A last, sweet link with Victoria’s 1850s gold rush has been broken with the demise of Castlemaine Rock boiled lollies.
Sweet tooths are seizing the last tins in stores and posted sentiments such as “devastated” and “no no no say it isn’t true” on social media, with the news the Barnes family, the Rock’s maker for 165 years, has made its last batch.
Confectioner Peter Barnes is the fifth generation of his family to make and deliver the buttery, crumbly treat that is a household name for many Victorians.
Mr Barnes, whose great-great-grandfather Thomas Shinkfield Barnes started selling the lolly to miners in waxed cones at the tent city of Castlemaine in 1853, feels sad and disappointed.
But a drop in sales and the rising cost of tins imported from China with the falling Australian dollar have forced him to close the company’s humble Wallace Street factory.
Mr Barnes, 50, has worked here since finishing school in 1985 and in recent years has delivered more than 35,000 tins a year, all over Victoria and southern NSW.
Local historian Alleyne Hockley believes it was the town’s last family business from the 1850s gold rush, with Thompson’s Foundry, XXXX Beer and the bacon factory long since sold to multinationals.
Fellow historian Robyn Annear said Thomas Barnes was wise in selling a product to miners, “rather than competing with them for gold”.
She said even if people were poor, “most people could’ve afforded to treat themselves to a paper twist of sweets occasionally”.
After first setting up at Winters Flat, Thomas Barnes cashed in on the gold rush for decades and a second fortune came when passenger trains arrived, and he set up a stall at Castlemaine station when the steam trains took on coal and water there.
Thomas Barnes died in 1899 and his son William took over. From 1919 until 1971, William’s son Vernon made the Rock from a house in Gingell Street, now Gaulton Street.
In the mid-1930s a teacher designed the current distinctive yellow label with the initials BCR (Barnes Castlemaine Rock).
Vernon’s son Clarrie, initially a policeman, took over the business in 1970.
The Rock recipe – sugar, water, peppermint oil and antelope (a leavening agent) – hasn’t changed.
Nor has the very non-mechanised manufacturing process, from boiling ingredients in a saucepan to laying a slab of lolly on a table, aerating half the mixture on a hook to change its colour, to cutting the lollies out by hand.
Thomas Barnes, originally a baker, brought a lolly cutter from England, which Peter Barnes still used.
Peter hopes the brand can be revived and stay in Castlemaine.
Although disappointed to close, he said: “I feel a lot of pride there that we have bloody gone on, in the family, for so long”.
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