50 towns in 50 days: A natural Amphitheatre

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THE town moved. The name stayed.

Amphitheatre was originally located about five kilometres south of its present spot, named by early explorer Major Thomas Mitchell who thought the village’s original site formed a natural amphitheatre in the Pyrenees mountain ranges.

In the 1890s, however, the town relocated to the highway.

But why waste an established name?

As part of the golden triangle, Amphitheatre experienced a population boom in the gold rush of the 1850s and 1860s and continues to attract prospectors to this day.

At its gold rush peak, the original Amphitheatre climbed to approximately 6000 residents, 1000 of whom were Chinese.

From those lofty peaks, the resident numbers dwindled to its current 260 but the town is far from dying, according to new publican John Sullivan.

The village is nestled in the heart of the Pyrenees wine region and attracts its fair share of the busloads of tourists who flock to the area for winery tours at weekends.

Mr Sullivan and his partner Catherine Spicer moved from Queensland to run Amphitheatre’s iconic pub one year ago.

“Most visitors come on the weekend, from Ararat, Avoca, Maryborough, Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong,” Mr Sullivan said.

He said their marketing strategy was to provide a place of relaxation for those dashing from vineyard to vineyard and their menu offerings were firmly rooted in their surrounding region.

“We have a limited and restricted license which is limited and restricted to Pyrenees wine and two local beers, he said.

Mr Sullivan said though small, the permanent population of Amphitheatre was relatively diverse, boasting everyone from farming families to tree changers to retirees.

“The community is quite friendly,” he said.

“The people who have moved from other towns are usually the ones who come in here for a coffee or drink and a meal.

“As far as social events go, we have a barbecue every Friday night during the summer.”

Mr Sullivan’s partner also makes the award winning Senses ice-cream on site at the hotel, which he said, was rapidly gaining a solid following.  

The basics

Municipality: Pyrenees Shire

Population: 260

First settled: 1855

Main industries: Sheep grazing, mining

Claim to fame: Amphitheatre has long been renowned for its hotel, which attracts people from far and wide for its locally sourced food, wine and beer. It now also offers award winning ice-cream.

Five fast facts

1. Amphitheatre was a major Victorian apple and cherry growing centre from the late 1800s until the early 1930s.

2. The town’s population peaked during the gold rush era at about 6000. Now less than 300 call it home.

3. The original Amphitheatre site was about five kilometres south of its current site. Following the gold rush, the town relocated to the highway in the 1890s.

4. It was named by the first European explorer to traverse the area, Major Thomas Mitchell, in the 1830s. He thought the original site of the village formed a natural amphitheatre. The name stayed when the town moved.

5. In 1861 the first Amphitheatre Primary School No. 22 was established.  

Five things to do

1. Visit the Mt Lonarch Gallery, which houses displays fine bone china collectables made and decorated on premises by artist Lorraine Lucey.

2. Go gold prospecting. Experts say there’s plenty of the shiny golden stuff still in the ground in the golden triangle and weekend gold prospectors continue to try their luck.

3. Visit the wool cottage. See multi-coloured sheep or browse the array of wool products, sheepskins and leather goods.

4. Visit the Amphitheatre Hotel. Serving the town since 1855, the “Amphi pub” is licensed to sell only Pyrenees wine and local beer, so it’s the perfect place to sample the delights of the region. It also sells the award-winning, house made Senses ice-cream.

5. Go bushwalking. Amphitheatre provides an excellent base to explore the many trails of the Pyrenees State Forest. Tracks cater for all fitness levels, from easy 1km walks up to the 18km Pyrenees Endurance Walk.

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