Sunday, March 9, 2014

Rx7 Roadtrip to ghost town

Yep, an old post I dug up from a previous blog that fell over. Sadly the town is still just as dead as the time I took the Rx7 for a visit a few moons ago...

The sign on the side of the service station boasts: 'Now proudly serving premium unleaded' - which takes it out of the 80's and lands it smack bang to about 12 years ago, when the rest of the country seemed to stock it. Welcome to small country towns, don't make yourself comfortable, you probably won't be staying long...




Usually when I'm on holidays and I have both time and a spare wad of cash on my hands, I like to fill up the war chariot and have all those under bonnet horses snorting all the way to the Great Ocean Road and back again. It's a magnificent stretch of drive near Geelong that winds around the ocean for hundreds of kilometers, passes through seaside tourist towns and takes you high upon clifftops to experience water so blue, you'll want to paint your spare room the same color. Oh and it has one of the greatest twisty sections of road (on the way to Apollo Bay) that almost seems purpose built for spirited driving and helpful testing of every trick your brakes, suspension and throttle can muster.  I originally encountered it when I put my humble little Ford Laser GL through it's paces and it came up trumps (especially seeing a much more expensive Lancer coming the other way that looked to have french kissed a wall sometime during it's journey) but loved it even more when 1.3 litres of rotary fury sang it's own sweet song.

It's my favorite drive of all time.




But the problem is, I'm not the only one.

The Great Ocean Road on a slow day is teeming with tourists from the world over, cameras and post cards in tow, snapping anything that moves, marveling at the 12 10 3 sole remaining apostle rock formation and completely ignoring the slow lanes on the road custom built to allow those without touristic intentions (me) through to continue to put k's between us. On a good day it's like waiting 12 hours before the shop opens for Grand Final tickets and having to sit there and wonder how you got stuck with all these people who smell. It's a nightmare of Soylent Green proportions and this year I decided to give it a miss.
No instead I thought I'd visit a place where the likelihood of both traffic and tourists were slimmer than Justin Beiber's acting career - I decided to visit a ghost town.

Now when I say a ghost town, I don't mean a town where the locals all run around dressed in white sheets (like Mississippi years ago), I mean a town that doesn't even appear as a blip on your GPS anymore. For various reasons (people never coming back, natural disaster, remoteness) it started off strong but slowly decayed until nothing but a shell of a town remained. According to Wikipedia, some ghost towns are strong tourist attractions and still generate a lot of visiting tourist revenue but considering I'd never heard of half these places in Australia, there was a fair chance it would be a quiet drive. After a bit of an online read, I discovered the closest ghost town near me was only a mere 60 ks away - the home of the world's largest gold nugget, the Welcome Stranger: Moliagul.

Feels like this now.

MOLIAGUL

From wikipedia:

Moliagul is a small township in Victoria, Australia, 202 kilometres north west of Melbourne (60 kilometres west of Bendigo) notable for the discovery of the world's largest gold nugget, the Welcome Stranger in 1869. The area is a historical gold mining town and is now mostly deserted.
In 1855 it is estimated there were 16,000 people living in Moliagul during the peak of the Victorian Gold Rush period. Moliagul Post Office opened on 15 November 1858 and closed in 1971.
Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, was born in Moliagul in 1880.

To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect but I figured it'd be a nice visit to a place I've never been before and I had the time to check it out so why not? So with a few printed maps from Google (Moliagul still appears on Google Maps surprisingly), a few tweaks of the rx7's coilovers (so that potholes wouldn't have me bouncing to the moon if I hit any), plenty of petrol and a copy of the unofficial Misfits TV series soundtrack, off I went.
(Of course when you're on the road to small towns that barely exist anymore, it's not a good idea taking a car more suited to high speed driving on smooth highways and one that doesn't like any variation of the smooth theme. I winced every time i heard the exhaust scrape and given some of the dirt tracks I ventured down, I winced a lot at that lovely rock on metal grinding sound quite a lot.)

What they don't tell you about ghost towns is that in the past twenty years or so since they updated local road signs, they obviously saved a bit of coin by not including directions to places that weren't really of much interest anymore. Which means the only way you're going to find what you're looking for is to keep an eye out for those faded white posts that are barely legible anymore and very easy to miss at 100kph when you go flying by...

Luckily with a bit of quick head turning, a touch of the brakes and a u-turn or two when necessary, I found what I was looking for: Moliagul. Only when I got there, there really wasn't that much to see and I learnt first hand how it got it's ghost town status.


From the way I drove in, first building that appeared was the local school. According to the plaque outside, it shut down in 1970 and eventually wound up being a community hall. Given the lack of people, it's probably only used once or twice a year.


Directly opposite the school is a former church. I say former because there's no sign of times of worship or a community board like you'd find at others and the fence is in need of a decent lick of paint. I questioned why there was a tent erected on the left hand side - journeying further it seems the town is becoming quite a place to camp as there's no accommodation anywhere.


Once upon a time there were probably enough people to warrant a mini museum but sadly like a few of the houses, it's vacant and boarded up. There's nothing around to say when this happened however and I'm keen to know if there's anything still in there today.



With no accommodation handy, people camp. However walking around, the only sign of life was from a guy on a ride on mower just around the corner. And he looked to be from a local council doing his rounds. It really is eerie walking around a once famous and populated town mostly by yourself.

In the center of town lies a big monument complete with propeller for John Flynn, founder of the Flying Doctor Service. Sadly on the spot where this plague says he was born lies a wooden house obscured by overhanging trees and falling to pieces. Luckily this plaque will last a lot longer than any house will...



2KMS further on leads you to the former dig site where the Welcome Stranger nugget was unearthed. Unluckily for me it meant bouncing, scraping and grinding down some very rough dirt roads and when I got the walking track, some of the signs have either been removed or destroyed as it was very easy to go in completely the wrong direction...



So what happened exactly to the town that earned itself a spot on the map by uncovering the world's greatest nugget of gold that in turn helped create one of the biggest gold rushes in history? In it's heyday it's population swelled around the 4000 mark but you'd be lucky to see 4 residents today. 

Unfortunately it seems to be a victim of it's success as once the gold supply dried up, so did its temporary population base. Some moved on to Bendigo and Ballarat to see if they could carve out a fortune there, some stayed to make Moliagul thier home - the problem was that once all the excitement had died down, so did the town. By the early 70's both the post office and the school shut up shop it probably wasn't long there after when the church followed suit, leaving not enough behind to encourage people to stay.


Still I'm glad I got a chance to drive through it before it completely disapeared..

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