The village of Chewton, just 115 kilometres north-west of Melbourne and five kilometres from vibrant Castlemaine, acknowledges the Dja Dja Wurrung, also known as the Jaara People, as the Traditional Owners and custodians of this land and recognise the Dja Dja Wurrung’s ongoing connection to the Country. Some of the local Aboriginal sites have been dated back thousands of years.
Chewton is on the Pyrenees Highway in Victoria's Central Highlands and has local amenities and historic sites, including interesting relics of the gold mining days, all within walking distance.
Chewton, Located on Forest Creek, Chewton received its name in 1856 and became a municipality in 1860, later becoming part of the Shires of Metcalfe and Mount Alexander. The town is on the Mount Alexander Road which ran from Melbourne to the Victorian goldfields. The town is surrounded by box-ironbark forest, bushland settlement and the World Heritage protected Diggings National Park.
Whilst the town became famous after alluvial gold was found locally, which sparked the Victorian gold-rush, the area was a known travelling route and camp stop for Aboriginal tribes for many centuries before the Europeans arrived.
The Dja Wurrung, or Jaara People, are the Traditional Owners and custodians of Chewton and its surrounds. Indigenous people sharpened their tools over the centuries, and the scars of central Victoria’s early history can still be seen deep in the landscape, with some Aboriginal sites dating back thousands of years. There are also water holes that were used by indigenous peoples as they travelled around Mount Alexander, most of them ground out of the rock to become a water catchment for them.
In 1836-37, Major Mitchell was the first European in the area, on his travels into 'Australia Felix'. The first white settler in the region was a sheep station owner named Dr Barker in the late 1830s. The year 1851 was to see major changes in the area after a shepherd named John Worley found gold on Dr Barker’s property while panning in Forest Creek that year. This led to the start of a massive gold rush. It was estimated that around 30,000 gold-prospectors arrived in the area within three months.
The first prospectors to the site came from Melbourne, and the field soon became known as the Mount Alexander diggings. As part of the centenary celebrations in 2001, the road from Melbourne, known as the Mt Alexander Rd, saw a re-enactment of the trek. There soon followed international gold-diggers to the site and before long there was said to be four times as many diggers with an Asian background as there were prospectors with a European heritage. What was to become Chewton later, was a hillside used as the site for the first government camp of the diggings. This meant that Chewton was one the state's richest sites, due to the same of expensive gold licences, and was being panned longer than most other areas at the time.
St. John’s is the only remaining church in Chewton still used as a place of worship. It is part of the Anglican Parish of Castlemaine. Located at 11 Church Street, St John’s is set on a hill among gum trees and overlooks the township. St John’s is typical of a small country church as the stone slab for a back step demonstrates, yet the stained-glass windows allow a play of light when the sun streams through.
The church, supported by the generosity of local people throughout its history, was struck by a cyclone in 1901. A letter from the Archdeacon of Bendigo, J.C. MacCullagh, to The Argus in November of that year states “The church exists no longer. The late cyclone levelled it with the ground. It is an utter ruin - church, organ, furniture, all wrecked. Mr Lamb, the honorary secretary, an old and faithful member of the church, was crushed to death beneath the ruins of his house.” Today, local residents continue to support the church. Artists donate their time and talents at a monthly concert where all proceeds from the AUD5 entrance fee go to the upkeep of the church.
A Eucharist service is held every Saturday at 18:00. Into the Silence meditation and silent prayer takes place every Monday at 15:30. Sunday services are held at Christ Church in Castlemaine, which also holds a healing service each month on a Sunday afternoon at 17:00.
A community hub since 1879, the Chewton Post Office on Main Road remains a place to send and receive mail, offering PO boxes, banking, bill payment as well as incorporating a charming gift shop. The distinctive red brick Post Office Building is also now protected by being on the list of Historic Buildings Register of Victoria.
Statement of significance
The statement of significance for Chewton Post Office on the Historic Buildings Register states that “it is an essentially intact and fine example of a small post office, with arcade and round arches.” It was designed by Public Works Department architect, George Watson, who was also responsible for the design of the Bendigo Post Office. It was built following the appointment of the former Chewton mayor and councillor, JB Patterson, to the Commissioner of Public Works in 1879.
Chewton is famous for the Monster Meeting: a miner’s uprising on 15 December 1851, when a crowd of 15,000 gold prospectors gathered at Forest Creek goldfield to protest a proposed gold licence fee increase (before the Red Ribbon Rebellion in Bendigo in 1853 and Eureka in Ballarat in 1854). This is considered to have been a key step towards democracy in the State of Victoria. The fighting spirit has continued well into the twentieth century in relation to a more recent battle relating to the quaint Post Office, which has only been able to survive thanks to the determination of local residents, who have saved their Post Office from closure three times in its 140-year history, most recently in 1996.
Life Cycle Gymnasium is open 365 days each year, open from 6.00am to 8.30pm weekdays and from 8.30am to 4.30 pm on weekends. The gym is fully air-conditioned, allowing those in the area to workout in an air-conditioned whatever the weather is doing outside. It is easy to find, being located at 732 Pyrenees Highway in Chewton.
The gym offers personal training, massage, spin classes, nutritional advice, weight loss programmes, as well as support to improve core strength, correct posture and improve cardio fitness through a wide range of facilities to suit all lifestyles, budgets and fitness needs. Tourists can also sign up for the duration of their stay in the area.
Life Cycle Gymnasium has a full range of free weights, as well as cardio and boxing equipment. There is also a fit ball exercise area and regular spin classes which are free to members.
If you want to lose weight, the best advert for the business is the owner-manager, Maree. She lost eight kilogrammes in just three months without radically changing her diet or cutting out particular food groups. Using a sensible diet and an exercise programme three hours a week, she has become a stronger and healthier person, and you can too.
On the corner of Hunter Street and Baker Street, Free Food Foragers is a grassroots initiative that began in 2014 to share knowledge of foraging, self-sustainability, free food and wild edibles.
Free Food Foragers was founded by Ingrid, who moved from Melbourne to Castlemaine in 2013 with her partner Michael and their new son, Oscar. New to the area, she spent a lot of time walking and noticed many plants that sparked her curiosity, her first being a sticky weed commonly known as Cleaver which was in her garden and difficult to get rid of. Doing some research, she found that Cleaver is actually an edible weed with great health benefits. She researched and discovered that many other plants growing wild locally also had medicinal and nutritional qualities, and so her obsession with foraging began.
Ingrid and Michael then began to cultivate certain plants at their home which are commonly considered weeds, but which have many benefits. Another example is that she makes tea with stinging nettles which are high in iron, calcium and magnesium and have a pleasant nutty flavour. When cooked or dried the nettles lose their sting and can be used to treat muscle cramps or improve the immune system and mental calmness.
For those wishing to visit the picturesque historic village of Chewton, Ottery Cottage is a great little hideaway that offers holiday accommodation in a charming self-contained stone cottage set within the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park. The cottage, managed by Debbie and Phil, is an 1850’s historic property with its own private garden which is artfully conceived, with wonderful views overlooking the National park and the perfect place to sit and read a book on a sunny day, watch kangaroos graze on the flats just beyond the fence whilst the sun sets against the hillside behind them or listen to the frogs at night.
The cottage is cosy, comfortable and exceptionally clean. It is within walking distance of local amenities and historic sites from thousands of years ago when indigenous peoples crossed the land, through to the gold-rush years when prospectors panned for gold. The cottage is also just five kilometres from vibrant Castlemaine, which is a simple drive or a one-hour walk away.
The cottage has room for two guests, having one bedroom with a comfortable queen size bed and quality linens, making it an ideal retreat for couples. The style, while eclectic, works perfectly with furniture and décor that fit together like puzzle pieces. The living room area is well-appointed, and the kitchenette is fully equipped. There is a large bathroom with an over-sized spa bath. Heating is from a gas log fire, creating a cosy warmth in cold weather, and there is also air-conditioning. Also included in the facilities are a television, a sound dock with blue-tooth and local provisions are also supplied, including organic milk, fruit, freshly-ground coffee, tea, orange juice and sourdough bread.
Debbie & Phil are experienced, highly rated hosts who are committed to providing great stays for guests, making you feel welcome without invading your privacy. On Airbnb, 100% of recent guests gave the check-in process a 5-star rating, with similar results on TripAdvisor.
Chewton monthly is a publication that focuses on Chewton and district. It is produced by volunteers who also help with distribution and published by the Chewton Domain Society (CDS) to publicise and promote local events, groups and businesses. Chewton Chat is a not-for-profit publication of the CDS, which is also a not-for-profit community organisation. Funding comes from advertising in the paper as well as generous donations.
A CDS Subcommittee is responsible for Chewton Chat, which is circulated on the first of each month, with a deadline for news stories, articles, letters and ideas for consideration set around the 22nd day of the previous month.
Chewton Chat, known locally as The Chat, is an A4 sized colour and monochrome newspaper and is a member of the Community Newspaper Association of Victoria (CNAV) and has won awards or been a finalist most years for its quality journalism. This includes best editorial comment, best history article, best hard news reporting, best community reporting and best news feature story.
Chewton Chat is available to read online at www.issuu.com and www.chewton.net and also has its own Facebook page. Each month, 600 copies are circulated to pick-up points including the Chewton General Store, Top Dog, Chewton Post Office, Chewton Service Station, Red Hill Hotel, Castle Automotive Enterprises and Chewton’s Tourist Information Board, as well as the Bold Cafe, She Sells Seafood, Castlemaine Library, Market Building, Castlemaine Community Health, CIC, Castlemaine Copy Centre and Castlemaine Office Supplies. Mt. Alexander Hospital Residential also receives monthly copies, all of which are within the local government area of Mount Alexander Shire to include not just Chewton, but also Spring Gully, Fryerstown, Faraday, Golden Point and Wesley Hill.
Chewton Primary School is a small school on Hunter Street which began the new school year in 2019 with an enrolment of 86 pupils from pre-primary to Grade 6. In the first term an acting principal is covering whilst the permanent head teacher takes sabbatical leave.
The school itself is classified as a heritage school building, in a rural setting surrounded by landscaped grounds with children having access to hard areas for ball games, artificial lawns, adventure play equipment and natural bushland. Within the school, the library and music/art space have recently been upgraded in style sympathetic to the character of the building.
With a small school roll, it is possible to plan activities in which the entire school can take part. In addition, the school shares extra-curricular activities with other small schools in the area. Trips away from school are arranged to support the learning programmes and include visits to museums, artistic events and performances. To encourage the children to feel part of the wider community, the pupils also participate in local events.
The primary school encourages the children to be independent, but at the same time able to work together with their peers both during lessons and at play time. The school nurtures the values of the wider community and post a weekly newsletter on the school website and share news in the Chewton Chat newsletter with the wider community.
Chewton House is based in East Melbourne and named after the small country town of Chewton in Victoria, part of the Castlemaine Diggings gold rush area. Chewton was where Phyllis Archer (nee Passmore) and Thomas Archer lived after they had eloped from Gretna Green, just across the English border into Scotland in 1852. Phyllis and Thomas were the forebears of the Archer, Walsh and Crofts families in Chewton.
Chewton was the home of Ian Crofts, the great-grandson of Phyllis, who for a lot of his childhood lived at the Chewton Post Office, which was the family home for more than 50 years and bore an architectural resemblance to Chewton House in East Melbourne, which also has Victorian arches. In actual fact, Chewton House predates the Post Office by a couple of years, since the house was built in 1877 and the Post Office built in 1879.
Ian's grandmother, Grandma Taylor (the name of her second husband, who she married after the death of her first husband Thomas Walsh from war-related injuries in 1920) and his mother were both post-mistresses from the early 1920s through to 1975.
Ian had a lot of very fond memories of childhood trips to Chewton and nights spent in what was then appeared to be a grand and imposing building. Ian died in 2017, at the age of 86. His son John Crofts is certain that Ian would have been honoured and touched by the new development of Chewton House.