04 January, 2016

Making tracks - reaching Buninyong

...and so, after many long, weary miles traipsing over hills, wading across creeks and ploughing through the slough of despond, the weary travellers faced a final uphill trudge, crossing the foothills formed over a million years before by the volcanic eruptions of Mt Buninyong. For many miles they would have seen its profile rising before them as they walked or rode, slowly drawing closer. Even for those lucky enough - or rich enough - to travel by coach, the foothills of the mount could pose a problem as it was not unheard of for the coach driver to ask his passengers to get out and walk up the steeper sections of the track.
Looking towards Mt Buninyong from the approximate location of Scott's Swamp
A look at an 1855 survey map (see composite image below) shows the track at this point splitting in two just before the crest of the final rise. The two tracks were less than 150m apart and converged again after about a kilometre, near where Mt Buninyong Rd joins the Midland Highway today. Whether this reflected a need for different tracks in varying weather conditions or had some other purpose I do not know.
Reaching the top of the final rise, the diggers would no doubt have been very relieved to see the land falling away before them with the track meandering down the slope, roughly along the course of today's Learmonth St, joined along its length by a number of other tracks from outlying areas, all converging on the little collection of buildings which at that time constituted Buninyong township.
Prior to August, 1851 the town was already set to become a thriving hub. For ten years it had supplied the squatting runs of the district, provided a gathering place for sawyers working in the area and of course, was a postal town (the first in inland Victoria) and staging point on the mail route from Portland Bay to Melbourne and Geelong. It boasted a blacksmith (Thomas Hiscock), a doctor, a Presbyterian church with associated school, a couple of stores and of course, a post office.
With the announcement in early July that gold had been discovered at Clunes, followed only a month later by news of a much closer find at  Hiscock's Gully (one of the many creeks and gullies which fed into the Yarrowee River), Buninyong took on a new significance.
For a short time at least, it became the destination of hundreds of diggers. It is possible to imagine the sense of anticipation as they topped the rise and caught their first glimpse of their goal, however things around Buninyong were somewhat different to what they had been only a few months earlier. At this time, the newly-declared state of Victoria was still recovering from the devastating Black Thursday Bushfire of 6th February, 1851 in which about one quarter of the state (around five million hectares) was burnt. Amongst the areas to feel the effects of the fires was the Buninyong Forest which is reported to have burnt for days. Some six months on, the impact of the flames would still have been evident, even as the surrounding vegetation began to spring back to life. The fire is said to have burnt right up to the Geelong-Buninyong track, coming from the north which would presumably also have impacted a number of the other tracks leading to and from the town.
Fire damage in the region of the old "Burnt Bridge" settlement on the Midland
Highway following the recent (December, 2015) bushfire at Scotsburn
As was the way prior to the surveyors mapping out the roads and townships of the colony, there were often many different paths which sprang up as a matter of convenience. Buninyong was no exception. As the main path crossed what became Lal Lal St, a branch diverged to the left, travelling roughly along the line of Scott St, before meeting with a track running north-south a little to the west of Warrenheip St. (The latter track lead from Buninyong to the station of that name held by the Learmonth brothers.) At around the same point as the first branch, the main track branched again. This track ran north west, meeting another heading north towards the Ballarat Run of William Cross Yuille on the shores of "Yuille's Swamp", known today as Lake Wendouree.
Google Earth image overlaid with an 1855 survey map. Red lines show tracks
marked on the map. Blue lines indicate those marked on an 1856 map. Areas of
overlap may indicate the same track. Click to enlarge
The following blog post by local historian Robert Bell from 2006 gives a good description of  some of the tracks and buildings of Buninyong as they existed at the time of the original survey in 1850.
Whilst none of the sources I have located mention it, the direct track down Learmonth St may not have been the only approach to Buninyong from Geelong. The above survey map also shows a second track, branching off the main route to the left near the intersection of the Highway and Yendon Number 2 Rd, well before the branches near Lal Lal St. This alternate track followed a lower line, crossing the southern end of Lal Lal St before swinging north west and travelling roughly along today's Caffrey and then Herriott Streets before joining the track from the south.
Ultimately, which ever track the diggers followed, they reached an important intersection, situated on the site of what would become Buninyong's first permanent post office and telegraph building in 1873.
Old Buninyong post office, closed 2000
This old intersection which must have pre-dated the survey of 1850, was the point at which the track from the south met the main track from Geelong coming from the east. Also joining at this same point was the track from the west which lead to several nearby squatting runs, including Yuille's Ballarat Run and further on to the Pyrenees.
It was at this intersection, strategically located to take in the passing trade, that the town's only hotel was located: the place the diggers had been told lay at the end of their journey, where they could have a hot meal and - if they were lucky - a bed for the night. Here then, was the fabled "Mother Jamieson's".

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