ADHS Newsletter No. 201 APRIL, 2002

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Items of interest -

Tour of the Amherst Area - A happy group of twenty-nine members and friends set off in a convoy of nine cars from the Amherst Cemetery gates on Sunday, 20 April, to explore historic sites hidden well off the beaten track in the surrounding bushland with Len Fleming, of Talbot, as our enthusiastic guide. He imparted much of his vast knowledge of the history of the area to us as we moved along the dusty tracks from one’ site to’ the next. He explained how the Aborigines created their waterholes by making holes in the base of a large rock, the holes being placed where rain water would follow a channel down the face of the rock. The holes would be covered by a large rock to keep animals and impurities out.

The bush hides some isolated graveyards where early miners and members of their families now rest. In one such old cemetery, some of the graves are outlined with white quartz stones and others have a single large rock representing a headstone. Smaller outlines of quartz stones would indicate where young children were buried. At the burial ground of the old Emu Diggings, graves were indicated by a layer of rock marking the site.

The remains of a puddling machine is another secret of the area. Len explained how the sides and bottom of the donut-shaped excavation were lined with timber slabs. The sluicing was done by a horse walking round and round the perimeter, activating two triangular harrows which stirred the water mixed with the clay. Water for the process was drawn from a nearby dam, while an outlet channel carried away the sludge, leaving the gold on the floor of the puddler.

There were several Chinese camps in the Amherst area in the gold rush days, and hidden in the bush of ironbark gum and golden wattle trees is the site of a Chinese Joss House and Baths. The locality has been well turned over in more recent times in the continuing search for gold, but Len has been able to locate and excavate a site revealing an in-ground cement Chinese bath complete with a headrest, which has withstood the test of time.

Back on the main road, where the old town of Amherst once stood, we paused to admire the craftsmanship in a bluestone culvert built in the late 1850s. This is one of several such culverts in the area and they are said to be the earliest surviving public works in the Shire.

Next stop was the site of the Amherst School, a brick building erected in 1874. It closed in 1946 and was burnt out in the devastating bushfires of 1985, leaving the brick walls standing. It was rebuilt about 1987 and is now an attractive private residence. Opposite the school is the site of the old Daisy Hill Cemetery.

All that remains today of the Amherst Hospital is a very large paddock, situated at the corner of Black Jack Road and the main road to Talbot, on which can be found a big dam, some broken bricks, a section of a building which was part of the morgue, and the concrete base of a big flag pole. This once very large hospital played an important part in the area in its years of operation, from its opening in 1859 to its closure in 1933.

Returning to the Amherst Cemetery, we adjourned to its rotunda where we enjoyed a welcome cuppa and held our monthly meeting. We thank Len for giving of his time to share his knowledge of these bush secrets with us and look forward with anticipation to enjoying another interesting outing with him at some time in the future.

(See our Newsletters No. 128 ofJuly, 1995, and No. 135 ofJulv, 1996, for articles on Amherst. Ed.)

A Visit to Amherst in 1949 - The following article tells what could be found of the old township of Amherst in 1949, and appeared in The Melbourne Walker, Vol. 20 of 1949. Sadly, the drastic bushfire of 1985 has destroyed everything and we could not enjoy such a walk today.

  • "A Town Hall In The Bush" by W. R Mann - After passing through several miles of sparsely settled country on the back road from Talbot to Avoca, it is surprising to find near the crossroads, about three miles from Talbot, a number of substantial brick buildings, for the most part deserted and almost hidden by the encroaching forest. To students of our early history, this is one of the most interesting places in the State, for it is the old township of Amherst, which close on one hundred years ago was the centre of a rich alluvial goldfield supporting a population estimated at 60,000. Today, it is reminiscent of some of the ruined cities of the old world but in an Australian setting.

    Of the many old buildings in the area the one that attracts most attention is a substantial brick edifice bearing the words "Town Hall" in large letters over the doorway. Standing alone in the quiet dignity of old age, and quite out of proportion to its present-day surroundings, the Amherst Town Hall expresses the vanity of the local Councillors of the day who, in 1858, finding their municipality elevated to a Borough, decided that they should have a Town Hall in keeping with their status. And there it is today, almost pathetic in its loneliness and peopled only with the ghosts of the past.

    A close inspection of the building reveals the soundness of its construction and how well it has braved the elements of the past century. The interior has an attractive wooden ceiling, typical of the architecture of the time, and the walls, originally plastered, have been papered and re-papered to such an extent that in places the weight is too great for the decaying plaster to carry. A copy of the "Talbot Leader" of August, 1915, found its way into one of those paperings. On each side of the stage - yes, it even has a stage - a fireplace has been let into the wall. No expense was spared to provide warmth and comfort for the early ratepayers of the Borough of Amherst. Near the entrance gate to the hall there stands an ancient lamp-post, and with a little imagination one can visualise the local lads and lasses of those bygone years passing beneath the pale flickering light of the old lamp on their way to the village ball.

    Almost opposite the Town Hall is the "Horse and Jockey Hotel", still proudly bearing its title, but long since delicensed. What stories that old bar-room could tell of the orgy of spending that invariably followed the latest "find". The "Horse and Jockey" must be one of the oldest inns in the State.

    Amherst, which was previously known as Daisy Hill, was a great Methodist community and in 1857 the Wesleyans of the district built a substantial brick chapel which is still used by visiting clergymen. Nearby a two-storied residence was built for the minister. Draped inside the chapel, and forming a kind of inner ceiling, is the top of a large tent in which the first church services in the district were held. A short distance away is the Church of England, also a fine brick building, still in an excellent state of preservation.

    With the exception of an old butcher's shop, there are no signs of the many shops that once lined the main street. Although the Town Hall is the most striking building in the old settlement, the largest building was the hospital, only recently demolished - to the disappointment of the residents of the surrounding districts who maintained that it should have been utilised as a sanatorium because of the dry, warm climate. This hospital was exceptionally well equipped with operating theatre, nurses quarters and other facilities.

    With the decline in mining activity, Amherst could not compete with the neighbouring township of Talbot, which was on the main road and which in addition had the advantage of being served by a railway, and the residents of Amherst gradually drifted in that direction.

    By the year 1877, the Borough of Amherst had disappeared from the Municipal directory and Talbot took its place, with the same Town Clerk and several of the Amherst councillors. The Town Hall, which was their pride, was boarded up and the Wesleyans concentrated on their newly-established chapel in Talbot.

    Few people reside at Amherst today, but the old place is full of memories of the stirring times through which it passed in the second half of the last century."

  • (My thanks to Dorothy Robinson for passing on this interesting article. Our Newsletters Nos. 142-148 inclusive contain the story of the development of the Amherst-Talbot area. Ed.)

    ANDERSON/WATSON REUNION AT LEXTON

    On the 14th April, 2002, a reunion of 150 descendants of the Anderson/Watson families was held in the Lexton Public Hall. David and Janet Anderson were co-founders, with William and Rachel Millar, in the establishment of the township of Burnbank in the winter of 1845.

    Organised by Eileen Anderson, of Ballarat, and Neila and Geoff Foggo, of Adelaide, the reunion began at 11.15 am at the Lexton Cemeterdy with the dedication of a memorial plaque to the late Lieutenant George Watson retired, of the 3` King's Own Dragoons. This dedication was carried out by Mrs. Florence Graham, wife of the former Presbyterian Minister at Lexton.

    George Watson, together with his wife Mary and family, arrived in Lexton in 1852. He became Clerk of the Court of Petty Sessions, and was Post Master from 1856. In this same year, he was a member of the Committee responsible for building the Presbyterian Church in Lexton and, in 1860, was elected to the Lexton District Roads Board. He died in 1866 while on a visit to "Amphitheatre" Station and is buried in the Lexton Cemetery. Two of the daughters of George Watson married two of David Anderson's sons. They were Andrew Anderson who married Ada Georgina Watson, and Thomas Fisken Anderson who married Rose Bertha Watson. The Anderson's eldest son David married Jane Stewart.

    Following the dedication at the Lexton Cemetery, everyone moved to the Lexton Public Hall where a roll call of families took place and a welcome was extended to all, including the Pyrenees Shire President, Councillors and Members of Parliament. A tasty lunch, prepared by the ladies associated with the Lexton Football Club, was then enjoyed by those present.

    At 2 pm, Margaret Oulton launched the book, "David Anderson - Co-founder of Lexton" by Neila Foggo. The book tells the story of David Anderson and William Millar establishing the village of Burnbank by building an inn, store and blacksmith and wheelwrights' shop at the crossroads of the squatters' tracks. The handsome A4 book of 232 pages traces the lives of David and Janet Anderson, their three sons, their large families and their descendants. David Anderson died in 1849. His eldest son David and family eventually settled at "Fair View" in Stawell. Andrew became the member for Kara Kara in the Legislative Assembly of the Victorian Parliament while Thomas Fisken moved to "Trida" and "Chillichill" Stations, east of Ivanhoe in New South Wales.

    After the book launch, family members were given an opportunity to share stories and memorabilia with those present. Finally, during a walking tour of the town, visitors were able to see the Anderson residence "Sunnyside", located on the old road to the Wimmera, and view the site of the original "Burnbank Inn" built by David Anderson, but now occupied by the "Pyrenees Hotel". George Watson's old home "Wynnstay" unfortunately had to be demolished some years ago because of white ants and a new brick home now stands on the site alongside the Sunraysia Highway.

    Participants travelled from all parts of Australia to attend the Anderson/Watson reunion and celebrate the founding of Lexton.

    (My thanks to Margaret Oulton for her report of this reunion celebrating an important aspect of the history of Lexton. Ed.)

    Anzac Day Commemoration at Avoca - Some familiar faces were seen on the 7.30 Report on Channel 2 on Anzac Day, 2002, when an interesting segment was shown on how this special day was celebrated in a small town, in this case Avoca, both at a dawn service and a march later in the day. At a time when numbers are dwindling in the ranks of veteran members of the R.S.L., forcing some branches to close, it is great to see the Avoca branch soldiering on.

    Pora's Salt - In our March newsletter, we printed a list of the businesses in Avoca in 1967 which were advertised in the local paper. Included in this list was Les Pora and his salt business. No address or phone number was given. It was a simple ad. - "Battling to Make Your Salt? Then let Les Pora supply it. $1.80 a bag, or $21 a ton." Your Editor is intrigued and would like to hear from anyone who has memories of Les and his salt business. Did he supply cow licks and the various types of salt and just what would you do with a ton of salt?

    Annual General Meeting - Our A.G.M. will be held on Sunday, 19th May, 2002, at the Avoca Church of England Hall (note change of venue), 12 noon for 12.30 p.m. for a three-course luncheon. Margaret Oulton will be our guest speaker, her topic being the valuable contribution made by convicts to the development of this country

    As in recent years, this event will be a fiend-raiser and members are asked to provide a casserole and a sweet for the luncheon and the $10 per head admission charge will go to the Court House Restoration Fund. It would be appreciated if those wishing to attend could notify Dorothy Robinson on 5465 3528 or Jan Burnett on 5465 3265 no later than the 15'h May. This will greatly assist with the catering and the setting up of the hall, which will be done on Saturday, 18th May at 2 p.m.

    We plan to raffle a hamper of goodies at the luncheon and would welcome the donation of one grocery item from each member attending.

    Please note that the Court House will not be open on the day of the A.G.M.

    Notification of our Annual General Meeting is attached to this newsletter. It includes a Nomination Form for those wishing to become more actively involved in the Society's work, an Appointment of Proxy Form for completion by those unable to attend the meeting, and a Renewal of Membership notice. Membership fees fall due in May. A recommendation will be made at the A.G.M. that fees should be raised to $17 for a single membership and $20 for a family.

    As we are an incorporated body, it is necessary to have a minimum of 25-30 people present, including proxy votes. Members unable to attend are urged to forward their proxy votes to one of the current office bearers.

    Remember that a society is only as good as its members make it. As all positions are declared vacant at the A.G.M., we would be delighted to hear from anyone who wishes to take an active part in our work, so that all positions can be filled.

    To facilitate the work behind the scenes when memberships fall due each year (for the Treasurer, the Membership Secretary and the Mailing Team), might we suggest that you complete and return your Renewal of Membership form, with your cheque, just as soon as you have finished reading this newsletter. This would be much appreciated.

    New Members - A warm welcome is extended to the following new members:

    Mr. Adrian BROGAN, of Flemington, Vic., who is interested in local history.

    Mrs. Robyn MISCHIN, of Floreat, W.A., who is researching VINECOMBE and MATTHEWS in the St. Arnaud, Talbot and Amherst areas. Mr. George SMITH, of Avoca, Vic., whose interests are RUMMENS, HUGHES and CORMACK

    Rhonda DENHOLM, of P.O. Box 299, Kooringal, NSW 2650, is researching ROHDE, NICHOLLS, WALSH, PUGH, PASSAW, PEDRO, BUTLER, DIRAGHAN, KERR, BARRY, AGOSTINI and PEARCE

    (Rhonda particularly requested that her postal address be published. Ed.)

    Advertisement in the Avoca Free Press of 2nd December, 1931 -

    G. A. JONGEBLOED, Baker and Confectioner, wishes to inform the public of Avoca and district that he has engaged a first-class tradesman (formerly of St. Kilda), who is now making the finest variety of Small Goods in the State, at premises formerly known as Moreland's. Every customer supplied with fresh goods daily.

    Wedding Cakes, Birthday Cakes and Christmas Cakes a speciality. Socials and Picnic Parties catered for.

    Best Self-raising Flour - 50 lb. bags, 15s. 6d.; 25 lbs. 8s.; 9 Ibs. 3s. Smaller lots sold if required.

    Phone 21, AVOCA