30 July, 2011

A bridge too far?

Naturally enough, bridges are important crossing points along any river and as I have discussed previously, the Barwon is no exception.
Once the Barwon River flows through Geelong however, there is no point of crossing until one reaches the river mouth at the towns of Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove - a distance by road of some 19-20km. In recent times, this distance was highlighted when the Barwon Heads Bridge was nominated as an available river crossing point for those in Geelong wanting to cross the river during the UCI World Cycling Championships which saw the closure of the Moorabool Street, Prince's and Queen's Park Bridges - a round trip approaching 40km just to get to the opposite side of town? Bearable for the space of a week, but not very practical on a regular basis.
Original Barwon Heads Bridge December 2009 during
How difficult must life have been then, for those living in Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads before the construction of the Barwon Heads Bridge?
Prior to its erection in 1927, a trip from Barwon Heads to Ocean Grove on the Bellarine Peninsula required either a boat or a round trip via Geelong on the road. In the early days a rowboat service was available and later, a motor launch. Today a trip between the two towns takes a few seconds in a car or a couple of minutes on foot. A quick swim across the river in good weather always seems like an inviting option too, however the accidental drowning of a swimmer who tried just that in 2008, showed fairly clearly that it is not a wise option. As the 26 year old swimmer attempted to cross from one bank to the other, he was caught in a strong incoming tide which created dangerous undercurrents and was unable to swim out. By the time he was rescued, he was unable to be resuscitated.
There is no question that the erection of the bridge made life safer and far more convenient for almost everyone (with one notable exception I will mention later). It can also be said however, that the bridge at Barwon Heads was a source of controversy even before its construction began.
Realising that crossing the river by boat was not adequate to the needs of growing traffic movement, various ideas were put forward to solve the problem. Whilst a bridge was the preferred option for most, it was also expensive so other, cheaper options were touted. These included a punt and in 1910 a pontoon ferry service was recommended, but was soon shelved for lack of support.
Whereas a pontoon ferry capable of carrying motor vehicles would have cost a total of about £600 in 1910, the bridge would have cost many thousands more. When a ferry was again suggested in 1925, the estimated cost had increased ten-fold. The idea was once again shelved, this time in favour of a bridge, as traffic flow - partly due to an increase in holiday makers from Melbourne - made the ferry untenable.
As a result, a call was put out for tenders, with the winning submission by Stan Patience of Gippsland to cost £10,400. The expense was to be divided between the Country Roads Board and the shires of South Barwon and Bellarine with public subscriptions providing the final £1,000. The bridge would be a timber truss structure, a little more than 300m in length.
The finished product was opened on Christmas Eve, 1927, but without the presence of construction boss Stan Patience who had died some months earlier in a workplace accident at Marshalltown Timber Yard.
Whilst most were happy to see the completion of the new bridge, for one group it spelt the end of their livelihood. Prior to 1927, Ocean Grove was home to a thriving fleet of couta boats which fished off the coast outside the heads. Unfortunately for the fleet, the erection of the bridge meant that they could no longer moor their vessels in the harbour upstream at Ocean Grove. This resulted in the fleet moving instead to new facilities below the bridge at Barwon Heads.
The bridge which still stands today, remains largely unchanged. In 1933, the timber surface was sealed with bitumen. Major repairs had to be carried out following the record flooding of 1952 then in 1961 the bridge was remodeled and in 1965 was widened, at which time the pedestrian walkway was moved to the upriver side of the bridge. Cantilever fishing platforms which were part of the original design were added back to the structure during renovations in 1998.
Newly completed road bridge at Barwon Heads
It was in this year that the ABC TV series Seachange first aired. Filmed in and around Barwon Heads, the bridge featured regularly in the show which ran until 2001. In an echo of real life, the bridge was often the focus of debate and controversy amongst the population. This was also true in real life and never more so than in 2006 when it was determined that the original bridge had reached the end of its lifespan and needed replacing.
Whilst everyone realised that something needed to be done, there was no agreement as to how the issue should be resolved. VicRoads determined upon replacing the original bridge with two new structures - a road bridge and a separate pedestrian bridge located downstream. This option was widely condemned by the local community, including such celebrity figures as cycling star Cadel Evans, forcing VicRoads to rethink their plans for a two-bridge solution.
Ultimately however, this protracted three year battle was unsuccessful and a contract was awarded to McConnell Dowell Pty Ltd in 2009 to build the two bridges. Construction began on the road bridge which replicated the style of the original and incorporated various timber components from the earlier bridge. The new bridge has 34 spans supported by 165 treated timber piles. Strength is provided by steel beams running through the structure which is over topped by a reinforced concrete deck. At 308m the new, two-laned bride is slightly longer than the original. The bridge was opened to traffic in November, 2010.
Almost completed pedestrian bridge downstream of the
reconstructed road bridge at Barwon Heads
The controversial pedestrian bridge which was constructed downstream of the road bridge opened to the public in April, 2011. At 4.5m wide, this bridge is half the width of the other and is made from 18m concrete spans, with single piers supporting each span. The piers are positioned to align with every third timber pier in the road bridge. The pedestrian bridge also incorporates fishing/viewing platforms along its length on the downstream side and a boardwalk at the Barwon Heads end with beach access, facilities for bike parking, seating and a drinking fountain which have been available to the public since June.
An official opening event is scheduled for later in the year, and true to form, there is already controversy over the naming of the bridge. A competition to choose a name has been announced with opponents claiming it should remain simply the Barwon Heads Bridge. In the past week, this issue has taken a new turn with some suggesting that following his stunning win in the Tour de France, the bridge be named after Barwon Heads resident Cadel Evans, however authorities have been quick to quash this idea and the issue if a name is yet to be resolved.

23 July, 2011

Wallaby tails and riding trails

Black or Swamp Wallaby on the Barwon
River at Newtown
I have run, walked and ridden my bike around the Barwon for several years now. Some time ago, I was informed that a family of wallabies live by the river - not as you might expect, in the more rural areas, but right, slap, bang in the middle of Geelong, on the Highton side of the river. For those who know this part of the river, there is a section between Queen's Park and the Princes Bridge were the river curves away from the walking track, leaving an area of marshy, low-lying land, covered in reeds, grass and young gum saplings. Those who run will know that this part of the river is situated between the 17km and 18km marks for the half marathon.
It is here that the wallabies live - or so I was told. Until today however, I had never seen them. I tend to be on the river during the hours of full daylight and knowing that kangaroos and wallabies tend to appear at either end of the day, around dawn and dusk, I assumed that this explained why I had to this point in time failed to spot one.
Today, during the course of a somewhat chilly ride around the river, I made my way along the track, past the low-lying reed beds and glanced across as I always do, on the off chance that the wallabies would be there and then, today - there they were! Initially, I only saw one, standing in plain view, watching as we scrambled to a halt and grabbed our cameras. A minute later, we saw another, hiding amongst the long grass off to the side. The pair were quite obliging, waiting while we snapped our shots and then headed back to the bikes.
So, who are these "urban skippies" - to borrow a phrase - that live by the Barwon? I believe that they are Swamp Wallabies (known locally as Black Wallabies but also called Black-tailed or Fern Wallabies, Black Pademelons, Stinkers or Black Stinkers). There are around 30 species of wallabies which are described as any macropod smaller than a kangaroo or wallaroo. Black Wallabies are found from the very north of Queensland, down the coast through to the south west of Victoria, including of course, Geelong.
Black Wallabies are semi-nocturnal and quite shy which confirms my suspicions as to my failure to spot one before now. They can often live quite unnoticed in the leafier areas of suburbia for many years.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo at Inverleigh
Urban Geelong of course, is not the only part of the river where these curious marsupials are found. A little research will show that there are wallabies in various places, both rural and urban. An urban lifestyle - not surprisingly - can sometimes lead to difficulties for the wallabies. A report in the Geelong Advertiser from January, 2009 described the rescue of a wallaby at Ocean Grove which had become stressed whilst trying to swim across the river and was in danger of drowning. Not content with one attempted river-crossing, the same animal had to be rescued a second time when it again tried to cross the river the following day. This time, it was taken into the custody of Jirralingha Sanctuary wildlife keepers who treated the animal for stress before releasing it.
Wallaby sightings on the streets of Geelong are not as uncommon as one might think either. An Advertiser report from January, 2011 described a Black Wallaby captured in Cox Road, Norlane having found its way into a nearby backyard and panicked. Wildlife experts claim to respond to seven or more incidents per week in and around Geelong involving Wallabies.
Naturally enough, wallabies are also found along the forested upper reaches of the Barwon in the Otways, and at Lake Elizabeth. I am also aware of a population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the vicinity of Inverleigh, not far from the confluence of the Leigh and Barwon Rivers and I believe that wallabies are also present, as they are in the vicinity of many of the small towns right along the river.

17 July, 2011

Up hill and down dale

Having struggled with my running times - to say nothing of my motivation - for the last 12 months or more, I have been looking for a change of direction to keep me motivated. Running point to point with the promise of a lift at the end of the route has a certain appeal, however that requires the said lift to be available. Whilst this is sometimes an option, it is not always practical so other alternatives are necessary.One option which I have been toying with for some time, is a slight change of route which takes me away from the river, but introduces some fairly serious hill climbing. I have never been that fond of running uphill - a straight line on the flat is hard enough as it is! - but I have heard others proclaim that they actually prefer running uphill. I have also read and heard anecdotal claims that hill work will help my running times on the flat.
Footings of Highton House, later Montpellier Hotel
overlooking Geelong
One of the advantages of running around the river of course, is that water flows to the lowest available point, meaning that there are usually a significant number of much higher points which can also be run to. With this in mind, I have once or twice staggered my way to the top of the hill on which the cement works sit, overlooking Fyansford. Yes, it is a killer, but it is also a relatively short distance - although it never seems that way at the time. So, instead, I thought I'd head to Queen's Park and up the Scenic Road hill. Not so steep, but quite a bit longer. This task I accomplished fairly comfortably, but at no great speed, on Friday. From the top of the climb I headed down to Montpellier Drive and round to the park of the same name, where the promised ride was waiting.
This was also an opportunity to snap a shot or two of the river from a different angle and to take a shot of a subject from one of my earlier blog posts, or at least the remaining footings thereof - Highton House, built by the settler John Highett after whom Highton is named, and later converted to the Montpellier Hotel, Picnic and Pleasure Ground by Edwin Hooper. Appropriately enough as I write, the peloton of the Tour de France is winding its way through the Montpellier district of France, and the vineyards for which this park was named.
The views of Geelong and surrounds from this high point are quite impressive, taking in the Barwon, Corio Bay, the You Yangs in the far distance and glimpses of the profiles of many familiar buildings around town. It is not hard to see why John Highett chose this location to build his home.
View of Geelong, the Barwon and Corio Bay from
Montpellier Park, Highton
Buoyed by my relative success on Friday, I decided to have a slightly more serious go at the hills today. So, sporting a new pair of Asics Kayano 17s which I've had my eye on for a while, I hit the road. This time, instead of arranging for collection at the end, I headed to the river and up to Princes Bridge then detoured off the river and up Mt. Pleasant Road to Scenic Road before heading down again to Queen's Park and back along the river and home. Sounds easy enough put like that and all up, only about 16km but certainly somewhat harder on the legs and lungs than staying on the river.
As I suspected, it was also significantly harder than Friday's run. In addition to being about 5.5km longer, the run up Mt Pleasant Road was anything but! It is definitely the steeper option of the two - probably the reason why the powers that be decided that the time trialists riding in the UCI Cycling World Championship last October would ride this particular route.
Well, once again, I can't say my time was anything to boast about, but I did survive and was not so put off that I wouldn't consider repeating the effort at some time in the near future. Perhaps also I'll see a difference in my times once I'm back on the flat. I live in hope...

16 July, 2011

Kookaburras, Cameras and Caches

Laughing Kookaburra at Queen's Park
On a few rare occasions as I have walked along the river, I have heard a kookaburra laughing from the trees; once or twice in the Newtown area of Geelong and once out of town. Prior to the last few days however, I had never never actually managed to see one on the river, but as I climbed out of the car at Queen's Park on the trail of yet another geocache, I heard a familiar sound. Fortunately I had my camera to hand (playing the ammateur photographer makes a convenient cover when hanging around the one spot for extended periods of time - often a requirement when scrounging around in the undergrowth looking for some obscure plastic container, designed not to be found).
A quick scout around and I soon located the source of the call, sitting - yes, you guessed it - in a gum tree. The  cache unfortunately was nowhere near as easily located.
The kookaburra (more correctly, the Laughing Kookaburra) is a larger member of the kingfisher family. It is quite distinctive in both voice and appearance and therefore not easily confused with other birds, except with the Blue-winged Kookaburra which is found in the north of the country.
The word kookaburra is believed to have come from the Aboriginal word guuguuburra used by the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales. It is considered onomatopoeic, meaning the word mimics the sound of the bird's call which is not actually a "laugh" but usually a territorial warning to other birds to stay away. Family groups will often "sing" together in a chorus.
Laughing Kookaburra on the Barwon River
This particular specimen appeared to be alone and was happy enough to just sit and watch me while I snapped my shots and scrambled around under the bridge, trying no doubt unsuccessfully, not to look suspicious. It on the other hand, was doing a much better job of blending in with its surroundings, perched on a dead branch looking, I imagine, for its next meal - an insect or worm or perhaps something larger like a frog or even a small bird. Hopefully the small snakes, which are also a preferred food source, are in fairly short supply at this time of year!
Kookaburras I discover, can be rather brutal in dispensing with their larger prey, beating the happless animals to death against a conveniently located firm object such as the ground or a tree branch.
I don't know how long it stayed in the tree, but there was no sign of my new feathered friend the following day at which point I did eventually find what I was looking for.

13 July, 2011

Vive le Tour!

Cyclists on the Barwon at Geelong
With half the country - me included - currently obsessed with the sport of cycling, I thought it might be of interest to look at the history of cycling along the Barwon and around Geelong. Over recent years, this has usually taken the form of leisurely rides and a few more energetic forays for the purpose of exercise, especially as new trails and paths have been built.
Historically, bikes have always been popular in Geelong and our association with the bike dates back to 1869 when a local coach-painter began producing the new "velocipede" (what we would call a penny farthing) which he had heard was the new thing in France. By 1881, there was enough interest the new sport that the call went out for those interested to form a penny farthing club whose first ride departed from the post office on 3rd October.
As the sport developed, Geelong was able to boast its champions, such as Sir Hubert Opperman in the 1920s and 30s and Russell Mockridge in the 1940s and 50s, before his untimely death in 1958 when he collided with a bus on his way to a race. Now of course, Geelong (well, Barwon Heads) can boast one of the red hot favourites to win the 2011 Tour de France - Cadel Evans.
In an earlier era however, when owning a car was the exception rather than the rule for many, bicycles were an important mode of transport, however their recreational value was also recognised through the establishment of social riding clubs, such as the Geelong Pedal Club which was established in August, 1954 - the second in the country and established a week after the Ballarat club. It was estimated that there were some 35, 000 bikes in Geelong at this time.
A close association between cycling and the river has only eventuated in more recent years as facilities have improved. There can be no doubt however, of the necessity for such infrastructure as a quick glance at the newspapers from the first half of the 20th century are littered with articles describing the circumstances under which cyclists and motor vehicles came into contact - often with fatal consequences - as it was expected that cyclists use the roads like all other traffic. In particular, the Barwon Heads Road seems to have been a treacherous stretch for those on bikes.
Likewise, not all associations with the Barwon and cycling have been positive. In one particularly gruesome incident in May, 1929, the body of a missing Japanese laundryman was found in the river at South Geelong. Newspaper reports at the time stated that he was found with a bicycle "entangled around his neck". No further information was provided to clarify this odd set of circumstances.
In another sad incident in January of 1915, the body of a teenage boy who had drowned whilst swimming with friends near the Excelsior Woollen Mill (now Godfrey Hirst) was recovered, along with a variety of debris, including a discarded bicycle.
In recent years however, as leisure activities have become more important and facilities have improved, the river has become one of the best places in Geelong for recreational riding. Recognising this, various official bodies are working towards providing a network of interconnected bike tracks and trails throughout Geelong and surrounds. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are moves afoot to connect the river trail to the Geelong Waterfront via a dedicated bike lane up Swanston Street which, I am pleased to note, is nearing completion.
Section of UCI cycling course along the Barwon
Biking along the Barwon is not only an activity for all types of people, but increasingly includes a rather wide range of cycles. Of course there are the traditional mountain and hybrid bikes to say nothing of kids on trikes and scooters, but the small-wheeled, fold-up bikes are also becoming increasingly popular with riders of a certain age whilst the traditional tandem bicycle can also be seen on the odd occasion. Recently however, a new breed of tandem cycling has become popular with family riders - namely the various options which enable adult riders to pull smaller children on their own bike or wheeled attachment.
Another, rather different take on cycling with a Geelong twist, is the recent invention of a front wheel drive, recumbent bike by John Tolhurst and his brother Kim who grew up at Ocean Grove. Known as the Cruzebike, it was featured in an edition of The Geelong Times early last year which also gives an interesting insight into kids and their bikes in the 1950s and 60s. Whilst I have yet to see a Cruzebike in action around the river, newspaper articles inform me that I just have not been in the right place at the right time, although I suspect I may have seen one of these curious machines - or perhaps it was a more traditional recumbent bike - being ridden along the Barwon Heads Road.
The Peloton rounding the corner onto
Barrabool Road during the Men's Elite
road race
Whilst much of the cycling along the Barwon takes place in Geelong and its surrounds, one small town has reinvented itself as the home of mountain bike riding. The town of Forrest near the source of the Barwon in the Otways was built upon the logging industry of the 19th and 20th centuries which saw much of the old growth forest in the region clear felled. As logging in the region was discontinued, these little towns had to find other ways to survive and so Forrest turned to cycling.
In recent times, the off-road trails and tracks around this region of trees and hills have been opened up to mountain bike riding. There are routes to suit all levels of ability and Forrest is more than happy to play host to these cycling tourists.
In addition to the more serious mountain bike tracks, the route of the old railway line which was built to service the logging industry is now in the process of being converted to a riding path, known as the "Tiger Rail Trail". Currently, it extends from Forrest to the town of Barwon Downs, but the eventual plan is to have the route extended as far as Birregurra, taking in the full length of the orginal branch line - a distance of some 30km.
Cycling has been important to Geelong and the Barwon for over 140 years, since that first boneshaker was built by a local enthusiast, however the region's association with cycling reached a pinnacle last year when the World Cycling Championships were held in Geelong. In addition to introducing Geelong to the world, it also provided a perfect opportunity to showcase the Barwon as the world's best riders pedaled along Barrabool Road and came flying down Scenic Road and across the specially installed Bailey Bridge at Queen's Park.
The general community benefited from this increased interest in cycling as sections of the river trail were resurfaced, new signage was erected and the aforementioned bike lane up Swanston Street was started. Another big plus for those wanting to exercise a little more seriously, was the construction of the criterium track beside the river on Belmont Common. No doubt the local bike retailers also reaped the rewards of a renewed interest in cycling throughout the region.
Whilst the weather of late has not exactly been conducive to riding, walking or making any other type of progress around the river, it is probably time to drag out the bike and do another lap or two of the trail.

06 July, 2011

Horses for courses

On a recent search to uncover one of those pesky little geocaches (located as it happened somewhere in the vicinity of a horse trough), it occurred to me that since Europeans arrived, the Barwon River has had a continuous association with horses.
Rider beside the Barwon in Newtown
Today, horse-riding along or over the Barwon is generally a leisure activity, whether riding along the banks or going for a beach-front ride at the river mouth in Barwon Heads.
In the early days of settlement however, when horses were the only real mode of transport, and bridges were scarce, crossing the river could be a difficult and expensive process. Private individuals operated punts which crossed the river at a number of points, charging a shilling for a man and horse to cross whilst for a horse and dray or cart, the charge was as much as 1 shilling and sixpence. A horse and pair cost an extra shilling.
Central to entertainment in any 19th century Australian town was horse racing and of course, Geelong was no exception. In the earliest days, race meetings were held at various places. The first was at Corio and another very early meet in 1843 was held at the Fyansford Inn (aka The Swan Inn) on the high ground above Fyansford, overlooking the Moorabool and Barwon Rivers.
From this time on, races were held in a variety of places right across the region including a 727 acre site on the Barwon at Marshall Town. Not surprisingly however, this course was subject to flooding and as a result winter events were regularly cancelled. In 1907, the current course in Breakwater became the permanent home for the Geelong Racing Club.
In addition to the race course, there have been and are currently a number of horse studs and training facilities located along the banks of the river. One such is Rosemont Stud at Ceres outside Geelong. Currently owned by media identity Anthony Mithen, Rosemont extends for 2.5km along the banks of the Barwon and runs back up into the Barrabool Hills behind, providing excellent facilities for breeding and training thoroughbreds.
Over the years, Rosemont was also home to the Barwon Valley Pony Club whose tenancy lasted from the early 1960s until 1989 when they moved to Moriac. Throughout this period, the pony club also had associations with another historic property located on the banks of the Barwon - Frogmore at Fyansford.
More renowned for its famous 19th century nursery than its equestrian connections, Frogmore has in recent years, been host not only to pony club competitions but also to polo contests which continue to the present day.
Of course, another renowned stud located on the banks of the Barwon was St. Albans. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was located in the Geelong suburb which now bears its name and in its day played host to many Melbourne Cup runners including briefly, the legendary PharLap.
St Albans homestead was built in 1873 for the trainer and breeder James Wilson whose horses also had success in the VRC Oaks and Victoria Derby. The area whilst now a suburban development, traces of the stud still remain, including the homestead itself and traces of the race track and trees which were grown as a wind break on the property.
Water trough donated by Annis and George Bills
Naturally, with so many horses, it was necessary to keep them watered and fed. One couple who were particularly concerned for the well being of horses and other animals, were George and Annis Bills who were responsible for many bequests and philanthropic acts during the course of their lives which benefited both man and beast. Both born in England, they met and married in Brisbane in the 1880s then spent time in Echuca and Sydney before retiring to Hawthorn in Melbourne. Annis died in 1910 whilst on a trip to England and then upon the death of George in 1927 a trust fund was set up whose purpose was to:
"..construct and erect and pay for horse troughs wherever they may be of the opinion that such horse troughs are desirable for the relief of horses and other dumb animals either in Australasia, in the British Islands or in any other part of the world subject to the consent of the proper authorities being obtained."
Under this scheme, some 700 odd troughs were installed around the country during the 1930s and up to 50 in other countries. Amazingly enough, quite a number of these lovely old troughs have survived and are still in their original locations. The trough I was hunting today, sits on Fitzroy Street, Geelong in the short section between Sydney Parade and Ryrie Street. It is one of two in Geelong, the other being located at the Geelong Showground in Breakwater.
Each trough was supplied with a backing plate which carried the inscription "Donated by Annis and George Bills Australia". Unfortunately the trough in Fitzroy Street is currently missing its backing plate and does not appear to be in great condition as the concrete is beginning to show signs of erosion.
To continue the connection between horses, the Bills and the Barwon, two other towns located on the river are fortunate enough to have Bills Troughs. One is at Birregurra, in Beal Street. The other is in Winchelsea, located - appropriately enough - outside the Barwon Hotel. With any luck I will remember to snap a photo or two next time I'm passing through.

02 July, 2011

From Rags to Riches or Just Milling Around?

Nor was wheat-milling the only industry to spring up along the banks of the Barwon. In 1876 as I mentioned in my previous post, a paper mill was in the process of construction on the north bank of the river at Buckley Falls.
Barwon Paper Mill at Buckley Falls during flooding
16th January, 2011
On the opposite side of the river from the old wheat mill, this new enterprise - the Barwon Paper Mill - drew its power from a channel running along the northern bank from Baum's Weir to the mill buildings below the Bunyip Pool at Buckley Falls. Unlike the wheat mill on the south bank, the paper mill and the complex of buildings which were associated with it, are still remarkably intact and as such are one of the most significant surviving examples of 19th century industry in the country. It is also one of the earliest and longest running examples of paper-milling in Australia and was operational until 1923.
At the time of its opening, the complex was at the forefront of paper-making technology and its backers included such notable Geelong names as Silas Harding, James and Andrew Volum and William Francis Ducker. A more detailed discussion of the technology involved can be found here.
The mill buildings themselves were constructed from bricks and locally quarried bluestone with corrugated iron and the equipment was powered by a water turbine wheel whose performance was enhanced by an impeller housed in a tower which can still be seen facing onto the river. Likewise, the water race is clearly visible carrying water from the weir along its full length until it reaches the mill where in times of adequate supply, it tumbles down to the rocks below and back into the river.
Water race running to the Barwon Paper Mill during drought
January, 2010
These mill buildings and their associated machinery were designed and built by the engineer Andrew Millar. The six workers' cottages and manager's house which also form part of the complex were designed by the Geelong architect Joseph Watts a couple of years after the original buildings in 1878. The cottages are the earliest example of company housing to be built in this state. They are still occupied as private residences and if the noises I heard last week are anything to go by, at least one is currently being renovated.
Originally, they were used to house some of the 200 men whom it is estimated, worked in the mill, making over 40 different types of paper.
Unlike today, paper-making processes in the Victorian era - and for 2000 years beforehand - relied on the pulping of old rags, rather than that of wood fibres and the Barwon Paper Mill was no different in this respect. The rags went through a number of treatments designed to break the fibres into small enough pieces to be formed into paper.
A curious side effect of using rags, was the need to first remove any old buttons or fastenings which may still be attached to the cloth. This task was undertaken by women whose job it was to sit and remove the unwanted attachments. Once removed, the buttons were simply dumped in a pile near the mill site. It was this practise which gave rise to the name Button Hill for the land which rises to the east of the mill. According to descriptions by the Victorian Heritage Database, there are hundreds of thousands of buttons, beads and other clips and fastenings on the hill made from bone, ceramic, glass, metal and other substances. The site is located partially on private property which does not belong to the mill and currently still awaits comprehensive archaeological examination.
Mill cottages built in 1878
 In 1888, upon the death of Captain James Volum, one of the principal proprietors, the partnership dissolved and the complex was sold to the Victorian Paper Manufacturing Co Pty Ltd who in turn on-sold it in 1895 to the owners of two other paper mills in Melbourne and Broadford. The three mills were then run jointly under the name of the Australian Paper Mills Co. Ltd.
After paper production ceased, the complex was taken over for the manufacturing of ice before being commandeered in 1941 for use by the navy during World War II. Nowadays, the mill is privately owned and whilst no longer used for its original purpose, the buildings are utilised by a number of small businesses which operate out of the site. Unfortunately for those of us who are interested, this has the disadvantage of excluding access by the general public to the mill complex. So, for the present we will have to continue as I have done for several decades now, to view the mill from the south bank of the river.
Well, that was, until today (6th June, 2015). See this post.

01 July, 2011

Grist to the mill...

Buckley Falls is probably one of the more interesting stretches of the Barwon as it runs through Geelong. As mentioned in an earlier posting, it is named for the escaped convict William Buckley who escaped from a fledgeling penal colony established near what is now Sorrento. At some point he came upon members of the local Wathaurong tribe who mistook him for the ghost of the warrior Murrangurk. Buckley lived with the tribe for thirty years before re-joining white society.
The history of the river at this point is also a combination of ancient Wathaurong and more modern European settlement. To the Wathaurong, the nearby Bunyip pool was a source of food. Yarrum Mordong is the Wathaurong name for this part of the river. Yarrum means rapids or a waterfall. Mordong means eel.
To the newly arrived Europeans of the 19th century, this part of the river was a source of power which could be harnessed for industry and not surprisingly one of the earliest recorded was flour-milling. The history of flour-milling at Fyansford seems to me to be somewhat unclear. It is widely reported that Henry William Collins opened a flour mill on the banks of the Barwon in 1845. Whether this is the same establishment as the Barrabool flour Mill which started operation in 1849 on a projection of land upstream of Buckley Falls, known as Mt Brandon Peninsula, I cannot determine, however a source stating that the latter was built in 1849 suggests that they were separate establishments.
Barrabool Flour Mill, built 1849
Records indicate that the Barrabool Flour Mill was a five-storey, bluestone structure whose 90cm thick walls were constructed from locally quarried stone - perhaps from one of the three quarries on the opposite bank of the river. It was powered by an "undershot" wheel and water was drawn from a channel which ran along the south bank of the river. Nowadays, there is no sign of the mill or an associated onsite cottage and no-one seems quite sure where the mill was located. A comparison of the two photos to the left however, is interesting.
It is also interesting to note the extent to which the banks on both sides of the river have been revegetated over the intervening decades as well as the presence of the lower weir (not built until 1927) in the lower picture.
The only traces of the mill and its surrounds now visible are a few non-native trees (possibly the cyprus growing on the high ground of the peninsula) and the remains of the outer race wall which can still be seen as I discovered for myself yesterday on another expedition to see a part of the river which, for some unknown reason, had to this point escaped me.
 Yesterday's saunter took me down to the south bank of the river opposite the car park at Baum's Weir and along an informal track, back towards Buckley Falls. Here, to my delight, I discovered the remains of the old bluestone race. Originally about 244m in length, it ran from a weir upstream down to the mill. Whilst not explicitly stated, I believe that the weir was in fact Baum’s Weir which is said to date from the 1840s, although no-one seems to know when or by whom it was built.
Remains of outer wall of the channel on the south bank of
the Barwon below Brandon Peninsula
Regardless of when exactly the mill was built, it would seem that by 1854 at the latest and probably earlier, an Englishman named John Highett was the owner. He may also have had to rebuild the mill subsequent to substantial flooding in 1852. I haven’t been able to turn up anything which indicates how long Highett ran the mill, however some time after his death in 1867 and with the opening of the Barwon Paper Mill on the opposite bank of the river in 1876 (more of which later), business appears to have dropped off. After standing idle for some years, the mill reopened. Confusingly once again, one source states that in 1887/1888 it reopened as the Fyansford Starch Factory, milling rice instead of wheat. This is supported by a contemporary photo showing the mill and labelled accordingly. It states that the mill buildings had almost completely disappeared by 1938. However, another reference published by the City of Greater Geelong, indicates that the mill was sold in 1888 and subsequently operated as a jam factory on a limited scale. This reference claims the building was gone by 1908.
A couple of possible explanations for these differences spring to mind, such as the possibility that the two businesses used the buildings jointly or perhaps the tenure of the starch factory was very short-lived. The difference in dates given for the disbanding of the mill buildings seems a likely transcription error.
So, who was the mill's owner John Highett and what was his association with the Barwon River? Highett (1810-1867) was an Englishman who migrated first to Van Diemen's Land with his brother William (a noted politician) before arriving in the Port Phillip district in 1837. He took up farming land overlooking the Barwon on the south side of the river and built a substantial house at the top of the hill overlooking much of the region in what is now Montpellier Park. The house later became the Montpellier Hotel, Picnic Ground and Pleasure Gardens and was run by Edwin Hooper. The surrounding land was also used for the cultivation of grapes, with vineyards extending down to the river, into the nearby Barrabool Hills and as far as Pollocksford. The Montpellier name derives from a town in Southern France known for its wine growing.
The house no longer stands, however the footings can still be seen in the park's grounds. The other, perhaps more permanent reminder of Highett's contribution to the development of the area in the early days of European settlement is the suburb of Highton, which was originally given the name Highett's Town. Of course, Highett Road which connects with Buckley Falls Road below the Bunyip pool is a further reflection the area's association with John Highett and his family.