Saturday, October 10, 2015

Making tracks - leaving Geelong

OK, so what was the route of the original track from Geelong to Buninyong used by so many during the gold rush and does any of it remain today? Well, yes, some of it does remain and is there to be found if you know where to look.
The route out of Geelong to Batesford took the traveller through Bell Post Hill, the land occupied by the earliest European settlers in the district - John Cowie and David Stead. By the time of the gold rush, they had long moved on from the district, however those coming and going to the goldfields would still have seen the same striking vista which attracted those original squatters. Henry Mundy (Les Hughes, 1988, Henry Mundy: a young Australian pioneer) who made the journey many times described his return to Geelong on one occasion thus:
...that glorious scene which I had, before and since so often admired, the full view of Corio Bay, the ocean beyond, the North Shore, the open plains and the You Yangs. The shipping and boats in the Bay, the little town of Geelong sloping down to a bold shore...
A similar view today, to that so enjoyed by Henry Mundy, taken from near the
top of Bell Post Hill
Once atop the Bell Post Hill, it was a hike of about three miles to the little hamlet of Batesford or Bates' Ford as it was originally spelt (earlier names also included Manifold's Ford and Hopeton for other local settlers). This was one of the earliest bridged crossing points on the Moorabool (or Marrabool River as it was often called) and there are still signs of the original route which deviates slightly to the north of today's Midland Highway in the name of the Old Ballarat Road. Newspapers of the era indicate that by 1854 the road through Batesford was the main thoroughfare to Ballarat. It was also in very poor condition, prompting locals to call - unsuccessfully - upon the government to provide the funds to fix it.
Looking west down the Old Ballarat Road from the top of the Batesford Hill.
The present highway can just be seen at the left
In the 1840s and early 1850s, after crossing the Moorabool, there was very little in the way of settlement along the track. Once again Henry Mundy recounts that the only public house on the track between Batesford and "Mother Jamieson's" establishment in Buninyong was Watson's Hotel at what was to become the township of Meredith.
A substantially similar - if somewhat more detailed - account of the track to that of Mundy was given in the  Geelong Advertiser, of 1st October, 1851:
One of the principal advantages of the Ballarat diggings over those of Bathurst, is their easy accessibility. We have, ourselves, rode(sic) from Geelong to Buninyong in less than six hours, and to the pedestrian it is only a day's smart walk. There are four public-houses for refreshments on the road, and there are no gullies to cross. Seven miles from Geelong the Moorabool River is crossed by a bridge at Bates' ford, where Mr Primrose and Mr Varey keep their respective inns. Six miles further on, where the Leigh road diverges, is the inn kept by Mr O'Meara. The road then approaches the bank of the river, and soon after passes through a beautiful valley, now being surveyed for sale. About ten miles from O'Meara's, is the old camping ground, known in bushmen's legends as the Green tent, and four miles further on is the inn kept by Mr Ritchie, on the Moorabool Creek....the road now enters a forest country, and for about twelve miles passes over wooded rises, which terminate at a flat tract of country, about a mile in width, near Williamson's creek. This is in winter, the most trying part of the road - the softness of the ground rendering it with difficulty passable by wheel carriages...About seven miles from Williamson's creek, the traveller enters the town of Buninyong and seven miles to the westward are THE DIGGINGS.
There is perhaps a little license used in the above description. Fifty miles of walking in a day would require a very "smart" pace indeed and whilst there were four hotels on the road between Geelong and Buninyong, two of them were located only a short distance apart either side of the Moorabool River at Batesford only seven miles from Geelong. These establishments were the Derwent Hotel (today's Batesford Hotel) established in 1842 as the Marrabool Inn on the east bank of the Moorabool and on the western side of the river, the Travellers Rest Hotel was opened in 1849 by John Primrose and today is a private home.
The ex-Travellers Rest Inn, Batesford, 1971. This image is part of the
J.T. Collins Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
Only a few miles further along the road to Buninyong, the third hotel - O'Meara's Separation Inn which opened in 1843 - was located at the point where the Leigh Road branched off . Today this is the corner of Russell's Road and the Midland Highway, Gheringhap and there is no obvious indication of where the old track to the Leigh passed.
Looking south east from the corner of Russell's Road across the site where the
Separation Inn once stood
For some reason Mundy did not recall the Separation Inn in his account of the route, however an 1848 map of Geelong and surrounding districts marks the inn's location. The map also shows the "road to the Leigh" following a close approximation of the current line of the Midland Highway from Batesford past Gheringhap before branching to the left at Russell's Road. The road which heads to the Leigh (Shelford), is shown crossing both Bruce's Creek and Native Hut Creek at sites which would become Bannockburn (1855) and Teesdale (1852) in due course. The other branch continues on, still following much the same line as today's Midland Highway.
Likewise, the original 1856 survey map for the parish of Wabdallah shows the "main line of road from Geelong to Buninyong" following the same route towards Lethbridge - or the Muddy Water Holes as the area was also known - as today. There is no sign of the older track, suggesting I assume that the new road - surveyed by A.J. Skene - followed the same path as the original.
A sketch by German artist Eugene von Guerard, 13-14th January, 1853 titled
"Mouthy Water Houl", presumably sketched at Muddy Water Holes on his way
to the goldfields. Two days later von Guerard was in Buninyong. Image held
by the State Library of Victoria 
Past Lethbridge however, things appear to vary somewhat from the current line of the highway and will the topic of my next post.