Sitting in a steep valley surrounded by extinct volcanoes lies Clunes, a historic gold mining town located in the central goldfields region of Victoria, north of Ballarat. The Djadja Wurrung people were the first inhabitants of the area and occupied most of central Victoria. The district was discovered by Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836.
Clunes – the Station of Donald Cameron Esq. JP, H88.21/42
The first European settler, Donald Cameron, took up a pastoral run in 1839, and named it ‘Clunes’ after his birthplace in Scotland. The name in Gaelic means ‘a green place’ or ‘a pleasant place’. First traces of gold were found on the property of Dugald Cameron, Donald’s uncle, in 1850.
The discovery of gold in the area was concealed until 1851 when Irishman James Esmond, ‘Lucky Jim’, mined some gold samples opposite Cameron’s property. He took the gold to a Geelong jeweller who proclaimed it to be genuine. Esmond is recognised as the first person to report a discovery of payable gold in Victoria. So here marked the beginning of the gold rush in Victoria with Clunes heralded as the colony’s first gold town.
Geelong Advertiser, Monday 7 July, 1851
In 1857 the Port Phillip Mining Company negotiated a lease with the land owners in Clunes that gave the company the right to mine the land with the owners receiving 10% of all gold mined. The mining was very lucrative amassing a wealth of £135,000 in royalties over the first twenty-four years. By 1873, the population of Clunes hit its peak at 6,203. The current population is 1,656. In that same year Clunes was the site of Victoria’s first gold strike. Workers at the Lothair Mine had been striking for many weeks in a bid to secure the eight hour day. The company directors of the mine changed tack and decided to bring in Chinese workers. On the morning the Chinese arrived by coach, 1000 men, accompanied by women and children, formed a barricade and proceeded to stone the Chinese. Police who arrived on the scene declared the barricade unbreachable. The coaches were forced to retreat to the delight of the rioters. The Victorian government took no action against the striking miners and no charges for riotous behaviour were laid.
[Port Phillip and Colonial Gold Mining Co., Clunes], H32085
Clunes is one of the most preserved 19th century towns in the central goldfields. This has made it a popular location for film and television. Fraser Street, the main drag, has appeared in major Australian films including Mad Max and Ned Kelly. The town is well known for its antique and collectable stores and since 2007 it has hosted the Booktown event, now held annually on the first weekend in May.
In 2010, Clunes was declared Australia’s first International Booktown by the International Organisation of Booktowns. Around 15,000 bibliophiles flock to the event to browse a vast array of collectable and second hand books. Around 60 visiting booksellers assume quarters in and around the town’s historic buildings. Clunes is experiencing a resurgence. So much so that the railway station was reopened in 2011.
Criterion Quartz Mining Compny [sic.] Clunes, IAN19/06/69/129
Criterion was a part of a co-operative with the Port Phillip Mining Company.
Written by Sarah Ryan
Librarian, Australian History & Literature Team
1. Markus, Andrew 1979, Fear and hatred: purifying Australia and California, 1850-1901, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney
2. Townsend, May 1989, Early pioneers in and around Clunes, M.L. Townsend, Kingston, Vic.
3. Townsend, May , The story of Clunes, M.L. Townsend, Kingston, Vic.