Talbot’s star turn

RoyalAuto magazine

The sleepy old gold town of Talbot, in central Victoria, hasn’t lost its glitter. You just have to know where to look.

Story: Clare Barry. Photos: Anne Morley
September 2018.

Enter the tiny town of Talbot on a quiet day
, which is every day really, and you could mistake the elegant arc of Scandinavian Crescent for a film set.

Nineteenth-century facades sit square and sharp and eerily two-dimensional against a big sky – a butcher’s shop, the Phoenix Hotel, Bank of Australasia, London Chartered Bank, or formerly so. Talbot’s 442 residents hardly fill the footpaths, so you’re likely to have this lovely sweep to yourself.

Scandinavian Crescent at night

And you’ll find the film analogy fits, because it was high drama that made this place as the dirty, risky, clamorous search for gobsmacking riches churned over these sheep paddocks in the 1850s. Daisy Hill, Back Creek, Nuggetty Gully and Goodwomans Hill saw finds throughout the decade, culminating in the Scandinavian Rush of 1859 that, along with dirt “alive with gold”, turned up Talbot. 

A shaft sunk in a paddock in 1862 gave up one-and-a-half tonnes of gold.

The main drag was named Scandinavian Crescent for the miners who led the rush, and by March that year, six streets of shops were open, plus a post office, several banks, a theatre and eventually 100 pubs within a two-mile radius. Visiting pressmen recorded a 200-ounce cake of gold (that’s more than five-and-a-half kilos) in a broker’s window, and a shaft sunk in a paddock in 1862 gave up one-and-a-half tonnes of the stuff.

These days fossicking of another kind is the only thing that rattles the Crescent, as Talbot opens its streets for a pumping farmers' market on the third Sunday of each month. Up to 100 stalls hock everything from hazelnut trees to organic cabbages, live chooks to garden tools to $15 bags of wheat. The little town hall houses craft, and on the intemperate day we visit, Slightly Bent Books lures chilly customers with a wood burner, fireside chairs and carefully curated classics. 

Post-market the town clears out to emptiness, and we decamp to the award-winning Talbot Provedore for Sunday lunch, tucking into Glen Greenock lamb from paddocks we passed on the way in, washed down with pinot noir from Sally’s Paddock in Redbank to the west. The cafe-restaurant delights in showing off the area’s produce in breakfasts and lunches four days a week plus Saturday-night dinners, and sells wines, milk, eggs, cheese, meats and preserves from the area. 

Talbot farmers market

Talbot farmers’ market.

Chinese miners’ baths.

Platter at Talbot Provedore

Platter at Talbot Provedore.

Outside its neat centre Talbot does a nice line in ramshackle and, further afield, ruined buildings make picturesque remnants of extraordinary times.

There are other treasures out here too. Down a track off Possum Gully Road you’ll find a pair of baths, carved out of the ground by Chinese miners, and thought to have belonged to a Chinese joss house and bathhouse. 

A short drive north of town, on Pollocks Road, is an Aboriginal shelter or maternity tree estimated to be 700 years old. It’s a river red gum with a huge bulbous base, used by the Dja Dja Wurrung people for shelter. Its top is open to the sky now but you can step inside and feel its centuries-old embrace.

We joke that Saturn is so perfect he must have stuck a sticker on the telescope lens.

As dusk deepens we head back to Talbot, park outside the old court house on Camp Street and head out back to meet the town’s resident astronomer. “Just don’t call me a stargazer,” advises Yorkshireman and mining engineer Robert Holmes.

Robert has been interested in astronomy since the Apollo moon landings and, as a kid, expected we’d be on Mars by now. Instead, he built an observatory in his back yard and keeps tabs on it from there.  

“That’s what happens when you get bored,” he says. “I only built it for myself really, then everyone in town said I should open it to the public.”

Aboriginal shelter tree

Aboriginal shelter tree.

The Talbot Observatory.

Ruined building near Talbot

A ruined building near Talbot.

Robert, who has just earned a post-graduate degree in astronomy, has cobbled together a display board to put the solar system in magnificent perspective. Earth and Venus are pinheads, Jupiter and Saturn ping-pong balls, Uranus and Neptune marbles, and the sun is a glossy black exercise ball on a shelf. “I had a yellow one,” Robert explains, “but a kid popped it.”

We settle in for the show, taking turns at the telescope pointed through the lovely domed roof. First up, a stripy Jupiter with four moons. Our own moon, silver-white and cratered. Mars glowing an aggressive peach. And Saturn. Saturn! Tiny tiny, bright white, rings perfectly distinct in a single graceful silhouette. We are spellbound. Robert acknowledges this. “It’s just out there floating around.” 

We joke that Saturn is so perfect he must have stuck a sticker on the telescope lens. “Only on cloudy nights,” jokes Robert, and adds that our tiny perfect Saturn would fill most of the space between Earth and our moon. 

We’re so taken with the sky bling that by the time we leave, the Courthouse Hotel across the road, the only pub in town, last of 100, has shut up shop for the night. We’ll just have to come back.

A shed outside Talbot

Stay and save

RACV Goldfields Resort at Creswick is just 36 kilometres from Talbot and is perfectly located for a stay in gold rush country. Rooms range from $141 per night (including breakfast for two), and RACV members save 25 per cent on accommodation. Go to racv.com.au/goldfields or call (03) 5345 9600.