IN December, 1851, about 15,000 miners protested at the modern-day site of Golden Point Road in Chewton, demanding an end to Governor Charles La Trobe’s tax on gold licenses.
It was one of Australia’s first mass protests.
So when – 165 years later – Mount Alexander Shire Council put out plans to improve Chewton’s streetscape, they may have been unprepared for the level of blowback from residents.
Council officers were quickly directed back to the drawing board.
“The spirit of that protest lives on,” Pat Healy said.
That air of civil disobedience has, in a way, transferred into a strong sense of community action in the 21st century.
The town worked together to save its local pool, now a thriving community institution. It sits alongside the recreation reserve, another community asset that would not be possible without dedicated locals.
But there is always more to do – particularly when it comes to the historic sites literally buried beneath the public land surrounding Chewton.
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When the pine trees were removed in 2015, there were big plans – and promises – to use the land for public purpose including recognition of historic sites and Indigenous plantings. Three years later, it sits in an almost identical state.
Ms Healy said it was just one issue that locals had with the management of the historic diggings that surround the town.
“People treat the park very poorly. Dirt bikes, rubbish, illegal structures are a problem,” she said.
“Parks Victoria are trying to keep it under control, but more keeps on happening and they don’t have the resources to stop it.”
Another issue is the amount of paperwork required for the Chewton Landcare Group to carry out projects, Ms Healy says.
They recently had some success however, removing vast amounts of overgrown weeds from a creek to reveal a 19th century drainage system beneath the passing railway track.
The creek now flows healthily and the historic structure can be viewed by the public.
John Ellis, editor of the Chewton Chat, said while community groups had achieved a lot in recent years, one main problem still needed to be solved.
“Pedestrian safety in Chewton is a major issue,” he said.
“There was a recent fire in the main street and we had fire trucks blocking the main road.
“There needs to be a solution.”
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The student population at Guildford Primary School had dwindled to five when it was decided to stop taking enrolments earlier this year, and the school was closed.
The writing may have been on the wall for a while, but it still came as a shock to residents.
The town was left with the old structures, one of which was built in 1868. They have sat disused throughout 2018.
For a town of 300, it was difficult for some to watch on as the buildings started to show signs of neglect.
So in August, the Guildford Primary School Association was incorporated to lobby the Education Department to return the buildings to the community.
Bill Sampson helped to set the body up, and said the longer the buildings remained unused, the more difficult it would become to find a use for them.
“We want to see it used for education purposes and for uses like yoga classes, music lessons, machinery repair courses, basically allowing any community groups to use it,” he said.
“We accept that the school is unlikely to reopen. But if we can’t use these facilities, then they’ll just deteriorate and that would not benefit anybody.”
Motorists can pass through Guildford in very little time, and most would be unaware of the rich Gold Rush history of the area, the produce that comes from local businesses, and the 24 community groups that meet on a regular basis – from tap dancing to knitting.
Mr Sampson wants to see more signage around the town telling the stories of Guildford’s past – including the old fjord over the Loddon River, the town’s Swiss-Italian origins and Indigenous history.
Alan Joyce, who runs the Guildford Hotel, said they wanted to avoid becoming another “dormitory town” for Castlemaine or Melbourne.
He said there needed to be more space for local businesses to display and sell their produce in Guildford.