This is a guest article by Lachlan Robertson
We were following the line of a spur downhill when the bush erupted with cries. Panicked currawongs squawked from the canopy where they had been nesting. We stopped walking and watched as a dark shape passed over a break in the foliage. A wedge-tailed eagle was circling overhead, searching for unsuspecting prey. It continued to pirouette for a few minutes before dismissing the currawongs in favour of less aggressive prey. With the commotion dying down, we hitched our rucksacks and continued along the trail.
The Dry Diggings Track is advertised as a walk through Gold Rush history. One link in a three-part walk known as the Goldfields Track, it winds through the hills between Castlemaine and Daylesford. After the discovery of gold in 1851, the promise of new wealth drew people from across the world to Victoria’s goldfields. In just three years, Melbourne’s population grew from 29,000 to 123,000 and was known as the richest city in the world.
Australia’s colonial history is remembered along each leg of the walk. On our first day, the bush was pockmarked with the remains of small-claim mines. These hills just south of Castlemaine promised only a small yield of gold to prospective miners, and so were sold off to individuals. Their efforts to seek out every possible ounce of gold within their claims left the land scarred, giving the terrain a new classification: broken bush.
Walking the Dry Diggings Track, it was difficult not to be saddened by the environmental damage wrought in the blind search for gold. The effects are still felt today. Native wildlife frequently fall down and die in exposed mine shafts. There are ravines cut through the bush by torrents of water pumped miles from their source in Musk by enterprising miners. Now these artificial gullies are tangles of blackberries and nettle. And everywhere we walked stood brick chimneys, marking former miners’ huts and their brief prosperity.
However, there is much beauty to be found on the Dry Diggings Track. The route traverses volcanic plains and sandstone hills. The trail follows river courses and winds into the hills. Walking down into Vaughan Springs on our first night, we stopped to watch the convergence of two streams below us. We were constantly aware of the diversity of birdlife around us, enjoying the calls of pied currawongs and kookaburras. We encountered a feral beehive living within the knot of a tree beside the track. On our final morning, we awoke to the first frost of the year and had to shake the ice from our tent.
The Dry Diggings Track is tailored to both mountain bikers and walkers. When planning your trip, understanding where you will refill your water bottles is very important. Vaughan Springs camp site, where we spent our first night, is located beside the Vaughan River and has drinking water on site. However, between there and our next campsite the only available water was at the Chocolate Mill on the Midland Highway. These concerns matter less to mountain bikers, who can cover much greater distances in a single day. Similarly, sections of the walk follow dirt roads rather than bush paths that would be gentler on hikers wishing to avoid unnecessary ‘road-bashing.’
To walk the Dry Diggings Track is to enter Australia’s fraught history of colonialism and environmental damage. The landscapes carry marks of mining practices now antiquated. These hills are now protected, the bush afforded time to reclaim broken ground.
Enjoyed this article? Read Lachlan's poem 'Digger Country' here.
Lachlan Robertson is a writer living in Trentham, Victoria, with interests in ecocriticism, fantasy fiction, and poetry. Lachlan is a keen beekeeper, hiker, and horse rider.
All images courtesy of Lachlan Robertson.