Restoring Mount Greenock Geological Reserve

Barry Golding


The bald and rounded ‘volcanic fire fountain’ now called Mount Greenock looms large in central Dja Dja Wurrung country on the north side of the highway between Clunes and Talbot. While it remains in public ownership it has been battered by change and neglect since Major Thomas Mitchell climbed and renamed it in the verdant spring of 1836. Hopefully today’s overgrazed cow paddock will fare better over the next 185 years.

Today, on paper at least, Mount Greenock is a 120 hectare ‘Geological Reserve’ specifically and primarily reserved four decades ago (in the February 1981 via the Land Conservation Council, North Central Area, Final Recommendations (p.95). It was listed by and reserved by virtue of its significant scientific value, ‘to preserve its geological features … for the public’s education and enjoyment’, on the understanding that ‘… it also has recreation, nature conservation scenic and landscape features in addition to geological features’. 

In reality the reserve, in my view, has become a very degraded, dreadfully managed and poorly interpreted site. The area has been leased over many decades under grazing licences in an opaque and arguably inappropriate arrangement via a small, unrepresentative, local committee, many of whom have actually been the lessees. While there is some ageing and inappropriate interpretation through a closed gate off the highway at the Union Mine Site within the reserve, members of the public visiting the site will have no idea of its extent or boundaries. Almost no one driving past will realise this is a significant area of public land which they have a right to access for recreation, education and enjoyment, including to freely climb to the summit on its eroding flanks, dodging cow pats along cattle tracks to the 1936 ‘Centenary of Major Mitchell ‘monument on the summit.

I have posted this blog to provide some publicly available evidence, information and an informed opinion to place on the table in the negotiations in June 2022 between the Upper Loddon and Avoca Landcare Network and Parks Victoria, for the Network to take over the license of the Mount Greenock Geological Reserve. Anyone with other information to add or who wants to correct any of what is in my account is welcome to contact me and I will consider editing it accordingly.

Why is this information timely in June 2022?

A document circulated on 2 June 2022 by the Landcare Network to inform the negotiations alluded to above includes the following useful background information about the reserve and what might be envisaged. The following in italics is taken close to verbatim from that document.

The reserve [is] predominantly covered in native grasses, with an assortment of broadleaf (Capeweed, Erodium) weeds and limited Clover. Significant numbers of Tree Violet still remain, but without any other supporting species. In some places (around 2-5%) there is good European perennial pasture. The site is predominantly treeless, and has minor infestations of woody weeds (Blackberry, Boxthorn and Gorse) as well as Bathurst burr.

The involvement of the Network in the Reserve has the potential to deliver:

  1. a range of simple environmental improvements, namely weed and rabbit control
  2. a significant opportunity to leverage endangered species resources for the reserve and similar private land parcels in the area
  3. to improve the environmental values of the reserve itself and potentially similar land in the area
  4. to be a place of Landcare demonstration and learning, and
  5. to produce a regular source of income for the Network to undertake its broader activities.

How might it work?

We would need to:

  1. make a plan and strike an agreement with Parks Victoria as to the ongoing management of the reserve and the environmental outcomes we are both seeking
  2. find and manage a suitable lessee to graze the reserve for a commercial return
  3. make a number of improvements to the property (as agreed with Parks Victoria) so as to leave it better than when we took it over. Such improvements could either be done with the lease fees we receive or built into the lease and undertaken by the lessee.

These works could include all or some of the following:

  • Weed and rabbit control,
  • Some pasture enhancement and or fertiliser,
  • Strategic revegetation on site of around 5% of the area (3,600 trees)
  • Protection works for key sites like McCallum Creek (1,200 trees).

My opinion

  • What is proposed above is a positive and overdue move towards proper, public, inclusive, responsible and transparent management, including weed and rabbit control and strategic revegetation of this important ‘parcel of public land’.
  • It is timely to find a way to end a century of public neglect, opaque local private appropriation, mismanagement and overgrazing, given this is public land and it has formally designated ‘Geological Reserve’ status. 
  • Given this public land is on Dja Dja Wurrung Country it would seem to be wise, timely and also essential to consult and involve the traditional owners from the outset. 
  • Given this is a designated a ‘Geological Reserve’ it would also make sense to involve and seek the expert opinion from geologists and geomorphologists about what is of particular scientific and geological value and interest here (aside from its obvious heritage and ecological status) and how those values might be protected, enhanced and interpreted though proper interpretation and management.
  • Grazing cattle for commercial return is totally inconsistent with the preservation and interpretation of the reserve’s geological features, for the public education and enjoyment or enhancing and protecting the reserve’s recreation, nature conservation scenic and landscape features. Using any profits from grazing of the reserve to fund the work of the Landcare Network elsewhere would be like ‘Peter robbing Paul’, and ‘a bridge too far’.
  • It would be sensible and timely during the 2022 negotiations to apply very similar management principles to the nearby geologically similar 8 ha ‘Scenic Reserve’ P6 on and surrounding Mount Glasgow (whose scenic features are similarly severely compromised by grazing, and which is currently devoid of signage, proper fencing, public access or interpretation).

Post Contact History

Previously within the southernmost edge of Dja Dja Wurrung country within the Loddon River catchment draining north from the Great Dividing Range, after 1838 the area surrounding the mountain was to become part of the Mount Greenock pastoral run first ‘explored’ and squatted on by John Hawdon in 1837. 

Rita Hull notes in her 1989 book Alexander McCallum and the Dunach Forest Run that sometime in late 1837, the Hawdon Brothers, John and Joseph organised a second journey back to Melbourne with cattle, and that sometime after that John Holden sent sheep to the creek that ran past Mount Greenock and the plains the other side of it. Joseph Hawdon along with Hepburn and Gardiner had previously made a similar trip to Melbourne with cattle in late 1836. John Hepburn records buying a horse from John Hawdon on 16 Oct 1837, likely whilst he was waiting for his family to arrive from at Coghill’s Strathallen station, in the spring of 1837 near Braidwood in NSW.

‘Ebenezer Oliphant’ had taken charge of the Mount Greenock run by June 1841. David and Ebenezer Oliphant had arrived in Port Philip (via Adelaide) on 9 April 1840 on the barque India along with an ‘A. McCallum’. The barque had departed Greenock in Scotland on 5 Oct 1839. Oliphant’s hutkeeper was later murdered near Mount Greenoch in early 1841 by the brothers of Gonduirmin, an Aboriginal man, by some of Dutton, Simson and Darlot’s assigned men on Glenmona station to the west of Maryborough on 7 Feb 1841.

The Mount Greenock run later transferred to Alexander McCallum. McCallum, born in Oban, Scotland, 1811, had arrived in Australia 1839 with his brother Kenneth, who was killed by Aborigines ‘in unknown circumstances’ (recorded in Mount Hope Station, The squatting era, C. Spowart, 2006). By 1848 the run was formally leased by McCallum as the 63,000 acre ‘Dunach Forest’ Run’. Alexander McCallum also ran the Mount Hope Run on the Tragowell Plains until 1853. 

In the summer of 1840 when George Robinson crossed Kone-de-bit (today McCallum Creek) below Mount Greenock, he remarked on the already barren, eaten out appearance of the surrounding plains caused by sheep and cattle. In Robinson’s 3 March 1840 diary entry he noted that ‘Mount Greenock is covered with scoria, very thickly grassed. This is the hill Mitchell lavished his praise on.’

Being on the ‘Majors Line’ between present day Portland and Sydney, the area including along Kone-de-bit had by then become a convenient transit point on the early major overland stock routes between Sydney, Portland and Adelaide, with convenient connections also to stock disembarkation ports on the southern Port Phillip coast at Corio. 

The mountain survived the worst of the nearby Talbot gold rushes from the late 1850s including the Scandinavian Rush of 1859, acting as a Town Common reserve, but later became the focus of extensive deep lead mining under both its northern and southern flanks. From 1981 it was formally zoned as a Geological Reserve, and remains in public ownership. While theoretically managed by Parks Victoria, the reserve has in reality been heavily grazed by cattle in an opaque leasing arrangement with (and by) a very small number of local landholders called the ‘Talbot Common Committee’.

This woefully managed public reserve on a former, goldfields Township Common would be unremarkable except for Thomas Mitchell’s single-minded obsession with reading what he wrongly perceived in 1836 as an ‘empty Eden’ ripe for the taking when he stood on its summit and declared it as the heart of Australia Felix (‘happy Australia’). 

By the time the Chief Protector of Aborigines George Robinson visited the area less than four years later in February 1840, he alluded to shepherds seeking ‘sanction to commit aggressions on the natives’ and observed ‘eight old native huts at one encampment, and mussel shells where their fires have been’. 

Had Mitchell not blundered into, summited and renamed this now bald, rocky volcanic peak on his militaristic route march home towards Sydney in spring of 1836, Mount Greenock would be unremarkable and more poorly known than it is today. 

Mitchell and the pastoralists that followed his tracks dubbed it and the many similar bald hills he saw on the fertile plains beyond it to the west as ‘mammeloid’ (breast-like). No one bothered to record the Dja Dja Wurrung name for Mount Mitchell and the other peaks on the surrounding plains that were largely devoid of trees. Mitchell missed the obvious and uncomfortable reality that these rich grasslands had actually been created and named by the people already in the landscape. 

As an ‘explorer’ and expeditioner, Mitchell’s mission had been to open what he perceived as an unopened an empty country, as well as to chart and make scientific sense of what was perceived as an alien and empty landscape. His diaries confirm he was interested in everything except the people whose land he was intruding on. 

Mount Greenock: A pen picture

Mount Greenock is today a seldom-visited and poorly known Geological Reserve. Its only public access is via a nondescript gravel track and a roadside gate north of the Clunes – Talbot Road. The Parks Victoria sign says, ‘Union Mine & Mount Greenock Geological Reserve’. Access to the mountain flank and what looks like a cow paddock beyond is via an indistinct series of meandering tracks beyond a stile. The only obvious native vegetation that survives the cattle grazing on the ‘reserve’ are the few ancient (perhaps 180+ year old), scattered, remnant,Tree Violet bushes (Melicytus dentatus) amongst the lumps of scoria, volcanic boulders and cow pats. 

There are no signs or tracks to encourage or guide visitors onto the peak. Beyond the dated and faded interpretive signage about Major Mitchell’s conquest of the mountain located adjacent to the former mine site, it is possible to clamber to the top of the mountain for the same sublime 360 degree view that Mitchell gushed about. A high stone cairn including inscription celebrating Mitchell’s ‘discovery’ was placed on the windswept summit by the Talbot community as part a re-enactment of its discovery during the mountain’s 1936 ‘centenary’. 

The reserve is skirted by Kone-de-bit (McCallum Creek) to the east, in the 1840s known at Mount Greenock Creek. Beyond and east of the creek is the similarly volcanic Mount Glasgow, perhaps known to the Dja Dja Wurrung as Tout-bor-nay (Brough Smyth, 1878, The Aborigines of Victoria, Vol. 2, p.180). Mount Greenock and its broad volcanic crater to the north west towards the historic gold town of Talbot, is by mid-summer razed to the ground by grazing and in winter dominated by introduced grasses and weeds. To find out where it all changed, it’s necessary to go back to the spring of 1836.

At that time no Europeans had been into Dja Dja Wurrung Nation. The headwaters of the Kone-de-bit which flowed north off the Great Dividing Range comprised the home range of the Korerpongerlite gunditj Clan. Within five years squatting runs including those claimed by Learmonth, Coghill, Cameron, and Simson had encircled the southern, eastern and northern ends of the Mount Greenock Creek catchment. Several well-documented killings of Dja Dja Wurrung peoples occurred on properties owned by Learmonth, Simson (with Dutton and Darlot) and Oliphant between 1838 and 1841. By the time Parker set up the first Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate at Neereman in late 1840, these same squatters actively undermined his best efforts and by mid-1841 had forced its removal back to Larni-barramul (then referred to as ‘Jim Crow’ by Hepburn, later renamed ‘Mount Franklin’). 

What were the volcanic grasslands like before 1836?

From the accounts of Mitchell (1836) and Robinson (1840), the grasslands and woodlands on and around the mammaloid volcanic hills before the introduction of sheep was thick with Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) on which herbivores including kangaroo thrived. Sheep quickly ate and removed the Murnong or ‘Yam Daisy’ (Microseris lanceolata), previously the staple food of many Aboriginal people and nations on volcanic grasslands across southern Australia. 

The ‘honeysuckle’ (Sliver Banksia: Banksia marginata), ‘oak’ (Buloke: Allocasuarina luehmannii) and ‘myrtle’ (Sweet Bursaria: Bursaria spinosa) were observed by Mitchell in 1836 and later by Robinson when exploring the same area in 1840. These characteristic emergent trees and shrubs within the grasslands and woodlands came close to extinction locally within living memory. When in the area between present day Miners Rest and Sulky on the volcanic plains in 1840, Robinson (9 Feb, p.166) noted in his diary that the ‘myrtle’ [Sweet Bursaria] was then the ‘dominant shrub … 3-4 feet [1m] high with a white flower and a scent resembling the hawthorn’.

The discovery of rich alluvial gold in Clunes in 1851 spread to other gold fields including Talbot on the roughly circular margin of the volcanic plains, leading to a greatly increased need for wood as fuel, for miners but particularly for the mines. Present day towns that boomed during the gold rush and led to almost complete decimation of all trees in forests and woodlands during by the end of the century included (in clockwise order) Talbot, Maryborough, Newstead, Castlemaine, Daylesford and Creswick.

The need for timbering underground gold mines around the edges of the plains increased during the 1870s with the development of a huge network of deep lead mines underneath the plains such as those right under Mount Greenock, west of Smeaton and around Carisbrook. The rapacious need for wood for timbering, fueling quartz batteries and driving steam pumps to dewater these mines was taken from the former extensive messmate, peppermint, box and ironbark forests growing on Great Dividing Range, on the ‘older rocks’ exposed beyond the edges of the plains as well as on ‘windows’ of very old (Ordovician) rock exposed along the river valleys. The forests on the elevated and highly erodible granitic peaks of Mount Beckwith to the south of Mount Greenock and Tarrangower were particularly hard hit. 

Importantly for this account, most of the box ironbark forests in the landscape in 1836 bordering Mount Greenock are forests today, albeit younger, considerably fragmented and diminished in extent and diversity after five decades of intensive mining, a century of intensive logging and firewood extraction and more recently removal for pine plantations on wetter sites. The most productive volcanic grasslands which are currently intensively farmed were actively managed as grasslands and woodlands by Dja Dja Wurrung people to maximize their own food production.

‘Breasts’ in the landscape: The Mammaloid Hills

Scientists tend to focus on identifying single phenomena or species. Mitchell’s 1836 efforts to classify and name the many new and curious plants and distinctive landforms he encountered was no exception. The many other breast-like, ‘mammaloid’ (also spelt ‘mammeloid’) hills Mitchell could see clustered together on the plains to the west of Mount Greenock had a particular fascination for him and later for Robinson and continued to be important waymarks before roads were created across the Polydul (Loddon River) plains.

In Mitchell’s original meteorological journal Mitchell collectively called them the ‘Mastoid Hills’. Thomas Mitchell encountered and climbed to the summit of the mammeloid hill he renamed ‘Mount Greenock’ in 1836. From its summit towards the east he could see the patchwork of woodlands and grassland on an elevated, broad plain. Punctuating these plains like huge cherries on an enormous fruitcake, he saw a whole raft of similar other, rounded, grassy peaks, that he collectively dubbed the ‘Mammeloid Hills’. 

The rounded hills whose summits were then topped by grasslands are densely clustered in a broad arc around Creswick, bounded within an area within the area of an approximate circle including Ballarat, Clunes, Glengower, Blampied and Newlyn, with one outlier as far northwest as Mount Moolort near Carisbook. Importantly, the summit of Mount Greenock is the only one of these hills still in public ownership aside from the tiny (8 ha) ‘Scenic Reserve’ close to the summit of nearby Mount Glasgow.

Breast-shaped hills, some with volcanic origins, have usually been placed in a family of ‘mamelons’. Such hills are known by a range of terms as part of a sub-set of other anthropomorphic geographic features recognised (and sometimes venerated) in landscapes and cultures across the world. 

A mountain was called ‘Didthul’ (woman’s breast) by Aboriginal people on the South Coast of New South Wales by virtue of its distinctive conical shape. Unlike all of the Victorian mammaloid hills, it was replete with a prominent ‘nipple’ on its second tier, and was renamed ‘Pigeon House Mountain’ by Captain Cook in 1770. 

Mansfield in Victoria has a lookout on one of the breast-like hills 10km west of town officially known as ‘The Paps’. ‘Maiden Hill’ is the current name of a scoria cone 8km east of Lexton on the former ‘Maiden Hills’ run briefly taken up by Henry Bowerman to the south of Mount Greenock in 1838. ‘Paps’ or ‘Maiden Paps’, rounded, breast-like hills located mostly in Scotland would have been familiar to Mitchell as he was trying to both make sense of this new landscape and impose his own, homely, Scottish order.

‘Mamelon’, from the French word ‘nipple,’ is a geological name for a breast-shaped hill, and came to be used in vulcanology during Mitchell’s era to describe a rock formation of volcanic origin where the ‘stickiness’ of the lava causes the lava to congeal around the vent and form a hill or mound at the surface. Hanging Rock in Victoria was previously regarded as a Victorian example in Bernie Joyce’s second edition of Geology of Victoria. It is possible that Mitchell would have had access to the use of the term ‘mamelon’ by the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint Vincent  (1778-1846) exploring and publishing in the same era. However Mount Greenock was not strictly a ‘mamelon’, as the basaltic lavas it extruded were relatively fluid.

Later pastoralists sometimes called then ‘maiden hills’ or ‘bald hills’. Where similarly shaped hills south of Kingston gave way to ‘scrub’ and ‘forest’ towards the Great Dividing Range we now have ‘Scrub Hill’ (between Newlyn and Dean) and ‘Forest Hill’ (between Kingston and Creswick), though both are now devoid of their original trees.

Mitchell was so taken by the apparently bucolic scene and the hills beyond, an image was reproduced in a lithograph ‘Mammeloid Hills from Mount Greenock’ in his subsequent book about his expeditions first published in London in 1839.[1]

The lithograph image was actually created several years later from field notes after his return to the UK in this pre-photographic era. Whilst the lithograph suggests more exaggerated peaks than a photograph, it accurately confirmed that the summits of these hills were covered in relatively open grassland. What Mitchell missed was that these hills were deliberately created and maintained as grasslands by regular and systematic Aboriginal burning.

Within five years several other mammaloid hills shown in the lithograph, then without European names, would instead bear names with Scottish squatter and geographic connections, including nearby Mount Glasgow (409m), beyond that Mount Cameron (414m), Fawcett Hill and Duntulm Hill (373m). Only the most prominent of these hills, Kooroocheang (678m) and Moorooklye (609m), both north of Smeaton, retain a public name similar to the original Aboriginal names. For most of these other distinctive hills the original Aboriginal names are either unknown or uncertain. 

Mount Greenock  and other ‘mammaloid’ hills, first described by Mitchell were not strictly ‘mamelons’ in the vulcanological sense though they are of volcanic origin. Some retain breached craters, but most are largely composed of a complex ‘mess’ of once fiery, fragmental material that accumulated, typically thrown through the air. Most of the rocks on Mount Greenock are highly vesicular (with many cavities), replete with now frozen gas bubbles and flow structures, sometimes with large and distinctive (phenocrystic) crystals, typical of those found adjacent to the throat of now extinct, once extrusive volcanoes. Much but not all of the material thrown up around Mount Greenock, now making up the crater is scoria: technically it is a ‘composite scoria cone’. 

The now familiar narratives about vulcanicity and its association with the fertile basalt plains in Victoria began very early. As early as 1846 William Westgarth’s Australia Felix book (W. Westgarth, Australia Felix, A transcription, 1846)documented what Westgarth called ‘the symptoms of extensive volcanic action … displayed over a large area of Australia Felix’ (p.13):

Numerous extinct volcanoes, having well-marked craters, are scattered over this extensive region, and give a picturesque variety to the well-grassed plains, the clumps of timber on hill and dale, and the long lines of gum trees that mark the courses of winding creeks. The scenery is in general pleasing and beautiful. So promising a country has been quickly occupied and overspread by the colonists, in rapid progress of their departure goes settlement. (p.13)

The significance of Mount Greenock in the early identification of the role of volcanicity in Australia is acknowledged in Intraplate volcanism: In Eastern Australia and New Zealand (R. Wallace-Johnson, 1980). Wallace-Johnson considered that ‘A better understanding of the Cainozoic [66 million years to the present] volcanicity of eastern Australia began with the expedition of Thomas Mitchell to western Victoria in 1836 where very young volcanism could be seen’ (p.5). 

Having previously observed the relatively young form and nature of Mount Napier, Mitchell (1838, vol. 2, p.249) rightly concluded that the volcano was relatively young. In Mitchell’s words, it ‘had been in activity in no very remote period’. When Mitchell later came across and collectively named the ‘Mammeloid hills’, including and beyond Mount Greenock consisting completely of vesicular lava, he considered them relatively old. Within a decade, ‘knowledge of the physical extent of the western Victorian lavas was well established by 1846.’ (Wallace-Johnson, p.5).

The lava typically flowed away like honey from successive eruptions, often for many kilometres away from the crater, filling and solidifying in the lowest points in the surrounding landscape, including the former north to south river valley right under Mount Greenock’s present peak and crater. 

In other places on the vast nearby volcanic plains the volcanic action was even more violent and explosive. Instead of resulting in hills and craters built up over months and years, lakes and wetlands formed in vast holes in the earth blasted in seconds, when the pent up pressure beneath the earth, or lava in contact with ground or surface water, caused huge eruptive explosions. There are good examples surrounded by low tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) rings north of Lawrence, on Tourello Creek and at Hepburn Lagoon near Kingston.

Contemporary Victorian geological map sheets colour basalt, typically found on the extensive, flatter volcanic plains and that flowed from each of these volcanoes, in pink. The mammeloid hills of Mitchell punctuating the plain appear on the same maps as distinctive coloured circles of brown in a sea of pink. These brown areas including Mount Greenock are geologically identified as:

fire fountain deposits: near vent accumulations of basaltic, pyroclastic ash, lapilli and bombs forming prominent cones; highly vesicular, partly welded, massive to layered; occasional blocks of country host rock.[2]

Their steep, outer slopes, as well as those inside their craters, like those today within and outside the Mount Franklin volcanic crater, would once have been very steep and close to the angle of sliding friction. 

While the age of the few volcanoes in western Victoria that have been accurately dated ranges from thousands to a few million years, most of the mammeloid hills in the Polydul catchment have not been dated. The conventional wisdom (mostly guesswork) has been that most are likely older than half a million years: old enough to have some of the roughest edges and steepest slopes smoothed over. The youngest of these Victorian volcanoes are certainly contemporaneous with Aboriginal occupation. 

Most of those on the rich Polodyul volcanic plains, extending north from the Great Dividing Range as far a Mount Moolort near Carisbrook, west to Mount Greenock and east to beyond Kooroocheang had been fire managed for the past 50,000 plus years as Aboriginal grasslands. Areas of excellent soil developed on the weathered basalt were regularly and carefully burned to create grasslands or open woodlands, to encourage the breeding of kangaroos and emus and the growth of murnong (Yam daisy) and other edible plants. 

Was Mount Greenock a gateway to a ‘God-given’ Eden?

The narratives of white explorers and pastoralists ‘discovering’ Australia Felix abound with religious imagery from the Christian Bible about Adam discovering the Garden of Eden, a veritable fruitful, well-watered, paradise garden created by God and ‘empty’ before Adam and Eve were placed there.

This was certainly no God given or empty Eden. These mammaloid hills and the plains around them had been cultured, shaped and named by Dja Dja Wurrung people for around one thousand generations prior to several lifetimes of subsequent white pastoralists, miners and other residents who now also call the Upper Loddon catchment home.

Most of the dozens of the hills on the volcanic grasslands have since Mitchell’s 1836 expedition been stripped of their individual Dja Dja Wurrung names. Most have been replaced, either by descriptive names (Mount Hollowback, Forest Hill, Springmount), by names of squatters (Mount Cameron; Coghill, Birch’s Leishman, Kelly and Powlett Hills) or names that link back to where white explorers and squatters came from and pined for (Mount Greenock, and Mount Glasgow). (Mounts) Kooroocheang (676m) and Moorookyle (609) are notable exceptions, though the former was renamed ‘Smeaton Hill’ by John Hepburn after his family’s Scottish (East Lothian) family Estate.

Greenock in Scotland is a town of 46,000 and administrative centre in the Inverclyde council area located in the west central Lowlands of Scotland. It forms part of a contiguous urban area with Gourock to the west and Port Glasgow to the east.’ There is no ‘Mount Greenock’ but Lyle Hill (130m, which I have been to the top of by car in Scotland) provides an excellent panoramic view over Greenock and the Firth of Clyde.

These hills aside, most of the basalt plains around them are relatively flat, since the basalt, having filled the pre-existing, north-trending river valleys with lava, spread north right across the pre-existing landscape. Where these now buried river gravels had flowed across gold bearing quarts reefs in Ordovician (around 450 million year old) bedrock, the alluvial gold was trapped and hidden beneath the basalt plains.

The volcanic hill and plain ecosystems provided critically important water, plant and animal resources and relatively high population densities for Dja Dja Wurrung peoples, and also for the squatter’s sheep and cattle that followed hard on Mitchell’s tracks. However it what was mined as surface, alluvial gold, often in ‘lateral streams’ developed along the margins of the basalt flows that (like McCallum Creek to the east of Mount Greenock) provoked the great Australian gold rush, beginning in 1851 in Clunes. 

A second rush occurred in the Allendale area near Creswick once miners realised, by around 1876 that some of the richest alluvial gold actually extended under the basalt, which was mined for the rest of the century in huge ‘deep lead’ mines tapping into the sometime nuggetty sub-basaltic gravels. The legacy of this second rush can be seen in the pointy piles of mullock and quartz gravels where the mines were rich, as in the ‘Berry Deep Lead’ system west of Smeaton. The more extensive the tailings are, the richer the mine was.

Within 50 years of Mitchell’s ‘naming’ of Mount Greenock, the volcanic landscape and plains ecosystems had been fundamentally transformed: between 1838 and 1851 mainly by squatters, and from 1851 for the rest of that century by every conceivable form of gold mining. First it was alluvial mining where gold was literally at the surface in existing rivers and creeks. Next it was the relatively shallow subsurface deposits associated with stranded prior stream courses such as at Majorca. Miners sometimes followed gold to its source in the quartz bearing veins in the tightly folded Ordovician shale and slate bedrock via deep shafts, as well as via shafts driven through the basalt into the deep lead gravels.

What about Mount Greenock today?

The current boundaries of the ‘Mount Greenock Geological Reserve’ are most obvious in mid-summer when the whole reserve is seriously denuded by overgrazing on the steep, rocky slopes as well as in the crater. The current management regime for the reserve certainly encourages erosion and very effectively exposes the rocks. However it raises serious questions about the many other more sustainable values that might be enhanced though management practices other than sheep or cattle grazing at intensities far higher than those in surrounding privately owned paddocks.

‘Agriculture Victoria Online’[3] notes on Mount Greenock provide a concise contemporary geological description.

This is a tall scoria cone with a broad shallow crater open to the northwest. In the crater are blocks and bombs of scoriaceous basalt. Long lava flows extend both north and south from the cone. The flow to the north has been eroded by McCallum Creek, which is a lateral stream. On the eastern base of the cone, the stream valley exposes a lava flow and underlying sedimentary rocks. The lava flow and the scoria cone overlie the Greenock lead (a buried valley with auriferous gravels). A line of mine tailing and abandoned mining relics occur on the margins of the lava flow.

This is an outstanding example of a volcano and lava flow associated with a deep lead. It is one of the few large scoria cones on public land and contains abundant outcrop and morphological evidence of its volcanic origin. It has the potential for extensive educational use in earth and social science study.

The ‘Mount Greenock Geological Reserve’ in 2022 includes the summit, most of the breached crater and part of the McCallum Creek frontage. The reserve also includes some of the late 1800s alluvial and sub-surface mines north and south of the mountain that tapped into the gold bearing gravels running right under the mountain within the Mount Greenock deep lead. 

The buried, pre-volcanic auriferous (gold-bearing) gravels run north south right under the crater. Today the white, pointed ‘mullock’ heaps and quartz gravels mark previous underground mine sites that are visible from the Mount Greenock summit. They form two lines dotted across the volcanic plains: to the south towards Mount Beckworth and north toward Red Lion and Majorca. At the southern foot of Mount Greenock, incorporated into the same Geological Reserve, is the former Union Mine site.

A tall, tapered monument on the summit was erected in 1936 to celebrate the centenary of ‘Mitchell’s journeying’ in 1836. The monument originally held a marble tablet, quite recently replaced with a less jingoistic inscription.

The Age (28 Sept 1936) recorded the 1936 celebrations which included a recreation of the present monument’s erection.

TALBOT, Monday. — The celebrations in connection with the centenary of Major Mitchell’s journeyings to Mount Greenock took place on Saturday afternoon though a bitterly cold wind was blowing, with sleet falling at intervals, some 300 persons were present. … From the summit of the mount a representation of the progress of Major Mitchell’s party was watched with interest, twelve horsemen making a spectacular sight. At the conclusion of the proceedings visitors from Melbourne and other centres were entertained at the A.N.A. [Australian Natives Association[4]] Hall. 

Whilst there are few obvious signs in 2022 welcoming the public into or onto the Mount Greenock Reserve (and zero likelihood of a similarly jingoistic 200th celebratory recreation in 2036), members of the public are able to access the reserve by vehicle at one point and on foot (through the fence) at two other points. There is reasonable public vehicle access via a gate on the Ballarat Maryborough Road between Dunach and Talbot. It leads via an all-weather gravel road to a parking area next to the former Union Mine site. There is some basic, dated, mainly Mitchell-related interpretation at the Union Mine but no services. 

A stile over a fence above the interpretive sign leads to a series of (mainly cattle) tracks that lead up a steep and sometimes rocky slope to two separate stone cairns on the Mount Greenock summit. The previous inscription on the tallest cairn towards the south commemorating Major Mitchell has recently been removed.

There is also road access (albeit through the fence) from the north along Greenock Road as well as via the creek that flows out of the crater on Mitchell Road to the west. A smaller Parks Victoria ‘Scenic Reserve’ (again with zero notice about legitimate public access to the similarly spectacular summit views) is located NW of the end of the Mount Glasgow (summit) road.

The steep climb to the Mount Greenock summit from the Union Mine site begins with a climb over a stile just uphill of the mine site and is basically across a hillside through a grazed paddock strewn with cow pats and rocks, some of which are scoriaceous and light enough to float in water, but affords magnificent views from the summit in all directions. Typically it is windy on top and on a cold day (as experienced, above, in late September 1936), freezing.

With all of the above in mind, it should also be a place beyond 2022 for deep thought, evidence based management, reflection, reconciliation and renewal.

[1] ‘Three expeditions into the interior of eastern Australia’, Vol. 2, Adelaide, Library Board of South Australia, 1965.

[2] Geological Survey of Victoria, 1: 50,000 Geological Map (2000), Stratigraphic legend. Most mammaloid hills are found on the Maryborough, Waubra, Creswick and Campbelltown map sheets.

[3] Eruption Points of the Newer Volcanic Province of Victoria, N. Rosengren (1994), report prepared for the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) and Geological Society of Australia (Victorian Division). The review of eruption points was based on an earlier unpublished manuscript Catalogue of the post-Miocene volcanoes of Victoria (O. P. Singleton & E. B. Joyce (Geology Department, University of Melbourne, 1970).

[4] ANA was formed as a mutual society in Melbourne in 1871 with membership being restricted to white men born in Australia. The ANA was one of the last Australian pressure groups to support the White Australia Policy. While this policy was wound down in the decades after the Second World War and totally abolished by 1970, a few members continued to support it until the 1970s. In 1993, it merged with Manchester Unity IOOF.


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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