50 towns in 50 days: Golden Maryborough's a hive of industry

RIVERS of gold put Maryborough on the map in the 1850s but it was the manufacturing industry that kept it there 

Located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, Maryborough’s population peaked at more than 30,000 during the mid 19th century gold rush but it managed to largely escape the abandonment that befell many of its neighbouring towns by transitioning into a thriving industrial hub.

While the last gold mine in the town closed in 1918, the town’s knitting mill opened in 1924 and became a significant employer in the region, along with the flour mill.     

Maryborough and Midlands Historical Society’s Marion Melen said agriculture based manufacturing bolstered the town’s population well into the 20th century.

“There was an active committee that actively sought industries to come to Maryborough,” she said.

“Council approached the owner of the knitting mill to come here so we always had the basic industries covered.

“It was a source of pride in Maryborough if you were a mill girl. It meant you were getting a wage each week and you were someone of importance in the town.”

While the manufacturing industry dwindled towards the end of the 20th century and into the current one, Maryborough had already further transitioned into a thriving retail and hospitality centre, which continues to provide much employment today.

Like similar golden cities Ballarat and Bendigo, Maryborough boasts many grand gold rush era buildings that form part of the historical drawcard that attracts tourists to the area.

“We’re not on a main highway and tourist people have told us this is a bad thing but I actually think it’s a good thing because people have to find us,” Ms Melen said.

“It’s a gem to be found, something you have discovered, not a road going through.”

The fertile farmland surrounding Maryborough drew agriculturalists to the area long before gold was discovered and it continues to be a focal point to a large farming population today.

It also boasts a strong Celtic heritage.

In 1854, gold commissioner James Daly named the town after his Irish birthplace, though the Irish town no longer exists.

And every New Year’s Day, the town plays host to the longest continuously running sporting event in Victoria, the popular Maryborough Highland Gathering, which began among Scottish gold prospectors in 1857.

For Ms Melen, whose descendent first came to the town as railroad employees in the late 1800s, there is no reason she could envisage to leave.

“I would prefer Maryborough to any other town of the same size,” she said.

The basics

Municipality: Central Goldfields Shire

Population: 7630

First settled: 1854

Main industries: Food manufacturing, hospitality and retail, hydroponic tomato farming and chicken processing.

Claim to fame: In May 2009, Maryborough doctor Rob Carson was thrust into the national media spotlight for saving the life of a 12-year-old boy with a household drill. Dr Carson drilled a hole in the skull of Nicholas Rossi to relieve pressure on his brain after the boy crashed his bicycle. Without the radical procedure, Nicholas would almost certainly have died.

Five fast facts

1. The first Europeans to settle the area were the Simson brothers, who established a sheep station, known as Charlotte Plains, in 1840. Before 1854 Maryborough was known as White Hills, Havelock and Simsons.

2. Gold was discovered in Maryborough in 1854, prompting an influx of prospectors to flood the town. At its peak, the population is estimated to have reached between 30,000 and 50,000. It is one of the few towns in the Golden Triangle not located on a creek.

3. Gold commissioner James Daly renamed the town Maryborough in 1854 after his Irish birthplace. However, the Irish Maryborough no longer exists.

4. The Maryborough Advertiser, a bi-weekly newspaper, is one of Victoria’s earliest and longest continuously publishing newspapers. It was established in 1854.

5. The last gold mine in Maryborough closed in 1918 but in 1924 the Maryborough Knitting Mills opened. The town transitioned from a gold town to a thriving industrial centre, particularly for the wool industry.

Five things to do

1. Go gold prospecting. 80 per cent of the world’s biggest nuggets came from the Golden Triangle, an area encompassed by Maryborough, Bendigo and Ballarat. The find by an amateur prospector of a 5.5kg gold nugget near Ballarat shows there are still large nuggets to be found in the area.

2. Delve into the past. The 1894 bluestone Worsley Cottage is home to the Maryborough Midlands Historical Society. It displays a vast array of donated treasures from the area’s past as well as housing many historical records.

3. Enjoy some Scottish-style fun. The Maryborough Highland Gathering has been held each New Year’s Day since its formation in 1857. It features highland dancing, pipe bands and strong man events, as well as the more serious athletic event, the 120 metre Maryborough Gift.

4. Enjoy some local art. The Central Goldfields Art Gallery is located in the picturesque historic fire station built in 1861 and houses local and regional artworks, as well as  two oil paintings by the late Australian artist, Pro Hart and special exhibitions.

5. The RACV Energy Breakthrough is an annual schools event held in Maryborough each November. Students, teachers, parents and local industry to work together to design and construct a vehicle, a machine or innovation in technology that will represent an 'energy breakthrough'. Each year thousands of students make the trip to Maryborough for the four day event.

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