The art trails of Creswick – The best gold rush era town to visit

“What a site greets you as your bullock dray inches into Creswick. The dust the noise the lunar landscape strewn with mullock heaps mine shafts and rough canvas tents. Filthy bearded men, caked in mud and sweat, digging, cradling or puddling clay. Stores, pubs, bakers, butchers huddle together, but for how long?  Gold mining is a fickle business”

Says one of the Tourism information boards in Creswick, probably a quote from a book, but I am not sure. True to the words, the party that began with the fickle business called Gold mining didn’t last long. With a population of 25,000 during the Gold rush period, when the party was over, most left and today around 3000 people call Creswick home. The town sleeps with its memories of the past and the leftovers are a few heritage buildings. Situated around 120km north west of Melbourne, Creswick is still a place to be reckon with –  its heritage buildings, arts history and walking and cycling trails. One of Australia’s most loved Prime Ministers, John Curtin was born in Creswick. Curtin’s life is not celebrated here; the way Bordertown celebrates Bob Hawk.  The town prides itself on the Lindsay family especially Norman Lindsay who immortalised the town in his novel Redheap, a work that was banned in Australia for being indecent and obscene for 30 years, until 1959. Redheap is the fictitious name for Creswick and refers to the red soiled mullock heaps which rose up around the town from Gold mining. Norman Lindsay born into a family of creatives, is remembered in the Lindsay art walking trail, that trails around the town, based around the characters and events of Lindsay’s famous, “The Magic Pudding Book”. The artists of Lindsay Family created a vast artistic heritage for Australia, between them producing countless oil and water colour paintings, etchings, woodcuts, pen and ink drawings, illustrations, cartoons and non-fiction books. Norman was the most controversial, his subject of art being nude.

Spring’s innocence 1937, Norman Lindsay

I was on my way back from the Booktown festival at Clunes and there wasn’t much time left to cover Creswick before it gets dark in an Autumn day. To save time the best thing I could do was to go to the information office which was located in the town centre and make a concise plan to go around the town. A few cars were parked in the carpark and it gave the impression that the owners are living inside the car- a sad reality of Australia nowadays with the increasing living expenses and stagnant wages. The helpful lady at the counter advised me to follow the Lindsay Arts trail and have a drive around the town looking at the heritage buildings and to top it, have a visit to the Creswick wool factory and the Alpaca farm.

The Forestry School

Creswick was not part of my planned journey, so from the ‘information Kiosk’ I had a quick look at the history of the place. Creswick, a Gold rush era town still maintains its old charm. Gold fever stuck Creswick in the 1850’s. The Madam Berry mine which extracted around 387,314 ounces of Gold and employed around 250 people at its peak was one the biggest mining companies in Australia at that time. Creswick is also the site of one the worst mining disasters in Australia. The flooding of New Australasian Gold mine claimed the life of 22 miners in 1882. Creswick prides itself as the town of forestry. Creswick is home to School of Forestry and is the oldest of its kind in Australia and has been a part of the University of Melbourne since 1980. The School of Forestry building in the below image began its life as a hospital in 1863 and remained so until 1912.  Unlike the rest of the Goldmining towns, Creswick was one of Victoria’s first wheat growing regions.

Westyan Church

With a bit of history to backup, I was ready to meet the Lindsays through the Arts trail which comprises of 24 sites and weaves through 7.6 km of the town and my first stop was a timber church building. It was the Westyan Church Complex, where Reverend Thomas Williams, father of Jane Lindsay was a minister from 1863 to 1866 about whom Lionel Lindsay, wrote, “My grandfather, who rarely smiled, seemed to be the senior partner of God, bent upon destruction of all joy”. The Church which once stood here was demolished in 1986. The surviving hall and parsonage are still used as a community centre.

At a walking distance from there is the location of Lindsays’ second family home – at the corner of Victoria and Cambridge streets. The seven of the Lindsay children were born there. It was demolished in 1968.  The British Hotel that Norman and Lional Lindsay frequented still stands a few yards from the information centre.

The British Hotel

The park lake, created in 1888 was the scene for the adolescent seduction for the Lindsay lads. In Norman Lindsay’s novel “ Redheap”, the bushes of Park lake is the scenes of Robert’s affair with the Parson’s daughter, which he based on his brother Lionel’s exploits.

The Park Lake

Among the heritage buildings here, the Town Hall is closely related to the Lindsays’ and features in Norman’s novels. The grandeur of the town hall built between 1876 and 1877, reflects a time when people believed the Gold rush would never end. The council used the building until 1968 and today it serves as the Creswick Museum.

Creswick Town Hall

The former School of Mines building was built in 1850 and housed an undertaker’s business and drapers shop. During the 1870’s it was home to the Commercial Bank. In 1891 it became the Creswick Schools of Mines and Technical Education. It even had painting and drawing classes, which were attended by Percy and Lionel Lindsay’.

Old Gold Bank

In the same street, just opposite is the Old Gold bank which was a branch of the Bank of New South Wales established in 1854. The present building was opened in 1860.

Creswick Band Rotunda

Creswick band rotunda is another heritage structure which was erected in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond Jubilee. The volunteer bands were common in Creswick and the first Creswick band was formed in 1862.

Apart from its heritage buildings, Lindsays’ artistic trail and its history, what attract tourists here is its walking and cycling trails. The 10 walking and cycling trails explores Creswick’s lakes, Parks and forests from a soft earthed gully of century old oaks through the scents of pines to the colours of springs wildflowers and the adventure of twisting bush tracks. This is one of the best Gold rush era towns for tourists as it has more than the usual colours in its rainbow compared to the rest of the Gold rush era towns.

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