GREATEST DRIVING TOURS AND HERITAGE TOWNS
Back in Inglewood's 1860s Gold Rush days, the Forget-Me-Not Hotel in Brooke Street had room for a hundred sleepers. It took several hours to get a meal - and this was a great improvement! Until then, a lodging house on the new goldfields consisted of a canvas tent with rough wooden beds ranged down each side leaving a narrow passage in the middle. “Guests” were allowed a mere 45cm wide sleeping space; a meal of mutton, damper and tea cost five shillings, the same as the cost of the bed. A tent 8m long brought a good return for the owner.
Hotels were erected within a couple of years as the field became payable, but it was rare for a digger to take a private room in an hotel’s salubrious accommodation. Inglewood’s commercial heart was soon a prosperous three kilometres long, a street swarming with people of all nationalities sharing the summer dust and winter mud with cattle, horses, dogs, carts, drays, boxes, kegs, and mining equipment. A few kilometres away the only reliable source of summer water was the Loddon River, and finding potable water here meant sharing the waterholes with children and animals - and fortunately, the abounding cod and bream.
Inglewood’s main street hotels remain much as they were in the town’s boom years, rebuilt from the ashes of the 1862 bushfires which destroyed many buildings in the heart of town. George Nixon established his first store - a tent - amongst the miners in 1859, before opening a town shop in 1860 which remained in the family for 104 years; similar was the Tivey Bros store which closed in 1971 after 111 years of trading. Descendants of original storekeepers and traders still live in Inglewood today.
The actual discovery of gold at Inglewood had delayed by drought: March,1858 was the end of a long hot summer for the three Thompson brothers and Joseph Honey - the prospectors had searched for gold near Rose Hill in Victoria’s north-west, but lack of fresh water and inhospitable territory forced a retreat. Their return in July the following year brought ample rewards and by November, Thompson’s Gully gold drew 16,000 diggers from as far afield as Castlemaine.
The men were rewarded 400 pounds each, and the settlement of Old Inglewood became established. Traders, store-keepers, sly grog sellers and tradesmen purveyed their wares wherever a piece of clear land could be found. Shallow alluvial diggings yielded a rich reward, albeit brief, as compensation for the hardships endured.
The old gold town’s streets are quieter these days, serving the surrounding grain and grazing region. Inglewood is probably better known today for its eucalyptus distillery. Clues to its former heydays can be found on ageing building facades above shady verandahs, and driving or walking around the streets reveals fine heritage buildings such as the court house, council chambers with elegant tower, and a surprisingly large public school. The railway station and tiny hotel opposite see little custom these days, but small timber miners cottages, and a handsome two-storey home belonging to early trader Tivey, hark back to a past era.
There are pubs for a real country counter meal, cafes and a few shops for a browse.
Inglewood is 195km north-west of Melbourne, two and a half hours drive via Calder Freeway/Hwy.
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