Day tripper: The welcoming lights of Dunolly

THE fairy lights were bright on Broadway this week. 

Dunolly’s main street pub, the Royal, looked the part for Christmas, the old girl a tangle of bling and tinsel.

Handmade decorations hung from weary verandah posts all along Broadway, giving an air of theatrics to this classic old goldfields town.

Less than an hour’s drive from Bendigo, Dunolly is one of those places that feels a million miles away. It’s a little time capsule, where patience and a humane pace still dominate.

Despite its faded vintage charm and proximity to the likes of Maldon, Dunolly has so far escaped the hipsters’ hand, meaning there are still bargains to be found in the bric-a-brac stores and seats to be had at the café tables.

At Wright on Broadway you’ll likely find Fiona Lindsay’s welcoming ways. This café/restaurant/local provedore/wine store has been accommodating locals and visitors since Scotsman James Bell found the location worthy in 1857.

“And it’s retained its grocers licence since then, which is pretty amazing,” Fiona says.

Bell’s influence over the district is unmatched. Grocer/banker/grain exporter/mayor/upper house member, the list goes on… he even founded the town’s theatrical group.

Fiona is most interested in the architectural legacy he left in Dunolly. As well as the store, Bell built the town hall, the court house, and the amazing home Fiona and her husband have called home for the past 10 years.

“The McMansion of its day,” she laughs. “He came out here and made a fortune – I came and lost one.

“He was a canny Scot and I’m not – but it’s all for a good cause to save the buildings.”

Fiona has since restored her home, the store, and worked as part of a community effort to bring its grand and historic public buildings back to life.

The court house and town hall are shining again and the town has recently received a $250,000 grant to restore its original stables, police station and lock-up.

Fiona opened Wright on Broadway seven years ago.

 “I wanted to keep the place going and keep the licence going,” she says. “And I knew enough about the area’s wine and food to know there was terrific produce here and nobody sold it.”

Newcomer Rachel Buckley is doing her bit to add to the culture of this tiny town. A member of the National Trust, Rachel first came to Dunolly two years ago as part of an open day to tour the old buildings.

“I was on my way to see the town hall but I came on the wrong day and I saw this place instead,” she says of the old Junction Hotel where we sit and drink tea and flick through old documents from the Junction’s past.

This big old hotel was originally a hub of entertainment for the district. Rachel has the evidence of the fun that was had here. The Sports for Diggers carnivals of the mid-1800s may never be repeated – consider games like shooting a fine fat pig, jumping in sacks to catch a fine fat pig and catching a fine fat pig with his tail well oiled – but thanks to Rachel the fun will continue.

She is working to restore the hotel for classical and theatrical music soirees. The first is planned for this May.

It will be a tribute to Rachel’s heroine, Nellie Melba.

But first, she must finish painting the Melba Lounge. It’s taking four coats of Ginger Spice to get it just right.

It’s taken Rachel a while to get stuck into the work. For her first two years here she’s been busy running the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival, now a must-do on the Central Goldfield Shire’s Spring Fling calendar.

Rachel says the whole town got behind her theatrical initiative.

“So many people who took part hadn’t performed before and didn’t know it they could,” she says. “But they did and they were outstanding.

“There’s a whole perception in town that things are changing and there’s a real sense of pride.

“There’s an authenticity about the place. It’s not contrived.

“You can go to some country towns and they’re manicured to within an inch of their life.

“This town is real. It’s real and I love that.”

Things to do in and around Dunolly:

Tour the town’s court house, open each Saturday. The Superior Court, with Australian cedar fittings, is one of only three in the state to retain its original furniture. There’s also a full set of government gazettes dating from 1857, plus the silver trowel used to lay the foundation stone. The historic building was restored in 2012 thanks to some generous donations and pro-bono work from the locals. While you’re there, read the case against a brothel keeper, poor John Hodge, of Broadway, who in 1892 was caught bolstering his hardware store’s takings with a little ill repute.

Sample the region’s finest food and wine at Wright on Broadway. The house-made cakes are a must.

Find a treasure in an old wares store – Dunolly boasts a collection of character-filled shops boasting country prices.

Stock up at the town’s butcher and baker for old-fashioned hospitality.

Stay overnight in the charming, recently restored Elizabeth’s Cottage – the original home of Dunolly’s most famous resident, James Bell, and his family.

Take the 10-minute drive to Timor West to see the Grand Duke Mine. There, in seemingly the middle of nowhere, you’ll find the most beautiful, haunting stone arch, once used to hold up the biggest deep lead mining engine beam in Australia.

Pack your fishing rods for nearby Bealiba or Laanecoorie reservoirs.

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