Visit a town that loves to share its history
STORY: JANET BOND PHOTOGRAPHY: VISIT VICTORIA
It’s easy to fall in love with Beechworth. Leafy streetscapes are studded with grand 19th century buildings, quaint retailers spruik local produce and every day, tangible connections to its famous past are celebrated.
Local volunteers proudly regale visitors with colourful tales as they take a walking tour of gold rush icons; visit the courthouse where the first Australian women to hang was handed her sentence; or encounter Ned Kelly’s death mask.
The historic feel of the town not only lures tourists. There’s plenty of evidence that visitors who come to stay permanently are attracted by the town’s character homes and buildings.
Like Jim Didolis and Heidi Freeman who renovated the former 1876 Oriental Bank and transformed it into Freeman on Ford, Beechworth’s first five-star B&B.
And young Nathan and Felicity Cowan who arrived in town 18 months ago and set about resurrecting a historic brewery.
City-escapees arrive with dreams of living and contributing to the life of a country town. They may be young parents seeking a better life for their children; retirees reaching for a slower-paced, more connected, community; or entrepreneurs keen to build a business and make their mark on the local economy.
Beechworth’s thriving food and wine culture is a reflection of the city migration. There are many inspiring stories of chefs, restaurateurs and winemakers who have built successful businesses in Beechworth.
Lisa Pidutti and Rocco Espositro moved from Melbourne in 2004 and created Project Forty Nine, one of Beechworth’s renowned restaurants. Five years later they launched a wine range and bought a farm where they practise organic and biodynamic farming methods
It is clear what the move to Beechworth gave them.
“Clean air, bright skies, beautiful light and good farming came together in a relatively undiscovered gem of a place,’ they recall on the P49 site. “This land has changed our lives. It has given us time to think that this what we want to teach our kids.”
“This land has changed our lives. It has given us time to think that this is what we want to teach our kids.”
The new operators of Billson’s Brewery, Nathan and Felicity Cowan, were hooked by the town’s history and the opportunity to resurrect the local brewery that no longer produced beer.
“Our approach at Billsons has been to really look back into the past and gain as much inspiration as possible,” explains Nathan. “Whether it was stumbling across one of the original labels or recipes, it does feel like we are part of something that is much bigger than ourselves.
“To kind of pick up where the Billsons family originally left off feels like a really worthwhile thing to do.”
The legacy of Victoria’s gold rush is a big part of Beechworth’s charm. It was the central town of the Owens River goldfields and today more than 30 heritage buildings have been preserved. Beechworth is one of only two towns in the state to be classified as “notable” by the National Trust.
The local wine industry also makes Beechworth a notable destination. Its boutique growers produce some of Australia’s best chardonnay, renowned pinot noir and other cool-climate wines. Exploring the wineries and eateries during the High Country Harvest Festival when the town is shrouded in autumnal colours is a treat.
Beyond the tourist trail, everyday living needs are well serviced. The township of 3859 people is part of the Indigo Shire which takes in a number of small towns including Rutherglen, Chilton and Stanley.
Beechworth has a health service that provides acute care, residential aged care, community services and home-based services. There are also a number of GPs and allied health providers.
Education providers include the Beechworth Primary School, St Joseph’s Primary School, the Beechworth Secondary College, two kindergartens and the Wooragee Primary School, not far out of town. There are also a number of childcare centres.
This is a family town. More than 20 percent of its residents are aged between 0 and 19 years of age. The shire has a clear strategy of fostering a healthy lifestyle and a close-knit community that benefits families. A great example, is a recent campaign starring the town’s oldest and youngest residents and the joys of being able to walk or cycle to school safely – something that’s been happening here since 1857.
For property seekers, the beauty of Beechworth is the opportunity to buy a character home at an affordable price. The median sale price for houses in Beechworth is $499,500. According to CoreLogic, the median price has increased by 8.8 percent in the last 12 months. Properties are in demand and there are only 26 properties in Beechworth on the market at the time of writing. A total of fifty-six properties were sold in the last year.
It’s easy to find a character home within walking distance of the Beechworth shops and schools, but if you’re looking for a house with no maintenance worries, there are also newly built homes on large blocks.
The Traditional Custodians of the land on which Beechworth stands, are the Dhudhuroa people.
WATTLE ROAD 🖤 The way this towns treasures its remarkable history and welcomes the contribution of entrepreneurial newcomers.
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 270km. The Albury Airport is 40km from Beechworth.
WHO LIVES HERE?
According to the 2016 Census:
♦ The median age of people in Beechworth was 49 years. Children aged 0 – 14 years make up 15.9% of the population and people aged 65 years and over made up 24.2%.
♦ Of the families in Beechworth, 34.3% were couple families with children, 47.7% were couple families without children and 17.4% were one parent families.
♦ 80.5% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth were England 4.2%, Germany 0.9%, New Zealand 0.9%, Netherlands 0.5% and Scotland 0.4%.
♦ The most common occupations in Beechworth included professionals 25.8%, managers 15.8%, community and personal service workers 14.7%, technicians and trades workers 12.7%, and labourers 9.1%.
CLIMATE: A Mediterranean-style climate with long hot summers and short, cold winters. January average temperatures, max 27.3ºC, min 12.3ºC. July average temperatures, max 9.1ºC, min 0.7ºC.
MAJOR EMPLOYERS: Health, Local Government, Aged Care, primary educators, tourism and hospitality.
NBN CONNECTION: Fibre To The Curb (FTTC)
PROPERTY PRICES: The median sale price for houses in Beechworth is $499,500. It has increased by 8.8 percent in the last 12 months
SPORTS AND RECREATION: Swimming pools, skate parks, walking and cycling paths accompany the facilities for regular club activity, from football to netball and cricket.
HEALTH CARE: The Beechworth Health Service provides inpatient and outpatient services, community health, mental health and allied health services. It also runs community health-education programs. There are a number of GPS and allied health providers in the town.
ARTS & CULTURE: The town is home to a vibrant arts community. Groups include the Beechworth Arts Council, the Beechworth Theatre Company, the bellringers, Celtic festival committee, a concert band and Friends of the Burke Museum.
Proprietor of Freeman on Ford
I love the way Beechworth has a magical, deep feel about it, like you can feel its soul. It has a pull which you cannot feel in other parts of the world or the country. When you walk down the heritage, tree-lined streets, it’s memorising. As the cliché goes, it’s as if time has stood still. Whether it is the old chipped paint cottages or the original picket fences and matching classical gates or the gardens brimming with country botanical gems.
Whilst strolling the back streets, one marvels at Wistera-laden archways, old fashioned roses and irises with colourful parrots nestled high up in the high branches. The parks, the lake and the historic park have caves high above the road where the aboriginals lit their fires and lived – this is a sacred land.
The streetscape is the original one from the gold rush and here the old verandahs and cast-iron balustrades recall a time of wealth and hope for those flocking to make their fortune.
The buildings are respectfully uniform in their colour scheme and integrity, and one is comforted that no fast-food outlets or loud signage are encouraged. It is like the town beckons you softly to merge into the quiet and calm of everyday life.
The locals don’t seem to fussed about much – you get the usual “Gidday” or “How you goin?’ greetings each morning. They guard their turf because they know they have something special here; they strum along and their only worry is the weather forecast or whether their football team wins. They don’t bother with “postcodes” like they do in big towns and what side of the Yarra you live on. Instead, they live a country life amongst the beautiful landscape and they feel free and safe. They generally don’t lock their doors and they take their freedoms for granted.
I love their simplicity and I love the way Beechworth has a spiritual pull. Whether it is the ghosts of the mental asylum or the prison, or the goldfields, one can certainly feel a presence. The struggles of pioneers and those that were institutionalised, the tragedies bygone – there is a history out there as plain as can be. It’s a journey you must experience if you want to feel that feeling of “realness”.
There’s no falsehoods here. It’s as genuine as it will ever get. Visit the cemetery and you will see headstones which depict bushrangers, tragic deaths from typhoid and harsh tales. Visit the jail and asylum and read the sad tales and absurd injustices. Visit the Court House where Ned Kelly and his mother were tried and the first woman in Victoria that was sentenced to hang. Visit the police cells where Ned and 15 or so inmates were housed with barely enough room to stand. Visit the old hospital façade which remains as the only hospital that catered for the ill from here to Goulburn. Visit the museum which is one of the oldest in Australia. And importantly, visit the falls, rivers and lakes which were sluiced for gold; and walk the areas where tent towns stood and the streets where the many banks housed tons of gold.
And say `Gidday’ to the locals. Their retort will be about the oncoming weather and you too will blend in as a `local’.
Travel time is approximately 60 minutes.
FIND A PROPERTY
13 Pritchard Lane, Beechworth
4 3 4
56 High Street, Beechworth
6 6 3
20 Albert Road, Beechworth
4 2 2
15 Shehan Drive, Beechworth
3 2 1