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Castlemaine: A Typical Mining Cultural Landscape

Remnant mining landscapes comprise the greater part of the present day Mount Alexander Shire, and are abundant with evidence of the human activity that occurred during the gold mining era of the 1850s and 1860s; the identity of today’s community is embedded in its mining history, long after the rushes have passed. Interpreting the Mount Alexander diggings is complex as it involves not a single technological unit but a dispersed and coded landscape – it is possible to analyse a landscape or an industrial device in order to reveal important cultural information.

Castlemaine is a cultural landscape created and shaped by particular forms of human intervention; surviving townscapes and old coppice regrowth forests provide historical material to support that uncovered on the remnant mining landscapes. Key former mining areas, including Red Hill, Fryers Town, Barkers Creek, Golden Point, Vaughan, and the dry diggings, contain evidence of extensive mining activity. At Red Hill the dramatic environmental effect of hydraulic sluice mining that followed the alluvial rushes of the 1850s and 1860s, can be observed. The landscape provides a wealth of evidence, which can be combined with new documents, oral history testimony, and a reconsideration of the existing archival records, to allow a fresh interpretation of the gold rush era.

The central Victorian goldfields can thus be considered as a broad historical precinct that engages not only with the remnant industrial mining landscape but also includes the cultural history of the region. Clearly there are intangible values associated with different areas of the goldfields that give key settlements their particular local character. By combining the study of the built heritage and the cultural history as a cultural landscape, albeit a layered one, we are able to establish a formative story of mid nineteenth-century Australian society.

A key way to preserve the historical region of the central Victorian goldfields, for the benefit of future generations, would be to have it placed on the World Heritage List. This would confirm the impact of the gold rushes on the formation of Australia society, particularly in terms of egalitarian attitudes, the generation of wealth and the mass movement of people.

Keir Reeves

Bannear, David and Robyn Annear, Assessment of Historic Mining Sites in the Castlemaine-Chewton Area a Pilot Study, Historic Mining Sites Assessment Committee, Castlemaine, 1990. Details