12 December, 2015

Making tracks - the Mt Doran dilemma

With Watson's Hotel and the fledgling township of Meredith now behind them, the aspiring diggers of the gold rush era continued their journey up the "track". As I discovered whilst researching my previous post, this most likely took them out of town across Coolebarghurk Creek (at that time known as Marrabool Creek) and either towards Lal Lal on the old Lal Lal Road or along a route running roughly parallel to today's Midland Highway, at a distance a few hundred metres to the east.
At this point, things would seem to be a little hazy and in some places, downright contradictory, however as I alluded to previously, I may have found an explanation. In short, it all comes back to post offices and one or two old maps. Looking once again at Skene's 1845 map of Victoria, the track from Geelong to Buninyong appears to lead out of Meredith along the old Lal Lal Road as described by a local resident in 1943. From there, it was claimed, the track lead "through Mt Doran to Buninyong and Ballarat". Skene's map however, shows the road veering slightly away from the Lal Lal Road following a north westerly path instead; a path which passed directly through the site which became the township of Elaine.
From this point, the track continued its parallel path beside the Midland Highway, passing east of a little settlement known as Burnt Bridge. This route leaves the current Mount Doran some 5 or 6 km to the east and is seemingly at odds with the contention that the bullock track passed through Mount Doran - a route which would have added several kilometres to the diggers' journey at a time when there were no established towns between Watson's Hotel and Buninyong. Disappointingly I cannot locate the survey books for the upper part of the parish of Meredith and those of Borhoneyghurk Parish, meaning I cannot clarify the issue by continuing to plot the tracks I described in my last post.
Because there was little, if anything, in the way of settlement between Watson's and Buninyong I cannot locate a detailed description of the area at the time the gold rush broke out, but within a few years, signs of enterprise had begun to arise, perhaps giving some idea of the route followed by the diggers.
Google Earth screen shot overlaid with a section of surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845
map. The dotted line indicates the route as shown by Skene. The Midland Highway
is shown in yellow and the green lines indicate the approximate tracks plotted in 
my previous post. Click to enlarge
Recalling a journey taken in 1854, one correspondent to the Geelong Advertiser recounted some 50 years later, that sly grog-selling was rampant between Geelong and Burnt Bridge, with one of those illegal establishments lying between Meredith and the Stony Rises - the earlier name for Elaine. When surveyor Maurice Weston was taking his measurements for the land north of Meredith in 1857, he noted a "tent" on the east side of the present highway, slightly north of its intersection with Boundary Rd and around 600m west of the approximate line of the "Old Main Road". I don't know if  this tent was the same as that described in 1854, but such establishments came and went regularly and probably changed location equally rapidly. If the establishment at the Green Tent was anything to go by, they could also be located some distance from the road - perhaps due to their less-than-legal status.
Depiction of a coffee tent in 1852, by S.T. Gill, Image held by the
National Gallery of Australia
Regardless, this might suggest that the Stony Rises was a known location even in the early days of the gold rush. The first contemporary use of the name which I could find was an 1854 reference in the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer to the above sly grog tent, followed in 1855 by advertisements in relation to the construction of the new road to Ballarat. In 1857 there is reference in The Ballarat Star, to a murder inquest held at the Stony Rises Hotel. The hotel was also marked on an 1868 survey map which placed it west of the current highway, almost opposite the road to Morrison's. An article from The Ballarat Star of 6th August, 1889 gave the following description of the Stony Rises Inn at the time of its destruction by fire some decades later:
In the destruction of the Stony Rises hotel there has been wiped out of existence one of the land marks of the "fifties." In the golden days it was known as "Yankee Bill's," and the owner of the soubriquet dispensed food to man and beast in a tent. The late building was erected on the site of the canvas hotel, and passed successively into the hands of John Boler, Jarvis, and Grenfell, the last of whom held possession at the time of "holocaust."
Liquor licenses show that John Boler was the publican  by early 1857. With "Yankee Bill" in residence before this, it would seem that the hotel in some form at least was present before 1857. I notice that the 1868 survey map shows the boundary of the new line of road deviating slightly towards the site of the hotel, making me speculate as to whether the building was present before the new road, dating it to at least 1855 and presumably on the line of the old road.
I should also note that another description from January, 1853 does not mention the inn, but does make reference to a second coffee tent located about a mile before the next stopping point for the diggers - and possibly part of the key to the Mt Doran puzzle and the track to Buninyong - the little settlement of Burnt Bridge. The first reference to the settlement appears in several editions of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer of 1852. An 1855 survey map shows the prospective township situated a few hundred metres south of the first crossing of Williamson's Creek (a tributary of the Leigh River) on the east side of the Midland Highway heading to Ballarat. Not only does it show the current road alignment as a section of plank road (a type of timber roadway generally built to provide a firm surface over swampy, low-lying ground), but it also indicates the line of the "old track of road from Ballarat to Geelong" which ran parallel but to the east of the new road. The construction of the plank road began in 1854 and it was presumably this impending realignment which caused resident John Morrison in 1853 to build a new hotel facing the new road, replacing his original establishment - described by a traveller in January 1853 as a "coffee tent" - which stood some hundred metres away on the old road.
A Google Earth screen shot overlaid with a section of the 1855 survey map of
Burnt Bridge. The current road (roughly aligned with the plank road) is shown
in yellow. The old track is shown in red. Click to expand
So, the above information would seem to confirm that after leaving Meredith the old track to Buninyong followed a course reasonably similar to today's Midland Highway, passing some 6km to the west of Mt Doran. I did however make a discovery which may explain the reference to Mt Doran. In 1859 with the gold rush in full swing, the new road open, the Geelong-Ballarat railway under construction only a few kilometres away and Morrison's "Railway Hotel" doing a solid trade, a post office was opened. It was given the name "Mt Doran".
Tenders for mail contracts at the time described the post office as "Mount Doran (Burnt Bridge)". Initially I suspected the post office may have been located at the Burnt Bridge settlement on the Geelong-Ballarat Road, however, tenders called the following year referred to the transport of mail from "the railway cutting (Mount Doran)".
I gather that this part of the line at the time of construction was known as the Burnt Bridge section and now believe that the post office was probably located in the temporary camp which sprang up to house the railway workers. Descriptions portray a series of timber cottages for management with the labourers housed in canvas tents. It was also remarked that some residents had built themselves little cottages and planted out small gardens in the bush surrounding the line.
The rail bridge on Blue Bridge Rd about 2.5km from Mt Doran and 3.5km from
Burnt Bridge on the Burnt Bridge section of the line

By the mid-1860s however, with construction on the line complete and the workmen gone, the tender notices for the mail run began to refer to "Mount Doran (Stony Rises)". My first thought was that perhaps "Mount Doran" may have referred to a much larger district than it does today and this may have been true as I also found an address stated as "Mount Doran, Clarendon", however there is another explanation which may account for the change.
Put simply, the "Mt Doran" post office, changed both names and locations over the years as the population fluctuated throughout the district. In about 1864 the post office was relocated from Mt Doran, to a site around a kilometre to the east of the developing township of Stony Rises. In 1872, reflecting the change in the name of the township, the post office was also renamed as Elaine.
 Just to confuse the issue however, Stony Rises/Elaine had been lobbying hard to have a railway platform erected in the township, near where the new line (which opened in 1862) crossed the surveyed road to Ballarat. It was finally granted in 1871 and then in 1875 after further lobbying by locals, the Post Master General opened a post office at the site. Perhaps somewhat confusingly, it was called the Elaine Railway Station Post Office. Elaine now had two post offices less than a mile apart.
Probably to avoid confusion, in October, 1877 the original Elaine Post Office to the east of town, reverted to its earlier name of Mt Doran. The post office at the railway platform was henceforth to be known as Elaine and was relocated to the primary school at around the same time. One disgruntled Mt Doran correspondent to the Ballarat Courier of 15th November was quick to point out the irony of this situation, stating:
It is passing strange that Mount Doran Post Office should not be at Mount Doran at all, but at Elaine, some four or five miles away. A few years ago that post office was really at the Mount: but the post-master and others, on the occasion of a [gold] rush to Elaine, eloped with our post office.
However, reading between the lines of the local newspapers, it may not have been long before the residents of Mt Doran got their wish as it seems that by the 1880s the post office had moved once again and was operating out of the Mt Doran State School.
Mt Doran State School, students and teachers in 1906.
Image held by Museum Victoria

So, it would seem that the Mt Doran Post Office probably began its life in 1859 at the site of the Burnt Bridge railway cutting at Mt Doran, before moving in about 1864 to a location east of Elaine township (but central to several mines active at that time) before finally coming to rest back in the township of Mt Doran not too long after its final name change in 1877, where it probably operated out of the state school. This much-travelled little post office closed its doors for the final time in 1930.
So finally, from what I have found, I doubt that the crowds heading to the gold fields of Buninyong and Ballarat in those earliest years did actually pass through or near Mt Doran. Instead, they most likely followed the old track via the Stony Rises and Burnt Bridge. I think that over the years the story has become blurred.
Whilst the mount itself no doubt existed well before the gold rush, Mt Doran as a town or locality seems to post-date those earliest years of the gold rush, appearing only in the newspapers from 1858. Quite some years later in 1866 there was a small "rush" to Mt Doran which no doubt resulted in diggers travelling directly to the district, but by then, the modern roads had been surveyed and the original diggers were long gone.
A partially covered mine entrance. Testament to the gold rush at Mt Doran
Then, over the years, as often happens in rural communities Mt Doran was sometimes described alongside other towns such as Clarendon, Burnt Bridge and Stony Rises, all of which lie on what I suspect was the most likely route of the old road from Geelong to Buninyong.  In combination with the re-location of the Mt Doran Post Office to Elaine for about 20 years during the 1860s and 1870s, it probably isn't surprising then, that those living in Meredith and surrounds might come to say that the route to the gold fields of Buninyong, Ballarat and beyond lay up the old Lal Lal Road to Mt Doran.




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