ADHS Newsletter No. 146, MARCH, 1997

Items of interest –

  • Lexton Free Library building dismantled
  • Navarre fire 1893
  • Avoca in 1856
  • Avoca mining in 1870
  • Laying of foundation stone, Temperance Hall, Elmhurst, 1874

The fifteen good folk who attended the working bee held on Saturday, 15th March, worked so diligently that 185 pickets, posts and rails received two coats of paint in readiness for the erection of a new fence at the Court House. The Society expresses grateful thanks to all those stalwart folk who so willingly helped and greatly appreciates Herb. Robinson’s assistance with this project. Another working bee will be held on Saturday, 12th April, from 8 a.m., when another coat of paint will be applied and the fence erected. Any assistance most welcome!

We were delighted to welcome Sydney members, Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Loh, to our monthly meeting on Sunday, 16th March. They had come to Melbourne to attend a family get-together on the Saturday. Phil’s ancestral background can be traced throughout the Avoca area and he has visited the district several times since joining our Society.

Our display for Heritage week will take place at the Court House on Saturday and Sunday, 19th and 20th April. The theme this year is Culture Down Under which will be interpreted by this Society as Digging (for gold) Down Under (the ground). The exhibition will have displays of life on the diggings both inside and outside the hall, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days. The admission charge will be $3 which will include refreshments. Assistance will be required to set up the display inside on the Friday, 18th April, and early on the Saturday for the outdoor exhibits. Donations of goodies to serve with the cups of tea will also be appreciated.

Late sales from the array of goods for the Garage Sale have brought the total result up to $800 to boost the Society’s funds.

Looking ahead, our Annual General Meeting will be held on Sunday, 18th May, and will take the form of A Bring and Share Lunch to be held at Wesley Hall, Avoca, 12 o’clock for 12.30 p.m. As fund-raising is important to the Society with extra expenses to be met now that we occupy the Court House and much work still to be done to finish restoration, it has been decided not to have the luncheon catered for, but to ask those attending to donate $10 as well as bringing something to share for lunch. The $10 donations will go to the Court House Restoration Fund. Mr. John Robb will be the speaker on this occasion and will tell us about his experiences of the early days of the wine industry in the Pyrenees area.

It is also proposed to put forward a recommendation at the A.G.M. to increase fees by $2 to $14 a single and $17 for a family. Also boosting our funds will be a raffle to be drawn at the A.G.M., the prize being a delightful doll in a carry basket. The doll is beautifully dressed in a pink knitted layette and was kindly donated by Mrs. J. Peters. The second prize is a lovely hand-knitted cardigan donated by Mrs. Rosemary Hayes. Our thanks to both these members for their thoughtful gestures. Tickets are 50 cents each and we urge members to support this effort.

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Eulalie Driscoll reported that she had responded to a request from the Occupational Therapist at the Avoca Nursing Home for a member of this Society to speak to the residents there. Eulalie chose the topic, Avoca Hospital Milestones, and we hear that her talk was much appreciated by those present. Thank you, Eulie.

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Our Research Officer reports that she continues to be kept busy, having assisted eleven visitors and written eight letters over the past few weeks.

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We thank Graeme Mills for the donation of the book, A Century of Mills Family History, a most interesting account of this family who have been a well-known part of Natte Yallock history for many, many years.

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The Annual Central Highlands Historical Association Dinner has been arranged for 15th July, 1997, at the Ballarat Yacht Club, Wendouree Parade, Ballarat, to commence at 7 p.m. for 7.30 p.m. The speaker will be Gavin Brown, Assistant Commissioner of Police. Gavin is President of the Police Historical Society and is currently writing a book on the police riots of the 1920s. Watch this space for more details.

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The Royal Historical Society of Victoria is presenting another series of lectures in Australian History for members and interested members of the public. They consist of six sessions made up of a lecture followed by a discussion to be held on Thursday evenings at the Royal Mint from 6.00 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., commencing on 17th April. Cost is $35 for members and $40 for non-members, or attendance at single lectures will be $7 for members and $8 non-members. Weston Bate will speak on Eureka, Alan Brown on Australian Foreign Policy, Stuart Macintyre on Federation, George Papadopolous on Immigration Since WWII, Leigh Astbury on The Artists of the Heidelberg School and John Rickard on H. B. Higgins. For full details contact the R.H.S.V., Old Mint Building, 280 William Street, Melbourne, 3000, or fax to 9670 1241, or phone 9670 1219.

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Can You Help? A letter has been received seeking information on Welsh Churches which may have been built in this area over the years. The only two Welsh Churches still conducting services are at Sebastopol and in Melbourne. The writer of the letter has found evidence of Welsh Churches in Ballarat dating back to 1853 (services held in tents). Any information, no matter how minute, would be much appreciated. The contact person is Carmel Morgan-Wall, 43 Vale Street, Sebastopol, Vic. 3356.

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If any members have knowledge of Mechanics Institutes and Free Libraries in the area covered by this Society, such information would be gladly welcomed by Jan Burnett who is following up an enquiry about these institutions.

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A New Book. John Tully, who is to speak to us at our June meeting on local Aborigines, has written a book, Djadja Wurrung Language of Central Victoria. This new and comprehensive book documents the Aboriginal people of Central Victoria and their language and will be of interest to those who are keen to know the origin of place names and the history of the Aborigines who once inhabited the area. The book encompasses the area bounded by Bendigo, Kyneton, Avoca, Marnoo, Donald and Boort. Published by the author, the book costs $19.50 whilst a laminated version of the place names map, 595 x 500 mm, costs $20, and postage and handling $2.50, Both are available from John Tully, Box 50, Dunolly, Vic. 3472, phone 0354 681516.

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Coming to Avoca! On Saturday, 19th April, at 7.30 p.m., at the Avoca R.S.L. Hall, Geoffrey Graham is A. B. ‘Banjo” Paterson in The Man From Ironbarkin two hours of rollicking fun. The cost of $10 per ticket ($25 for a family) includes supper and bookings can be made at the Avoca Newsagency on 0354 653 081.

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Lexton Free Library, approx. 1881-1997.

A small cream weatherboard building, known as the Lexton Library, had stood beside Talbot Road, Lexton, for well over 100 years. In the last decade, it had rarely been used and had begun to deteriorate – the stumps had almost disappeared, there was evidence of white ants in the building, and concern was expressed that it was dangerous. The former Lexton Shire asked for expressions of interest but none were forthcoming due to the state of the building. In March, the Pyrenees Shire was consulted and the Burnbank Fire Brigade was given permission to dismantle the building and auction it at a Fund Raising Auction. Most of the building materials were bought by people in the Pyrenees Shire and some of them will be used in the restoration of other old buildings.

Since the Library has been taken down, local residents have been reminiscing about the many meetings they have attended; among these were the C.W.A., Table Tennis, Euchre Tournaments and the Waubra Branch of the R.S.L., who also used the Library for approximately two years while waiting for their own hall.

Back in the 1930s, one young member of the Lexton Free Library was Nancy Powell (nee Barratt) who remembered with pleasure how she used to enjoy riding her horse from Mt. Mitchell to the corner store, where she would obtain the key for the Library. She would then go and choose a book before making the return journey on horseback. There will be many memories of the Lexton Free Library which played an important role in the life of the Lexton community.

(My thanks to Margaret Oulton for this interesting snippet of local history. Ed.)

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After the very hot summer we have endured in Victoria this year, we can feel for the folk in the Navarre area in 1893. The Age of 15th December, 1893, reported: “During Sunday last, which was the hottest day of the season – the thermometer registering 140 degrees in the sun and 103 in the shade at Navarre Post Office – a fire broke out at the Woodlands run, about a mile from here. Had it not been for the prompt attention of willing workers, the fire might have proved serious, as it was very near the holdings of several farmers. Although completely mastered before night, the place will require to be watched, as most of the timber is ringed and burning fiercely. The origin of the fire is not known.”

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THE EARLY DAYS IN AVOCA. The Melbourne Argus published the following report from Avoca on 26th March, 1856:-

“The deep sinking diggings, as they are termed, are about three quarters of a mile from the township, and from all accounts, seem to afford pretty general satisfaction. The success which has been attended by the efforts of the majority of the diggers has served very much to increase the population.

Carts and waggons arrive almost daily with their loads of fresh diggers and storekeepers. As proof of this great increase to the population, I may state that the flat in the immediate vicinity of the deep sinking which a few weeks ago had scarcely a tent on it, has now hundreds of tents and thousands of people; indeed, there is a main street with erections on both sides, and what with flags, stores, butchers’ shops, eating houses, hotels, etc., the scene is indeed most striking; thus a small township has almost risen in a day. The population of the diggings in the vicinity of Avoca is estimated at 15,000; this may be correct if the inhabitants of the town are included.

The Wesleyan Methodist residents here seem to be very zealous in husbanding the interests of their church. The Rev. Mr. Dyson who, until lately, was the minister here, has been removed to Belfast, and in his stead, the Rev. B. S. Walker has been appointed. Since Mr. Walker’s arrival, the old canvas chapel, which was situated on the borders of the town, has been taken down and re-erected near the minister’s residence on land given to the Wesleyans by the Government. The old canvas chapel as thus erected is used as a day school. On Monday last, the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the new Wesleyan Methodist Chapel took place. The ceremony commenced with the 22nd chapter of the first book of Chronicles being read, a hymn was then sung and prayer offered, after which the Rev. B. S. Walker officiated in laying the stone. The reverend gentleman then delivered the address and closed the ceremony by the singing of a hymn and offering prayer.

At five o’clock the same afternoon, a tea meeting came off in the school room when about 150 people sat down to tea, after which a public meeting was held, presided over by the Rev. B. S. Walker, who explained that the meeting was to raise funds to erect a Methodist Chapel to be built of brick in the Gothic style. Addresses were then delivered by Messrs. Headen, Richards, Lucas and Rowe. The doxology was then sung and the meeting ended with prayer. The friends separated highly pleased with their evening’s entertainment. About £108 was raised, including proceeds of the tea meeting.”

(My thanks to Elsie Graham for this article. Ed.)

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On 17th September, 1870, the Avoca Mail reported:-

“The new rush near Donkey Hill has turned out to be a hoax. Several holes have bottomed during the last week, nearly all round the prospectors, and all duffers, some scarcely raising the color. On Tuesday, a party of Europeans resolved to go down the prospectors’ shaft and try some washdirt. The result was a few specks to the bucket. The Celestials were then charged with salting the washdirt, for on comparing the natural prospect with that of the first load, 6 dwt. inclusive of a 3 dwt. nugget, they did not correspond. The claims are nearly all deserted.

The rush at No. 2 has at last joined the old lead, but is very poor and narrow as it approaches the old ground, not a claim wide. Several claims have bottomed this week and only two obtained payable prospects, viz., a party of Welshmen, 3 dwt. off the bottom, but those who have washed, especially at the surface end, are averaging good returns. Cummings and party tried a machineful of dirt, which realized half an ounce to the load. T. Ward and party, 68 loads, 28 oz. 13 dwt. 12 gr.; Wiseman and party, 48 loads, 24 oz. Considering this dirt was taken from the surface to the rock, averaging about five feet deep, it is remarkably rich, and further along the lead, two paddocks were washed up with smaller returns. Carroll and Co., 3 dwts to the load. Sale and party, between 5 dwt. and 6 dwt. to the load, which will pay them good wages.

Nothing of any importance has occurred at the lower end of the deep lead.

While writing, I am informed a new rush has broken out the other side of No. 1 Creek; depth of sinking, 14 feet; 5 dwt. to the load obtained. As yet there are not many persons on the ground.

Since Mr. Clapperton’s machinery has arrived, quartz reefers and speculators are up and doing a step in the right direction. A co-operative company, of twelve in number, has taken up a reef known as Hale’s Reef, just above Mr. Clapperton’s dam, named the Percydale Company. Two men are employed sinking a shaft a few feet to the west of the line of reef. They intend sinking to a depth of 100 feet before opening out. It will be remembered by some of your readers that 11 dwt. to the ton was obtained on the surface, and at a depth of 70 ft., 13 dwt. was got. Considering the above facts, the company have great inducements for their enterprise, and there are rumors of several other companies being formed to follow their example.

I wish them success, as I know from my own experience there are several reefs in the valley that only require capital to develop their hidden riches.”

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(From The Australian Templar of December, 1874, page 154)

“No. 149 Elmhurst – Impressed with the necessity of aggressive effort, this Lodge has been endeavouring to advance the good cause of temperance, and with considerable success. While starting with twenty-two members, there are now fifty-six on the roll. Several public meetings have been held in Glenpatrick, a small township six miles distant, the result being an addition to the membership of nineteen. ‘Hoyle’s Hymns’ have been found valuable both in the Lodge and the public meetings. The idea of a temperance hall was some months since started by sisters Mrs. Wiltshire, Miss Malcolm, and M. E. Malcolm, and it was so eagerly adopted by the members, that the foundation stone of a brick building is to be laid on the 26th ult., to cost £140. Towards this, £60 have already been secured. It is expected that not more than £50 will have to be borrowed on the building.”

(From The Australasian Templar of January, 1875, page 167)


“This small township was the scene of a very interesting ceremony on 27th Nov., 1874 – the laying of the foundation stone of the Temperance Hall, an edifice which will owe its erection to the spirited enterprise of the Good Templars of the district. The weather was somewhat unpropitious. Notwithstanding, there was a good number of people assembled, including brothers and sisters from Avoca, Amphitheatre, Glenpatrick, Eversley, and Mount Cole. The proceedings commenced by a procession of Good Templars and Rhecabites, clothed in regalia, with banners floating in the breeze. A luncheon was then served – the intention having been to spread it on the green sward, picnic fashion, but which was frustrated by an untimely shower. Both old and young seemed to particularly enjoy the good things set before them. In procession order, the people now adjourned to the hall site. Here Bro. Avison, W.P.C.T. of Avoca Lodge, was called to the chair, efficiently discharging its duties. One of Hoyle’s hymns being sung, Bro. the Rev. D. O’Donnell, W.C.T. Avoca, offered prayer, earnestly invoking the Divine blessing upon the good cause which the ceremonies of that day were designed to promote. Bro. Malcolm, W.C.T. Elmhurst, now presented Sister Wiltshire, W.A.S., with a trowel, which she handled well in spreading a mortar bed for the stone; and having put the stone in its place, declared it ‘well and truly laid’. Bro. Malcolm and Sister M. E. Malcolm, W.S., then presented Sister Wiltshire, in the name of the Lodge, with the following address, printed on white satin, and elegantly framed:- ‘To Mrs. Michael Wiltshire, on her laying the foundation stone of the Elmhurst Temperance Hall. We, the undersigned, on behalf of your brothers and sisters of the Lodge No. 149 of the Independent Order of Good Templars of Victoria, present you with this address, as an expression of their great esteem for your personal character, as a record of your having originated the proposal to build the hall, and in grateful acknowledgment of your liberal gift of a site on which to erect it. We propose and expect to put the hall to such general and useful purposes as will prove a source of enjoyment and satisfaction to you throughout your life. We cordially couple the name of your dear husband with yours in our thanks; for, as we well know, he has most sincerely and fully sympathised with your generous feelings in the action you have taken. Wishing you and him a long term of years, of useful and happy days, and the enriching blessing of God now and for ever, we, with high esteem, and equal pleasure, and on behalf of our Lodge, subscribe ourselves yours affectionately and faithfully, James Malcolm, W.C.T., Mary E. Malcolm, W.S. Elmhurst, Nov. 27th, 1874.’

To this address both Mr. and Mrs. Wiltshire replied, Mrs. Wiltshire’s reply being as follows:- ‘Worthy Chief Templar and Worthy Secretary, – I cheerfully accept this presentation address which my brothers and sisters have thus so kindly presented to me through you. As I am not a public speaker, please accept my thanks yourselves, and give them to all the members of our Lodge. I hope and believe the Hall will be a great benefit to the township. Again I say – Accept my warmest thanks.’

Congratulatory and apposite speeches were delivered by the Revs. D. O’Donnell, W.C.T., and G. Mathers, Avoca; and Bros. Holmes, W.P.C.T., and Ranson, Elmhurst. Miss Malcolm presided at the harmonium in an efficient manner. About two hundred people stood around the stone, and gave an eag er and appreciative attention to all that was done and said.

A bazaar of useful and fancy articles was now opened by Sister Miss Malcolm and her assistants, and a refreshment stall by Sisters Mrs. Wiltshire, Mrs. Holmes, and M. E. Malcolm, both of which proved a good source of revenue. A concert took place in the evening. The hall is expected to be finished by the end of the year. It will be used not only for temperance purposes, but religious services, and all objects of an elevating order. The Templars of Elmhurst are to be congratulated on their enterprise, and the district on its advantages.