In the mid 19th Century, Castlemaine had the biggest low depth gold mine in the world. Gold is integral to the opening up of central Victoria and remains a key tourist attraction. Buildings in the major centres of Ballarat and Bendigo are more spectacular than those in Castlemaine, but it still has many signs of the wealth of the times.
The Theatre Royal opened in 1856. Although the current facade was built in the early 20th Century, the core of the building is as built in the 1860s (the first building burnt down). Setting the tone which led to the early establishment of the Mechanics Institute, the first performance was the world famous (sic) “spider dance” performed by the unlikely name of “Lola Montez”. It claims to be the longest continually running theatre on the Australian mainland.
As occurred in many places, the Mechanic’s (yes even mechanics knew about the apostrophe) Institute became the library.
There are many claims to fame. The Castlemaine footy club, established in 1859, is probably the second (or third) oldest football club in Australia. If you must know, Melbourne FC is oldest, closely followed by Geelong. (this is probably because Batman always reckoned Geelong was Melbourne, because that is where he did his thing ie not Melbourne like we learnt at school). This is one of the many wrong things we learnt at school: like Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson were the first Europeans to cross the Blue Mountains – they didn’t, they just identified a way; and Captain Cook discovered the Australian eastcoast – he was only a Lieutenant – which means they have to re-name the street I grew up in!) I sound like Billy Connolly telling a joke…now where was I?
Oh yes, there are other claims to fame, such as Ronald Dale Barassi being born around here somewhere. I will mention Burke later, but the real meat in the sandwich (sic), is that one Frank McEnroe invented the, no not the sledge, but the chiko roll. How much more famous could you get? (watch Learning Australians on youtube to discover how significant that is – and how hilarious that series is).
There are many grand buildings:
Robert O’Hara Burke is both a famous local, and a right, well, Burke. Better men than me, gunga din, have written of the travails of Burke, Wills, Gray and King. The monument recognises the astonishing bravery of the men, unfortunately not matched by cleverness. For example, whom might we ask about surviving in the middle of nowhere? Is there anyone expert in that?
Even the monument continued the lack of cleverness, with the “crowdfunding” only being provided if the other local, Gray, got a mention.
Speaking of Mechanic’s Institutes, this is in Fryerstown, which used to be central to the Forest Creek diggings, now in the middle of the Castlemaine Diggings National Park:
19 April 2018