Castlemaine is a small city in Victoria, Australia, in the Goldfields region about 120 kilometres (75 miles) northwest by road from Melbourne and about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the major provincial centre of Bendigo.
- Area:19.811 km2
- Elevation:291 m
- Local Government Area:Mount Alexander Shire Council
Castlemaine is a small city in Victoria, Australia, in the Goldfields region about 120 kilometres (75 miles) northwest by road from Melbourne and about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the major provincial centre of Bendigo. It is the administrative and economic centre of the Shire of Mount Alexander. The population at the 2016 Census was 6,757. Castlemaine was named by the chief goldfield commissioner, Captain W. Wright, in honour of his Irish uncle, Viscount Castlemaine.
Castlemaine began as a gold rush boomtown in 1851 and developed into a major regional centre, being officially proclaimed a City on 4 December 1965, although since declining in population.It is home to many cultural institutions including the Theatre Royal, the oldest continuously operating theatre in mainland Australia.
Castlemaine exists on the traditional lands of the Dja Dja Wurrung people, also known as the Jaara people. They were regarded by other tribes as being a superior people, not only because of their rich hunting grounds but because from their area came a greenstone rock for their stone axes. Early Europeans described the Dja Dja Wurrung as a strong, physically well-developed people and not belligerent. The Jaara people have a rich culture and reverence for the land.The first European settlers named it Forest Creek and as the population grew it became known as Mount Alexander. The old name is still present in some place names in Victoria including the Shire of Mount Alexander and the former main road leading to it from Melbourne – Mount Alexander Road. Major Mitchell passed through the region in 1836. Following his discovery, the first squatters arrived in 1837 to establish vast sheep runs.
In 1854, Chief goldfields commissioner, Captain W. Wright, renamed the settlement 'Castlemaine' in honour of his Irish uncle, Viscount Castlemaine.
## Discovery of gold
On 20 July 1851 gold was discovered near present-day Castlemaine at Specimen Gully on Barkers Creek. The gold was discovered by Christopher Thomas Peters, a shepherd and hut-keeper on the Barker's Creek, in the service of Dr William Barker on his Mount Alexander run. When the gold was shown in the men's quarters, Peters was ridiculed for finding fool's gold, and the gold was thrown away. Barker did not want his workmen to abandon his sheep, but in August they did just that. John Worley, George Robinson and Robert Keen, also in the employ of Barker as shepherds and a bullock driver, immediately teamed with Peters in working the deposits by panning in Specimen Gully where the gold had been found, which they did in relative privacy during the next month. When Barker sacked them and ran them off his land for trespass, Worley, on behalf of the party "to prevent them getting in trouble", mailed a letter to The Argus dated 1 September 1851 announcing this new goldfield with the precise location of their workings. This letter was published on 8 September 1851. "With this obscure notice, rendered still more so by the journalist as 'Western Port', were ushered to the world the inexhaustible treasures of Mount Alexander" also to become known as the Forest Creek diggings. Within a month there were about 8,000 diggers working the alluvial beds of the creeks near the present day town of Castlemaine, and particularly Forest Creek which runs through Chewton where the first small village was established. By the end of the year there were about 25,000 on the field.
## Gold rush: a city develops
The first small village developed at Chewton, today in effect a suburb of Mount Alexander Shire, which included the Commissioner's tent, stores, an office for The Argus newspaper, and an office for the Mount Alexander goldfields' own newspaper the Daily Mail.
On 28 January 1852, William Henry Wright was one of nearly 200 men who were assigned or affirmed as Territorial Magistrates for Victoria. Not long after, he took control of the Mount Alexander diggings and set up a government camp on Forest Street near the junction of Barker and Forest Creeks. This was to be the new township of Castlemaine. The first reference in a newspaper to the township is found in the Geelong Advertiser of 13 March 1852 with the following notice:
"- The Lieutenant Governor has appointed John Fletcher, Esq., J.P., to be Police Magistrate at Castlemaine; but where Castlemaine is situate[d] we cannot tell."A court house was established on what is today known as Goldsmith Crescent, Castlemaine near the new government camp. Stores were also established nearby.
The first official Post Office at Castlemaine, named "Forrest Creek", opened on 1 March 1852. (Renamed the Castlemaine Post Office on 1 January 1854.) The first official Post Office was established after "The Argus" correspondent at Forest Creek had an article published in November 1851 that put the case forward for a Post Office to be established somewhere between the Forest Creek goldfield and Kyneton. At the same time (November 1851) he described the Forest Creek diggings as having many businesses such as stores and licensed hawkers and "at least 8000 persons on the two creeks". The need pointed out in "The Argus" in November 1851 had resulted in an unofficial Post Office being established on the diggings at Chewton in December 1851, a Post Office then described as being "on the most central part of the diggings".On 15 February 1853 town lots were offered for sale. By that time the first Castlemaine District Hospital had been opened, the gaol had been built, and Castlemaine was moving from 'tent' town to bricks and mortar.A local government was formed on 23 April 1855 and was later to become the Town of Castlemaine and in 1965 became the City of Castlemaine. However, with municipal amalgamations in the early 1990s, Castlemaine lost its 'City' status and is now simply the largest town in the Shire.
The Theatre Royal opened in 1856 to provide entertainment for the gold diggers, with a notable performance being provided by the world-renowned Lola Montes and her celebrated Spider Dance. It remains mainland Australia's continuously operating theatre.
In 1859, the historic Castlemaine Football Club was established. Evidence makes it the second oldest football club in Australia and one of the oldest football clubs in the world.
## After the gold rush
Before 1880 the residences numbered over 2000, and there was a population in the township of 7,500.As gold mining gradually ceased a number of other secondary industries sprang up. These included breweries, iron foundries and a woollen mill.Thompson's Foundry was one of Castlemaine's largest employers.
From the 1970s the industries that had dominated employment in the town for a century began to decline, with many factories closing and others such as Thompson's Foundry significantly downsizing. This led to the displacement of large numbers of people, with many families leaving in search of jobs elsewhere. The area's precious goldrush history and heritage was, however, increasingly recognised, along with its notable population of arts practitioners. Substantial planning and activity helped create new industries in heritage tourism, arts tourism, nature tourism and so on. As a result, Castlemaine began to be visited – and settled – by more 'outsiders', primarily from Melbourne.
Some of these more recent arrivals added to the gentrification of the Victorian era town, helping to preserve its already charming country aspect and enhancing it by establishing a number of cafes and restaurants. As with much gentrification, however, consequent rising house prices placed increased economic pressure on many earlier inhabitants who sometimes struggle to continue living in the area.
The town has, overall, taken on a fresh lease of life, combining some of the more desirable aspects of urban Melbourne with the charm and openness of old Castlemaine.
# Things to do