Wednesday, 26 December 2012


                                          A formerly grand hotel which has aged in the sun

The small city of Castlemaine (the smallest in Australia), promises a relaxing time, its detached houses seen with tables and chairs arranged on their verandahs, or decking, as one passes into the city on my bicycle. It is set a 
bowl with two hills within it. One has the red brick former prison located upon it, the other has a memorial to Burke and Wills, the two leaders of the ill-fated expedition of 1861, which endeavoured to cross the continent from north to south and return. Burke was a local resident.

                                         A display of locally produced honey at the Farmers' Market

One, of several live bands playing at Market and Art Fair

Proteas for sale at one of the markets

A uunicyclist entertains both young and old alike on market day

A display of this gentleman's pottery

Australia nearly had a revolution in 1854. The Crown wanted to force diggers to buy licences. The miners demanded voting rights, representation and to be able to purchase land. They were led by former Chartists from England. After a battle at Eureka and deaths, the result was the granting of the vote. Democracy can be said to have started from here in Victoria. 

Locally handmade organic soaps

                                                 A local digeridoo craftsman displays his instruments 

                        A locally hand-made tandem, with the pilot operating it from the stoker's position

A local house

The old railway hotel

The old fire station has been reincarnated as a coffee shop

The city is named after Viscount Castlemaine, from Ireland. It also is mentioned  in that well-known ballad, "the Wild Colonial Boy", which is based on the exploits of local resident, Jack Doolan, who was born in Ireland.

There was a wild Colonial Boy,
Jack Doolan was his name,
Of poor but honest parents,
He was born in Castlemaine.
He was his father's only hope
His mother's pride and joy,
And dearly did his parents love
The Wild Colonial Boy.

(With 7 more verses)

                                         An abandonded house dating from gold prospecting times

Municipal buildings

Immediately on entering the city one is struck by the fact that it is not "a clone town", which unfortunately most of England is. Just one supermarket, which is a cooperative. An ongoing and vigourous campaign to keep the big players firmly shut out and thus keeps the smallest city in Australia in its historical garb. The result is a place which is walkable, friendly and local. Local entrepreneurs live and work here, thus keeping the money and employment local and community like. The numerous small shops are interesting and welcoming. Groups of people standing on the wide, shaded pavements, chatting leisurely, or else sitting in one of the very many cafes/coffee shops, smiling and laughing in the holiday atmosphere. Life moves slowly here. There is a weekly market, where people meet up socially, I recognised people from my first visit here 12 years ago, when I received a second cup of coffee for free because I praised the quality of the first cup!. Also, there are two monthly markets: one a farmers' market, the other is an art market.  

A street view illustrating older architecture which dominates the town. So far developers have not been able to get a foot in the door

A relic from earlier days

                                         A quiet  and cool, coffee shop, a hideaway when the temperature 
                                         is rising       

                                          The way out of the city, a quiet railway station, with my bike
                                           propped against the wall waiting for the next train

There is also the oldest continuous run theatre in Australia, dating from 1858, the Theatre Royal, Castlemaine. The Botanical Gardens date from 1860 . What was formerly 60 acres of well-used diggings was set aside for the making of a botanical garden, which had for its first curator a man who trained under Paxton at Chatsworth. There is a beautiful avenue of elms and also one of oaks and a lake. Quite a contrast to the wild west atmosphere of the 25,000 plus, gold diggers of the 1850's..The prison reminds one of this fact. A great place to sit in the shade with a book and a coffee on a sweltering day.

Cinema-goers enjoy a night out in Castlemaine in central Victoria.

                            The 150 year old Theatre Royal is still a busy place, with drama, music                    e
                                           and exhibitions occupying its time and space

The whole region still bears the scars of the gold mining, dating from the middle of the 19th century: pollarded tree stumps, soil erosion and gullies from the rapacious denuding of the environment to gain access to the ore. The top soil is completely missing.

Castlemaine Botanic Gardens, Goldfields, Victoria, Australia

Part of the 150 year-old botanical gardens which were created from formerly
 useless gold mine workings


It is a great pleasure for an Englishman to be bowled over with the courtesy, helpfulness and smiling service in shops, library, rail station, etc "hows it go?" said with a smile and eye contact! The residents are very proud of the city, which is not a common occurence in England!

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Organic Farm

I have moved from the forest to the farm, from trees to open countryside. An earlier posting of pictures was from this farm. An early morning start to work on most days is 06.00,this is to avoid working in the heat. The organic vegetables are the only production done. Little is produced at this time of year, as summer is not yet here (November/December). Most of the work involved mulching, watering and building up the raised beds. Fencing and netting needs to be kept in good repair because the roos and wallabies crash blindly through and then eat everything.

                                          Part of the grain milling area

                                                   Among the growing grain fields

                                          Sunset at the farm

                                         Inside Andrew and Jenny's straw bale constructed house,
                                         which is as cool as a cucumber with walls 1.5 feet thick.

                                          A field of emmer grain

                                                   A clear view of the granite grain grinder,
                                                   which preserves the delicate nutrients and enzymes

However I did visit a neighbour's farm, which is a large commercial outfit, but with a difference. Andrew's family had had the farm for 150 years yet, a few years ago, he had a sudden realisation that chemicals was not the way forward. He converted to organic and then to Bio Dynamic methods of production. He now produces very high value, but low yielding ancient grains, spelt (which is mentioned in the bible and grown in Egypt, see Exodus) and emmer, even lower yielding and slow growing, which was first cultivated by the Babylonians. Both are very tall. Spelt bread is sometimes found in health food shops, or by specialist artisan bread makers.

                                          Some of the grain elevators at the farm

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

"The Community"

This trip sees me still "winging it". Just wait to see what comes along. It was by chance that I was asked if I would like to look after an octogenarian couple for a couple for a few weeks by cooking and rescuing their beautiful garden from an invasion of weeds. They happened to live in an intentional community of 9+ families, which was resigned by David Holmgren, the originator of Permaculture, ( There are commonly agreed rules and responsibilities for the running of the community. The setting is in a valley which is surrounded by State Forest. Great harmony and social interaction, as well as common action of projects, such as clearing wood to reduce fire risk, was what I observed. All are self-employed, or of independent means. They built their own houses, or else collaborated. One couple are film makers; another manufacture futons; a third makes tents and yurts; a fourth is a designer and green consultant.

They have a large dam to supply water for gardens. Rainwater is for domestic use and a spring is used for drinking water. It has an effervescence feel to the tongue and if full of healthy minerals, it is velvety in the mouth the and is most refreshing. Electricity is generated by solar power.

The local Senior Citizens have a regular meal to which I was invited. It was served by female inmates from the prison in nearby Castlemaine. A similar invitation saw me with a group of local wool spinners.
There is a weekly film show that is shown in 16mm! Quite surprised that the format is still available. The hall was used by Burke and Wills, the explorers who suffered the same fate as Scott. Why do we not remember the survivors?

 View of part of the dam

One of the houses at the community

Part of the spinning group

A rammed earth house at the community, the home of  my hosts.
The walls are 1 foot thick and insulate superbly and are much more green than fired bricks

A  glance at the list indicates the huge sacrifice made by small communities in a totally unjustified war. I stood mindfully before this Roll of Honour and read the names of the dead. One family lost six, many others two or three. I reflected on the folly of war, its waste and grief; why do we do this to ourselves? I fully understood why Churchill is so loathed in Australia.

A more conventional hose at the community

A more simple residence in the forest: a yurt, occupied by a single person who used an electric bicycle for transport

Part of the garden that I spent time rescuing, the wormery is on the right

A relaxing time at Castlemaine market on a Saturday morning

Caslemaine has a weekly market for locally produced food and cottage industries, such as fruit and veg, honey, pottery, locally roasted coffee, plants. I met many people, which of course the average tourist is unlikely to do. A social occasion at which I recognised people from my last visit here four years ago. Castlemaine was mentioned in the song, "The Wild Colonial Boy"