An insider’s guide to Sunbury

Travelling Well | Mary O’Brien | Posted on 20 September 2017

RACV agency owner Peter Ralph guides us through the 10 best things about the Sunbury.

Your guide

  • Name: Peter Ralph
  • Position: RACV agency owner
  • Why he loves it: I like the friendly feel when I come into town – it’s really city living with country style.
  • Absolute favourite: The old courthouse, now the Sunbury Visitor Information Centre, has been beautifully restored.
formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum and The Boilerhouse Community Arts Centre

Former Sunbury 'Lunatic Asylum' and The Boilerhouse Community Arts Centre


close up of a statue of WG Grace who had a beard and stern look on his face

WG Grace.


By dingo

The Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre in Toolern Vale is run by Lyn Watson to help to preserve the Australian dingo and educate people about the species. The sanctuary is now home to more than 35 pure alpine dingoes and there are usually some puppies around too. The sanctuary breeds dingoes for wildlife parks around the world. It is occasionally open to the public or by appointment.

Nature calls

The Nook, a small pond on Jacksons Creek in Bicentennial Park, is a popular meeting place for locals and a good spot for family picnics or takeaway fish ’n’ chips. There are some good walks along Emu Bottom Wetlands and Platypus Ponds. You can look out for platypus from the viewing platforms or you might see a wedge-tailed eagle if you’re lucky. About 15 kilometres out of town is the Organ Pipes National Park, with its spectacular basalt columns formed by lava. It’s a nice spot for a picnic or a walk.

Just Cricket

Rupertswood Mansion, the birthplace of the Ashes, plays an important part in cricket history. When the house was built in 1876, it was one of the largest mansions in Victoria. In the summer of 1882-83 the owner, Sir William Clarke, hosted the English cricket team which won a series of matches against Australia.

Lady Janet Clarke gave the English captain a terracotta urn with the ashes of a burnt cricket bail (now at Lord’s in London) and so the Ashes was born. Later the estate was owned by the inventor of the Sunshine Harvester. In 1927 it was bought by the Salesian Society who have a college nearby and now use the mansion for administration. Rupertswood had a private railway station, which was closed in 2004. It’s nice to wander around the lake and feed the ducks. 3 Macedon Street.

Dark past

Sunbury Historical Tours bring visitors to the former Sunbury Asylum, the grand Victorian building on Jacksons Hill. There are some tragic tales about the people who were treated there. You can walk through the admissions ward, the women’s refractory prison and around the ha-ha walls. I went on one of the tours and I heard some horror stories about how people used to survive there. Guide Julie Mills spent two years researching public records to inform her tour.

Eat street

O’Shanassy Street has a good range of places to eat. Roquette Bar and Grill is where I go when I want to take my wife out to tea. The food is modern Australian with an Italian influence and the setting is nice. They change the menu regularly but they wouldn’t dare take off the pork belly – my favourite. It’s open Wednesdays and weekends from breakfast through to dinner. 59 O’Shanassy Street.

close up of dingo in hay approaching the nose of another dingo

Dingo Discovery Centre.


goona warra estate vineyard on sunny day with clouds in the sky

Gonna Warra Estate.


Daily grind

Just Planet is a little cafe with a big heart. Owner Norman Palumbo uses Fairtrade organic coffee and supports various charities. The shared tables encourage people to chat and the owner is also involved with a seed bank, food swaps and council projects. The food has a healthy focus with some vegies coming from the courtyard garden out back. Known locally as the “hippie cafe”, this spot adds to the friendly feel of the town. They also deliver coffee to our office if we’re busy. 37 O’Shanassy Street.

Vine time

It’s amazing to think that vines were first planted at Craiglee Vineyard in 1863 and a bluestone winery was later built by James Johnston. Unfortunately, the vines were pulled out in the 1920s during bad economic times. Owner Pat Carmody replanted the vineyard in 1976 after tasting some of the original wines.

Today Craiglee Vineyard is best known for its shiraz. The cellar door is open on the first Sunday of the month. 785 Sunbury Road. Goona Warra Estate, just across the road,  was also established in 1863 and is a beautiful vineyard with different venues for weddings and other functions.    

Built history

The old Sunbury courthouse, dating from 1885, was restored and turned into the Sunbury Visitor Information Centre in 1993. Aitken’s Gap Gaol, built in 1857, was moved from its original location near the Calder Highway, to beside the information centre. This is a good place to visit if you’re planning to explore the Macedon Ranges. 43 Macedon Street.

Tee time

Goonawarra Public Golf Course is an 18-hole championship course in a pretty setting. The mildly undulating course with lakes was designed by Tony Cashmore. You can play while taking in views of surrounding wineries and the Macedon Ranges. Sunbury Mini Golf and Driving Range is nearby. 2 Francis Boulevard.

Screen time

You don’t have to travel out of Sunbury to see the latest movies. Readings has five screens showing blockbusters and some arthouse movies. I have been living in Sunbury for 30 years and it used to be the end of the earth, but now we have everything within our reach. The cinemas are great for local kids, and the grown-ups too. Horne Street.