The town of Clunes in Victoria, is around 140km from Melbourne CBD, situated north of Ballarat, in the Shire of Hepburn. This historic gold mining town that lies in a steep valley surrounded by extinct volcanoes. Clunes was the site of first Gold discovery in Victoria made by James Esmond on 1st July 1851.
In 1851 Dr Hermann Bruhn, physician, geologist and miner, set out on a journey through Victoria in search of mineral resources. He learned from shepherd’s he met on the way about gold bearing quartz vein on Donald Cameron’s sheep station in Clunes. Bruhn visited Cameron and collected the specimen and took off to Geelong for getting it checked. On his way he met James Esmond and advised him of the Gold at Clunes. Esmond went to Clunes with digging equipment and confirmed the find. Esmond’s discovery triggered Victoria’s world famous Gold Rush. With the rush in full swing, early diggers at Clunes were disappointed by the scarcity of alluvial gold. Clunes gold was trapped within rich quartz veins. Crushing equipment was required to free the gold from quartz. But this process involved large amounts of money.
The first township allotments at Clunes were sold in early 1860. Later in that year municipal council elections were held. Twelve years after the council was formed, the foundation stone for the Town hall was laid.
With the development of a surveyed township and municipal council, the commercial centre of Clunes consolidated. The commercial centre began in Lower Fraser Street, but as mining prospered in the late 1890’s more and more substantial buildings were in central Fraser Street, which continues as the commercial centre of Clunes today.
Banks were an important Goldfield institution. The Union Bank was built in 1865 and is one of the earliest surviving buildings in the main section of Fraser Street.
National bank was built on the site of an earlier building in 1871. It closed during the depression of 1890’s opening as The State Savings bank in 1912. The London Chartered Bank is now used as the Returned and Services League Club Rooms. Its vault is still in place and may be viewed by appointment.
General stores and warehouses played an important role in the township. The Nichol and Wallace Warehouse was built in stages during the 1860’s. This building now houses the excellent collection of Clunes Museum.
Faith was central to many early settlers in Clunes, with religious bodies building houses of worship when permanence grew. The Wesleyans had the largest congregation, which included Cornish Miners. A chapel was built but eventually a larger Wesleyan church was needed. The new Church was built in 1863 with the spire and transept added in 1870. Henry Caselly designed St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in 1872, with the assistance of William Tappin.
In 1860 a Church of England chapel was built on site of London Chartered Bank in Fraser street. The Chapel was moved to Templeton street in 1869. The chapel was replaced by St. Paul’s Church in 1871, which was built of local Basalt. It overlooked the site of Port Phillip Mining Company works.
St Andrews Presbyterian Church was built in 1861 and was the first Brick Church in Clunes. The Basalt manse was erected in mid 1860s.
Clunes Mining strike
Clunes also has the distinction of having the first mining strike in Victoria. On 13 September 1873, an old miner, Mayor Blanchard, was elected as the first president of the Clunes Miners’ Association. The Association took a resolute not to work more than eleven shifts per fortnight and went on strike in 15th September 1873. The Lothair mining company of which Eureka hero Peter Lalor was a director, decided to use European labour from Ballarat but the miners in Ballarat refused, which left the company with the only option of using Chinese labour. On 9 December 1873, virtually the whole community of Clunes formed a blockade against a small contingent of police who were escorting Chinese strike breakers to the Lothair mines. A riot erupted and the Chinese along with their police escort had to leave Clunes for Creswick. The Mine workers termed the arrival of the Chinese workers as the Mongolian invasion.
What to see in Clunes?
Clunes today is recognised as one of the most architecturally intact Gold towns in Australia. Apart from its historic buildings at Fraser street and Bailey street there are many worth seeing places and institutions in Clunes.
The Bottle Museum
The former state school No 136 was built in 1881 on the site of an earlier temporary School. The building was designed by Education department architect Henry Bastow and the new School was opened on 1st January 1882. The design was first used in Horsham and includes an early example of a large Verandah. Moreover, the manner in which Verandah’s are integral with the main roof gives the building a very distinctive appearance.
In 1892 State School 136 amalgamated with State School No 1552, and was used as the infant school. It closed its doors in 1922 and was used as a mill for the Clunes knitting and manufacturing company Limited.
The original building has numerous additions which relate to its use as a mill. Much of the original slate roof has been replaced with corrugated iron. Presumably in the process many roof details have been changed. Architecturally this is one of the most sophisticated schools erected locally and despite its conversion to knitting mills most of these qualities have been retained. It now houses the Clunes bottle museum.
Water on the old Goldfields often too precious to drink freely. Diggers often took refreshments at sly gorge shops. In 1868 Ernest Ebhard established a successful cordial and aerated water manufactory at Clunes. Clunes bottle Museum which has the largest collection of rarest bottles houses bottles from the Clunes Aerated water factory. George Lee Medlyn a sheep farmer and a top merino fleece judge purchased the school building in 1985. In 1989 he opened the bottle museum for the public which he later bequeathed to the Shire of Talbot and Clunes.
Next to the Club Hotel at 36 Fraser street is the Clunes Museum which contains collection of memorabilia from Gold rush time. The building that houses the museum is the former Warehouse of Nichol and Wallace. Among other things Museum also displays artefacts related to natural history, a typical miner’s cottage parlour and the church history of Clunes.
It is open from 10.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on Saturdays, 11.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. on Sundays and all public and school holidays, or by appointment, tel: (03) 5345 3592 or, after hours, (03) 5345 3020.
At the northern banks of the Creswick Creek is the Victoria Park and Queens Park divided by Cameron Street. Queens Park was constructed out of earth removed from the creek when it was deepened to prevent flooding. The European elms and silver poplars were planted in the late 1870s and 1880s. The historic fountain at the Queens Park was erected as part of the Queen Victoria 50th jubilee celebrations in 1887
Esmond Park, the site of the first Gold discovery in Victoria. There is a monument marking the exact spot of the first gold discovery beside the carpark on Camp Street.
Clunes Booktown festival
Clunes holds Booktown festival every year. The idea of transforming Clunes into a European style booktown was first put forward in 2007 and the town held its first “Booktown for a Day” event in 2007. The festival was renamed to “Back to Booktown” in 2008 and renamed again as “Clunes Booktown Festival” in 2012. Bookshops are setup in heritage buildings and make shift tents during the 2-day festival. Around 18000 people visit the town during the festival.
How to reach Clunes
Clunes is a 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne CBD. Clunes railway is connected from Melbourne by VLine Services. Click the link to Plan your journey to Clunes by Public transport options https://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/stop/view/44952/