are to the west towards the Mount Cole range, but most are to the north, including the Pyrenees and several significant, now bald, volcanic ‘mammaloid’ [breast-like] hills. 

Dozens of these former volcanoes and the fertile, well-watered plains and wetlands around them provided valuable food resources in southern Dja Dja Wurrung Country, particularly the Myrniong (Yam Daisy). The southern forested horizon approximates the Great Dividing Range: thus, Mount Buninyong and Mount Warrenheip on northern Wathaurung Country near Ballarat are not visible.

Nearby to the cairn, you will see that the ancient, weathered bedrock outcropping in the road (including the associated quartz veins) are aligned very close to [5 degrees away from] north-south. This is a fascinating characteristic of much of the bedrock in Victorian goldfields country. This orientation is because the ancient (400-500 million year old) sedimentary rocks were deeply folded into north-south ‘sets’ by east-west pressure along the eastern Australian tectonic plate boundary. At this time, quartz, sometimes containing gold, was injected into the cracks, later weathering out to accumulate in streams (as ‘alluvial’ gold), some of which later became buried by lava (‘deep lead’ gold). What remained at depth and was rich enough was mined via shafts as ‘reef’ gold.

St Georges Lake

St George’s Lake is picturesque to walk around in all weather (on a 1.8km loop track). We will walk along the steeper, northern bank. On a hot day the Lake is a favourite place to swim in Creswick. The Lake occupies a former shallow and rich alluvial gold mining hole, enlarged in the 1890s to become the former ‘Govvy’ [government] Dam’, once supplying water to the Creswick State [Government Gold] Battery. We see the Battery later to the left on our way into the Creswick township along Creswick Creek. The now inundated area and current Lake boasts a recently renewed spillway as part of flood mitigation works along Creswick Creek. On 6 January 2022 (just 3 months ago) a huge storm (again) inundated much of central Creswick, including damaging around 150 houses and businesses, at which time the water was approximately 2 metres above the new spillway that we walk across. Climate change is one of the factors which has resulted in four major floods in the Creswick township in the past 10 years.

Creswick Creek

Creswick Creek rises on the well-watered Great Dividing Range near Dean, flows through Creswick and finally merges with the Tullaroop Creek near Clunes. We cross Slatey Creek (just before it enters Creswick Creek) on a footbridge which the Great Dividing Trail Association agitated for over several decades before it was finally opened in 2015. Our walk takes us along Creswick Creek behind the main street along land that has no houses on the flood plain. On our right just before the main street is Hammon Park, currently being redeveloped to become a major hub for mountain biking as part of the ‘Creswick Trails Project’.

Creswick’s Built Heritage

Creswick boasts a broad, elegantly curved main street and many grand, historic buildings, most dating from the boom times of the gold mining era between the 1850s and the 1890s. Hopefully you’ll get a chance for a later leisurely wander to also see the Masonic Lodge, State Savings Bank, Post Office and Creswick Town Hall, amongst others. Many of Creswick’s historic venues are CRESFEST performance sites in 2022.

Author: barrygoanna

Honorary Professor, Federation University Australia: researcher in men's learning through community contexts, author of 'Men learning through life' 2014) book (NIACE, UK), 'The Men's Shed Movement: The Company of Men' (2015) & 'Shoulder to Shoulder: Broadening the Men's Shed Movement' (2021) books, both published Common Ground Publishing, US.

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