A short hop landed us at a free camp in Slaty Creek Nature Reserve a mere 15km from Ballarat near the picturesque town of Creswick. Since replacing the solar panel we’ve increased our camp site locational diligence, which was exacerbated by the signs threatening that ‘limbs may fall at any time, even without wind’ (K – read – now we’re careful not to park under trees).
The area was next to a pretty and almost dry creek, surrounded by magnificent gums. Kris noticed they were pretty much all the same height and diameter, suggesting a similar age. Put two and two together and it’s easy to picture this place in the 1850’s with thousands of miners searching for gold. Every tree would no doubt have been cut down for housing, for fires, for mine heads and for shoring up pits and tunnels. There was plentiful evidence of the gold rush era here. Literally every 5 to 10 metres were the remains of old mine pits and piles of spoil, now melted into the landscape.
We stayed three nights here and had a few interesting visitors, including an older woman Chris, with her two donkeys (Archimedes and Marbles). She’d left her husband at home to walk alone along The Goldfields Track. Previous donkey expeditions included from Canberra to Brisbane. We also had several tradies who were in town to erect mobile phone towers. If they free camp, they get to keep their travel allowance. This, it transpired, was converted into liquid form until late that night. A night it turned out, that there were very high winds, meaning a total fire ban on two of the three nights. At least Forestry and Parks had the good sense and diligence to come around each morning to advise the fire ban status.
On our last day, Kris suggested we visit Creswick wool mill. Another educational adventure. The mill was founded in 1947 by Polish immigrant Paul Ryzowy. He saw a market and started from scratch. Sadly, this is the last mill operating in Australia and has stayed ahead of the influx of cheap Chinese imports by diversifying into Alpaca wool as well as Merino, possum, Angora and camel. We learned all about spinning yarn (as if I need help), as well as the complicated process of making and finishing blankets. This is a labour intensive process and it seems not much has changed since the industrial revolution. Whilst Kris engaged in some retail therapy, the boys busied themselves feeding alpacas, goats and camels. Kris said her favourite was the very soft possum yarn.
K – We broke camp and headed off to Melbourne calling in at the quaint town of Daylesford. The winds had brought a cold change in and after braving the chilly morning streets we treated ourselves to hot chocolates and coffees at a rustic café. A bit further down the road there was the Diggers Club exhibition garden at St Erth (a gardening collective and seed supplier specializing in heritage fruit, veggies and flowers). Their gardens were lovely, even in the sleet which fell for 10 mins! After a very yummy veggie filled lunch at their home-grown café it was back in the car, with heater running, for the last little leg to Melbourne and our first freeway since Perth.