Like many towns on the diggings which closed their doors after the gold was won, Maldon lay almost dormant for decades: in the 1960s and 70s, the preservation of Victoria’s visible history was recognised, and there is probably no Gold Rush town more deserving as an authentic showpiece. Thirty years ago it was declared Australia’s first “notable town” by the National Trust.
When you drive into Maldon’s main street, it seems little has changed for over a century. The elegantly curved main street is crowded with shops and hotels and tea gardens that reveal their century-plus heritage with pride. Broad footpaths shaded by corrugated iron verandahs, iron-lace trimmed hotels, deep stone gutters and original shopfronts are a time warp to the past. Over summer High Street is cool and verdant with its swathe of deciduous European trees which then strike brilliant colours in autumn.
Gold was first discovered here in June 1853 by a party of nineteen prospectors financed by John Mechosk who spent $3800 on rations and wages for the men. A rush to the Tarrangower Ranges ensued, one described by William Howitt as “man thronging on man,” and this enormous wealth generated lay Maldon’s foundation. Mechosk, meanwhile, retired on the rewards from a grateful Victorian government.
It has been said the town boasts no great architectural significance. However, the unique character and historical value of the High Street shops would convince otherwise. Of the fifty shops and 450 buildings in Maldon, 400 are between 100 and 130 years old, and most of these are still in use. Exploring the streets reveals some of the colony’s earliest construction using wattle and daub, timber slabs, mud brick, stone and local fired bricks.
Many of the shops today are geared towards antiques and eating, both popular pastimes on chilly autumn and winter days since the majority have open fires and pot belly heaters. The Lolly Shop, blacksmith’s forge, doll museum and Tarrangower Times office circa 1858 are all a short walk along High Street: town walk maps available from the visitor centre.
Most of the hundred gold mines in the area, including the North British Mine, closed in 1926 - but a lucky strike in 1930 found some $130,000 of gold from a shaft only 30m deep. Open, but no longer working, Carman’s Tunnel is a 570m long mine drilled through solid rock by the Great International Quartz Mining Co. between 1882 and 1884; now reopened for guided tours, it is a fascinating insight into century-old mining techniques.
Drive up to Mt Tarrangower lookout for elevated views across Maldon and surrounding countryside. There, on the north side of town and also worth a visit, is the old Beehive Mine’s brick chimney, a 30m tall landmark. On the far side of town too, is the Castlemaine-Maldon vintage railway complete with gleaming steam locomotive, which operates on Sundays and public holidays using restored vintage carriages for the 75min run on the 1884 branch line. The train leaves Maldon station where a host of interesting railway artifacts can be admired.
There are several good places to eat in town - country bakeries, pubs and cafes.
Maldon is 140km north-west of Melbourne via the Calder and Pyrenees Highways, about two hours drive. Maldon visitor centre ph. 03 5475 2569