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.
Yet gold certainly defined the built township along Forest Creek and changed the face of the area, altering the landscape, destroying vegetation and scarring the land. Whilst the influx of vast numbers of gold prospectors caused significant environmental, economic and social disruption; it also created opportunities for those from around the globe who fought for respect, freedom and recognition as citizens. The Monster Meeting of diggers in December 1851, which took place in central Chewton, was a watershed in the struggle for Australian democracy which impacted not just locally, but nationally. Chewton residents are proud to have retained this strong and definite sense of identity within the community which keeps it independent of nearby Castlemaine.
Chewton: Independent and proud
This independence and pride, the residents, have in Chewton’s heritage came to the fore in the mid-1990s. In April 1996, the Shire of Mount Alexander Council formed just one year earlier, put the Chewton Post Office on a list of assets for sale. The townsfolk rallied to maintain local public ownership of the local post office, and in response, the Shire Commissioners offered the Post Office back to the people of Chewton, along with the Town Hall and Ellery Park. In November 1996, a local committee was formed and adopted ‘Chewton Township Domain’ as the name for the precinct, and the Chewton Domain Society (CDS) was founded to manage, preserve and improve these assets. Today, volunteers within the CDS manage the maintenance, development, usage and leasing arrangements of Ellery Park, with its free community BBQ facilities and public toilet. They also manage the People and Places Historic Display in the Chewton Town Hall, open on weekend afternoons as well as producing the monthly Chewton Chat which shares local news and promotes Chewton and district businesses and organisations as well as various online sites.
More than 1100 floral species have been found in and around Chewton. This includes the hardy Purple Coral-pea (Hardenbergia violacea) that was used by early European settlers as a replacement for sarsaparilla, which is why it is sometimes called False Sarsaparilla. There are several varieties of other creepers and climbers as well as lilies, shrubs, ferns, herbs and groundcover such as Sheep’s burr (Acaena) also known as Bidgee-widgee and Australian Carrot (Daucus glochidiatus) also known as Billy Buttons. There are also a wide variety of orchids and shrubs.
In 2011, the Chewton Bushlands Association was formed to promote sustainability and environmental protection of flora and fauna; safety, including fire protection; infrastructure maintenance and development and social networking. The Chewton Bushlands Association has compiled a full listing of all floral in the area, including colour photographs and is supporting the renewal of indigenous plants in the area that had been made barren through the gold rush years. This has been a struggle, but native planting within Ellery Park has been working well.
How to get there
There are hourly trains that run from Melbourne to Bendigo via Sunbury which stops off at Castlemaine, just under 90 minutes into the journey. From Castlemaine, there is a 15-minute bus ride that goes to the Town Hall in Chewton. The bus service runs three times daily.
Once a week there is a coach service once a week that runs from the Southern Cross Coach Terminal in Spencer Street, Melbourne, that goes to Kyneton where there's a two-hour transfer wait for the next bus to Chewton, 30 minutes further north.