13 April, 2016

Making tracks: the best line of road

Twenty-eight Miles from Geelong, near the Moorabool River, and on the best line of Road to Ballarat.
This was the rather bold claim made in September, 1853 by real estate agent J.B. Hutton who had been retained by Richard Coombs to sell the Eclipse Hotel, located some three and a half miles to the north of Steiglitz at the end of what is now Eclipse Rd. The Eclipse - as I have mentioned previously - was 'Durdidwarrah' (now 'Darra') the former homestead of Charles Augustus Von Steiglitz. It had been purchased by Richard Coombs who,  in April, 1853 stated that "Owing to the increasing traffic on this road, the want of accommodation has been so much complained of that a half way house has become a matter of necessity..."
Coombs further claimed that "the distance to Buninyong by this route is considerably shorter than by any other...[and that] the road having been the great thoroughfare in the winter season, notwithstanding the want of accommodation, proves the superiority,which is admitted by its now being generally taken by parties to and from the diggings."
Eclipse Rd between Steiglitz and 'Darra'
Clearly, by 1853 diggers were travelling to the goldfields at Ballarat and Buninyong via Steiglitz and the suggestion was that this road was a surer bet during the wet winter months when sections of the Geelong to Buninyong Track became all but impassable. It was also claimed that this route was "considerably shorter" than "any other", however I'm not sure this claim can be supported. The trip from Geelong to Steiglitz alone was around 40km (or around 25 miles in the old units). If the second half of the journey followed the route I suspect it did, then a further 51km (31 miles) would be required to complete the trip. A total of around 90km (56 miles).
By contrast, the total distance from Geelong to Buninyong via the track of that name was around 80km (or 50 miles) in total. Various newspaper articles over the years however, indicate that travellers were prepared to travel quite some distance out of their way to avoid bad roads, so whilst perhaps not the shortest route, it may well at times - like the track via Shelford - have been the easier, if not also the safer route to take.
Despite his grand plans, Coombs' tenure as landlord of the Eclipse was short-lived. By September, 1853 the property was once again on the market and in March the following year, was purchased by Mr William Birdsey, along with 33 acres of land and a number of outbuildings. Subsequent nearby land sales made the claim that the land stood on "the northern road to Buninyong and Ballarat", although the northern road from where, it did not state.
'Island Lodge', the home of Charles Augustus Von Stieglitz on his Durdidwarrah
Run, later the Eclipse Hotel. Image held by the Victorian State Library
Whilst perhaps not the main route to the goldfields, traffic during the 1850s would have fluctuated with the discovery of gold at places like Morrison's and Dolly's Creek. Although initial finds in these areas occurred in 1851, prospecting did not really take off until around 1857. Prior to this however, in 1853, the discovery of gold at Mt Egerton, almost 30km to the north of Steiglitz would also have resulted in an increase in traffic.
After quartz reef mining at Steiglitz took off in late 1855, traffic at least as far as Steiglitz would have increased dramatically too, and for those who could afford it, in March, 1856 the Criterion Conveyance Company indicated that they would be running a service from Geelong to Ballarat via Steiglitz, Meredith and Magpie Gully. By contrast, I can find no indication that a coach service operated between Steiglitz and Mt Egerton. It does however seem likely, that the route was popular with drays coming from Geelong. During a flood in October, 1855, it was noted that due to the water level of Wallace's Creek, dray communication between Egerton and Geelong via Steiglitz was at a virtual standstill.
I am unsure whether this route from the Eclipse to Buninyong has been documented elsewhere, but looking at the survey maps available online and considering a few relevant dates, I suspect I now have an idea of where this "northern road" ran and why it was used. Like the other tracks and roads which spread out across the countryside, this route was probably part of the network of bullock tracks which criss-crossed the countryside, leading from one squatter's run to the next.
The track to and from the Eclipse Hotel would originally have led to Charles Von Stieglitz' Durdidwarrah Run and after passing by the homestead continued north past Mr Hugh Morrison's pre-emptive selection at 'Moreep' to that of John Wallace of 'Ballark'.
Plaque at the Molesworth Bridge acknowledging John Wallace of 'Ballark'
An 1856 survey map of the Parish of Ballark shows a bush track running north-south and labelled as the "bush track from the Steiglitz". It intersected a second east-west track at the south east corner of Wallace's pre-emptive selection. This second "bush track to Geelong" closely followed the modern Meredith-Ballan Rd to its intersection with the Egerton-Ballark Rd around 800m to the east (see map below) before continuing east and then south east to intersect with the Geelong-Ballan Rd. It is also of interest to note that today's Bungeeltap South Rd was - according to the survey - originally intended to be the main Geelong-Ballan Rd.

A section of the 1856 Ballark Parish survey map overlaid on Google Earth.
The red lines show the bush track from Steiglitz and that from Geelong
Unfortunately, at this point the early maps online dry up, so I can only assume that the track roughly followed the Egerton-Ballark Rd through Wallace's pre-emptive selection, crossing the east branch of the Moorabool River and heading north west between the two branches of the river. I can find no mention of the river crossing itself, except perhaps the above reference to "Wallace's Creek" being so badly flooded that drays could not cross. It is possible - although I cannot confirm it - that this section of the Moorabool East Branch was known locally as Wallace's Creek at that time.
The Moorabool River East Branch at the Molesworth Bridge
 Regardless, a quick glance at Google Earth at this point will reinforce the Egerton-Ballark Rd as the most likely route north. The road can be seen to run along the ridge between the Moorabool West Branch and Bungal Creek. Travel on either side of these streams would be seriously restricted by some fairly hilly and inhospitable terrain in the form of the Mt Doran and Lal Lal State Forests to the west and the Bungal State Forest to the east, making the middle ground the more appealing option. A correspondent to the Bendigo Advertiser travelling south in December, 1855 described the route he took as passing the stations of Lal Lal, Egerton and Wallace which is also consistent with the above route.
Looking north west across the Moorabool East Branch near 'Ballark'
After traversing the high ground between the two waterways, I was again able to pick up the trail at the Yendon-Egerton Rd. This road - like many others in the area - follows an earlier track which is marked on an 1855 survey map as "from Lal Lal" at one end and "to Geelong" at the other. I cannot tell from the map whether the "Geelong" end continued to the west, or turned south, becoming the "missing" section of track from 'Ballark', however, to the west, the section of track shown on the map turns slightly to the north, as does the modern road, and crosses the Moorabool West Branch at the site of the Blue Bridge. Whilst the bridge may only date back to 1870, clearly the crossing was in use much earlier, probably dating back to the earliest days of European settlement, and if other sites are any indication, it may even have been used as a crossing by the local Tooloora balug clan of the Wathaurong who lived in the area.
Moorabool River West Branch, looking east towards the Blue Bridge
on the Yendon-Egerton Rd, October, 2013
Once across the river, the diggers found themselves on the Lal Lal Run, by that time in the hands of Archibald Fisken who by 1850 had taken over the property from his uncle Peter Inglis. At this point however, things become less clear. The early survey maps of Buninyong Parish show a bush track running to the north of Mt Buninyong, closely following the modern Yendon Number One Rd to Buninyong Rd and then intersecting the Midland Highway about 250m west of the present intersection.
It is not too much of a stretch to imagine that the track from Steiglitz, after crossing the Moorabool, continued through Fisken's property to become the track leading into Buninyong. Before the gold rush of course, Buninyong developed as a hub where those from the surrounding squatting runs could buy supplies without having to travel all the way to Geelong or Melbourne. No doubt the Peter Inglis and Archibald Fisken and their men made good use of this track to Buninyong over the years.
After the discovery of gold at Golden Point in 1851 however, the majority of traffic headed not for Buninyong, but further north to Ballarat where they would find themselves in the midst of those who chose to travel directly from Melbourne. For the latter diggers, there were a number of tracks which developed, the remnants of which can still be seen in some of the road names today. Most relevant to this post is the Old Melbourne Rd which runs from Ballan through Gordon, Millbrook and Dunnstown to Warrenheip. From at least the 1860s, this road was known as the "South Melbourne Rd to differentiate it from the more northerly road which followed a line to the north of
The track was typical in that after the discovery of gold, a string of public houses sprang up along this road to cater for those heading to the diggings. One such was the Spread Eagle Hotel, located on the north east corner of William Bacchus' pre-emptive selection. In The Argus of March, 1856 it was described as a "well-known roadside hotel", suggesting it had been in operation for some time.
The hotel - and this section of the track from Melbourne - lay about 5km north of the river crossing from Steiglitz on Fisken's land and a road (still known today as Spread Eagle Rd), ran north-south between the track to Buninyong and the track from Melbourne to Ballarat. It appears on survey maps as early as 1858 and may have provided a route for traffic from Geelong via Steiglitz to merge with that from Melbourne.
Google Earth image showing bush tracks on survey maps (red), the Old
Melbourne Rd (green) and likely connecting roads in between (blue)
For those looking for a more direct route, or who perhaps were not in need of sustenance at the Spread Eagle, another road surveyed by the 1850s branched off the Buninyong track immediately after it crossed the Lal Lal Creek further west. This road travelled north west, aligning with the modern Dunnstown-Yendon Rd which intersects the Old Melbourne Rd west of Dunnstown. Unsurprisingly, only a short distance further along, another public house - Pedrana's Saw Mill Hotel - also sprang up at the foot of Mt Warrenheip, near the pre-emptive selection held by Archibald Fisken as part of the Warreneep Run. The name of this establishment appears in the newspapers from the mid-1850s where it was the scene of a murder which received substantial media attention at the time.
Some idea of conditions can be gleaned from a traveller from Ballarat to Melbourne in 1859 who gives the impression that perhaps the road was not all as good as Mr J.B. Hutton, the real estate agent above would have had potential buyers of the Eclipse Hotel believe. The correspondent to The Star of 6th April, 1859 describes the section of road between Warrenheip and the Spread Eagle Hotel as being "horribly suggestive of all sorts of possibilities in the way of collisions and upsettings" and the crossing at Two Mile Creek he describes as an "awful chasm through which vehicles have to plunge".
Having survived the precipitous creek-crossing and the treacherous stretch of road leading to the Saw Mill Hotel, the diggers once again faced a decision. Depending on their intended destination, they could head a short distance further north to join with what became the Western Highway, entering Ballarat along Humffray St. As mentioned previously, this was a bullock track dating back to the earliest days of settlement at Ballarat and the main entrance to the town from Melbourne.
The other alternative was to turn south west and follow today's Warrenheip Rd along a meandering route to enter Ballarat via Eureka St - also one of the early bullock tracks. This latter route had the advantage of depositing the hopeful diggers directly to the Golden Point Diggings, rather than to the town centre which at that time was a short distance to the north at what is now Ballarat East. The popularity of this latter route is perhaps confirmed by yet another postulant for the title of "main route from Geelong to the diggings".
Looking along Eureka St, 1855 at the site of the infamous Bently's Hotel.
Image held by the National Library of Australia
This last contender comes in the form of the Victorian Heritage Database which makes the claim that "later the Warrenheip Road to Ballarat became the main goldfields route from Geelong" and further states in a report on the Buninyong Heritage Precinct that "Warrenheip Road [was] the early gold route from Geelong to the Ballarat gold fields".
Another claim and another slight difference in terminology. It would seem that this route did not become popular until "later". When that was, is not specified, however following the significant discoveries at Steiglitz, it is perhaps reasonable to assume that traffic between two of the largest goldfields in the colony, via all routes, would have increased dramatically when the discoveries at Steiglitz became known.

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