There’s no rush in Rushworth today. A quiet rustling of folk going into the pub on the hill or picking up fish and chips is the level of excitement in town. The train line that once connected Rushworth to Bendigo sits still while a spattering of vehicles trek past from the west toward the Hume Highway.
In 1853 the local Nguraiillam-wurrung people, at a spot east of today’s town centre, pointed out some bright stones to a (no doubt) less than grateful group of prospectors and in no time the area expanded to be home to an estimated 40,000 itinerant fortune seekers living in meagre tents and slab huts.
Within five years a police camp, a wooden courthouse, five hotels, two breweries, a school, seven large stores, 20 tradesmen’s shops and two banks were established to cater for the 26 mines and their prospectors.
At a time when gold was quite literally found in the streets, the escalating prosperity and service industry that arose to meet the needs of the population meant Rushworth was surveyed, with a Haussmann*-like generosity and laid out like a great future central city by the town’s Napoleonic ‘Gold Commissioner’ Richard Horne.
Unlike Bendigo, which did reach the heights of a Parisian style architecture before the gold rush abandoned central Victoria, Rushworth’s wide main boulevard has no display of flamboyance but is rather dressed on either side by Scottish Presbyterian brick civil and commercial buildings – the Glasgow Building being an exemplar which has earned the town its National Heritage status.
There is still the strong Australian vernacular here though – wide corrugated iron verandahs and highly glazed tiled facades. (Someone told me this was to allow for easy washing following the late night exodus from the numerous hotels.)
There are other small delights here too. The (newly appointed) Waranga Neighbourhood Centre is perfectly attended to in the same detail as its more imposing brothers.
Gold gave way to timber and agriculture through the town’s late 19th Century revival as timber milling for railway construction and irrigation systems for agriculture developed. The nearby Waranga Basin, which was dug out by pick axes and horse carts from 1905 -15 is an example of early 20th Century agrarian optimism, while the surrounding ironbark forest is a testament to just how hardy you have to be to survive the cycle of droughts and floods here.
Sadly there is a sense that many of these small central Victorian towns are continuing to decline both in population and in holding on to younger members of the local community.
One clear solution today – to embrace the need of thousands of desperate asylum seekers for somewhere to call home is still sadly (one imagines) a cultural anathema here. Bendigo’s recent anti-mosque debacle has done the region no great service in opening up the countryside to the next wave of people who might try their luck here in this – the luckiest of countries.
For more information about Rushworth and other Victorian towns you can make a virtual visit to:
- At the same time as gold was found in Rushworth in 1853, Emperor Louis Napoleon III appointed Haussmann as the prefect of Seine (Of which Paris is a part) to undertake his grand vision to rebuild Paris as a modern capital.
Whether Horne paid much heed to the revival of Paris I can’t say. Mike Wellington writes that Horne was a rebellious chap in his youth who dispensed with his military training at Sandhurst to try his luck with the Mexican Navy of all things. His tastes and knowledge of the world would at least have been broad on arrival in Australia – a sort of Lord Jim ready to set the colony to rights – which he did by setting down the Waranga Rebellion which happened before the Eureka Stockade.