Gold Rush steeped in history

Ararat to Hepburn Springs

With a late night last night, and no real hurry to leave, it was a great sleep in morning.  With a long and recharging shower and a leisurely breakfast with more chit chat around the breakfast bar.  Touring certainly makes you appreciate these things in life.

While having breakfast, I was admiring at the tastefully modern designs and decorated house.  This is when I spotted a motorbike themed calendar. .  Anything motorbike your eyes naturally finds it and lingers on it.  The black background of the calendar certainly made the photos in it pop.  While waiting for breakfast I walked up to it and wanted to know who or where this calendar was made.  The photos for each month were just stunning.  To my surprise, my host informed me that this was one of her creations – where she had put together a collection of some of her favourite bike photos from a motorbike forum and made a few copies of the calendar for gifts.  No! Really?  Get of out town!!  It was just so professionally made!

I was mesmerized.  So a deal was made;  I take the calendar and I would leave behind my motorcycling atlas.  Only fair right? This would be a wonderful kick start to my new found friend’s motorbike tour adventures, and this calendar would be a source of inspiration for me.  Not just that, but without my knowing this was going to also build on my future trip adventures…

Eventually I did have to make a move and push on.  So packing and with much goodbye fanfare and promises to keep in touch, I was off east. . North-east to be precise, straight towards Victoria’s gold rush country.  For in the early to mid 1800’s, this area boomed with activity due to the glints of gold found.   I had heard a lot about Maryborough as an old but rich and colourful town.  With one of the nicest train stations and town’s architecture.

Time to ride off

So nearly a couple of hours later, I rode into a very quiet town, as lunch time on a Sunday.  Almost, almost deserted.  It was so nice riding into town as the town had lots of European style trees lining the streets, giving the area such contracting Autumn colours, especially a good contract to the deep blue skies of the day.  Since everything seemed to be closed and I needed to relieve myself, I went to the town’s information centre.  Usually these places have nicer toilet facilities as since I was now map-less I wanted to get a few of the area, back.

Gorgeous Autum colours

The first thing that greets you as you walk into the info centre is a great big whopping 69kg gold nugget (of course it’s a replica), the world’s largest alluvial gold nugget ever unearthed. . And just in case you didn’t believe this nugget was real, or were still wondering whether the Victorian gold rush ever did occur or not; a guy found a $90,000 nugget in 2006 and government surveryors estimate there is still over $500,000,000 worth of gold still underground in Victoria!   Just imagine how many motorbikes or how much touring one could do with so much mo-ney!!! 😉

69kg whopper of a nugget!

While looking through the thrifty stuff at the info centre, a retired gentleman came up to me asking me whether I needed some help.  I asked about what’s in the surrounds and he asked me what my interests were.  History and natural history are a big thing, so he proceeded to pick out 3 maps of the area that had tings for me to check out.   He gave me a speel about it all and told me where to find some of these points of interest.  You could tell this guy was well versed in the same touristy questions as well as describing places for Geocaching.  So armed with maps, a homemade jam they were selling in the centre, as well as an apple I picked up at a roadside honesty box, I sat outside studying the maps and formulating my next moves.

Deserted tracks

There were a few local museums and buildings around, but being a Sunday a lot were closed.  Also, the natural history caught my eye more especially when I saw that there was some Aboriginal wells fairly close by.  This was located within a reserve without any real mapped roads or trails.  When I got the turn off I realised this place was a maze of tracks through into the state forest and it payed to be vigilant for little signs placed in random places pointing to certain things.  This state forest was a sea of tough and slow growing Ironbarks, with granite soils and pebbly tracks.  This place looked rather inhospitable.  Looking deep into the state forest, I had this feeling of being watched.  That even thought this place looks deserted – it wasn’t.

Approx 3,000-4,000 years old Aboriginal rock wells

A few kilometres into the state forest, finally came across a bump in the landscape and a fenced off area came to view.  What seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, a perfectly fenced off area.

Bull Gully Aboriginal Rock Wells

So this was the Bull Gully Aboriginal Rock Wells!.  Throughout my travels in Queensland I had yet to come across this type of Aboriginal infrastructure and was keen to see it with my own eyes.   As a Goldfields website described them as;

A set of four Aboriginal rock water wells can be found just off Wells track at Bull Gully, just outside Maryborough. These wells are generally thought to be the best example of Aboriginal rock wells in Victoria.  Four holes have been excavated into the base of a large rock in a position which makes them a natural catchment for rainwater falling on the rock above. Three of the holes are joined together within the rock, creating one large cavity. The total holding capacity of these wells is 168 litres.  Due to the lack of permanent creeks, Aboriginal people depended on the rock wells for drinking water when they passed through the region. The openings to the wells were covered with flat rocks to prevent evaporation and pollution of the water within.

I parked the Lawnmower and the more I looked at the fence and where it was the more it made sense where it was situated.  In this highly weathered environment, there was like a fault line with a much harder rock vein protruding from the surrounding area.  If you followed this from where you were able to see it, the wells was actually in this line of harder rock.

The capping stones are no longer here

Although the holes don’t look like much, the fact that Aborigines knew where these were, how to dig them, connect them and orient them just blows my mind.  Then also they carefully made circular rocks to block the holes to slow the rate of evaporation and to keep pollution out.  Although normally I spend quite a while in a place like this admiring every detail, there was something in the pit of my stomach that made me uneasy to be here anymore.  That feeling of being watched was stronger than before.  I looked around and nothing.  Not a sound, car, bike or person.  But it felt almost like these Ancestors were overseeing the protection of this place.  Thinking this may have been a secret men’s business place, I saddled up and pretty quickly made my way out the park.

As soon as I crossed the park boundary and onto the main roads back to town, that feeling in my gut of being watched and followed, simply dissipated.  I did one more look back to the eerie track, I mentally thanked the local Aboriginal’s mob ancestors for the experience and left.

Next stop was going to be another Aboriginal site, but this time a secret women’s business site – a birthing or shelter tree.  Being female, I already had a feeling this site was going to be feeling more welcoming and less eerie than the wells. But not sure what to expect.

Not bad for 700 years old

The gentleman at the info centre told me that I would not miss this tree, as it was rather large.  Rather large can be quite arbitrary, but when I saw it, there was no mistaking it.  It is easily about 15m tall with about a 6+ metre girth.  It is hollowed out and creates a nice cave like structure.  Perfect shelter for the winds that were currently wiping up. Most trees in the area are a lot smaller and in some places are just not there or only regrowth size trees of a few metres only.  The info dude stated that this area took a massive hit and wood was almost wiped out due to the heavy need for it to use as timber posts for holding up gold tunnels and for burning at smelters.  It’s a pity since this area hasn’t recovered as the main species of Ironbark and River Red Gums (Eucalyptus Camaldulensis) are so slow growing in tough country.  They reckon this tree would have been a sapling at the time the world went through the Black plague and it’s believed to be over 700 years old!

Dja Dja Wurrung birthing or shelter tree

I approached the tree in complete awe.  The wind was coming in, in gusts making its crown rustle and sway.  Like the leaves were talking and the wind carrying the whispers across the paddock to other trees.  I am not sure what other feelings were going through me, but I went to the tree and gave it a hug and then I went and sat in the cavity base looking up at this majestic tree.  This place certainly seemed more welcoming to me, even nurturing, than the wells.  I can see why the Dja Dja Wurrung women would come to this tree for birthing and recuperation.

Sitting inside the tree

As I sat there, out of the wind, looking up and just watching the leaves rustled wondered how many people it had serviced over time.  For it wasn’t only the Dja Dja Wurrung mob, but white people too.  In the time of war, apparently there was also a military camp that set up a kitchen camp at its base.  And with good reason as I was seeing how good this tree was sheltering me from the wind – and so cooking behind this would be phenomenal too.

But anyways, I was getting a bit too carried away and needed to press on towards Melbourne.  From there the riding was fairly easy but a bit windy, riding south-east towards my next stop – Hepburn Springs.  Growing up in Spain I remember that we had mineral water coming out the ground in some people’s plazas where one would be able to get a drink. Here in Australia this really isn’t a thing.   Except I heard, here in Hepburn Springs you could.  So I must.

No flowing spring 😦

I arrived quite parched and once parked and secured the Lawnmower I made sure I took my 2 empty water bottles down from the car park to the walks for the differing springs.  In this area, there are several springs and each one pumps out differing types of minerals and sulfur concentrations. Apparently all are drinkable and with differing health benefits.  Considering the amount of beauty places and spas dotted near the main town’s street, this place is all about health and relaxation.

Hold your nose while drinking

When I went to the walks, it was sad to see that here too, the drought was in full swing as none of the springs were running above ground.  *sad face*  However one was still able to hand-pump out water at the wells to quench your thirst.  I tried 4 of them and sure enough, the slight smell (not bad but strong), colouration, bubbliness and taste, were sure different between each pump even though there were only a few metres from each other on the paved walk. 

I’m not a huge fan of bubbly water, so these were good to try, but not something that I would rave about.  But I’m glad I got to see this place.  By this time in the arvo, I was getting tired and the light was going to go in an hour or so, so I rode about 30 mins south to Dalyesford to find the cheapest Airbnb I could find.

“~~~ Update ~~~

With great sadness I found this bit of news on the Birthing tree…

The ABC news has stated that it has been damaged by fire – but it looks to be deliberate, rather than an act of nature. It just breaks my heart that people can be so callous and damaging. “700-year-old birthing tree damaged by fire, devastating Dja Dja Wurrung community” I feel for the Dja Dja Wurrung. 😥

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