By MICK ROBERTS ©
THERE was difficulty ordering a beer, let alone booking a room in Wedderburn’s two pubs in March 1950 when gold fever gripped the sleepy Victorian farming community.
A resident unearthed a 175-ounce nugget of gold in his backyard, sparking a rush and a brief return to the ‘good-old days’ a century earlier.
The town’s two publicans and their staff were too busy sinking their own mining shafts in the pubs’ yards to worry about customers.
After the discovery, the rush started in earnest with hundreds of people swamping Wedderburn, located about 214 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. Tents popped up all over town and the rooms at the Wedderburn and Royal hotels filled quickly.
Prospectors came from as far away as Queensland to peg their claims.
The local store sold out of picks, shovels and gold pans and the proprietors sent an urgent order to Melbourne for more supplies.
They arrived in cars and trucks, many with caravans attached, seeking their fortune. Within 24 hours of the announcement 30 claims were pegged in Wilson street, the main road through the town.
Ray Baker was not to know the excitement installed for him when he took the license of the Wedderburn Hotel in February 1949.
During the 1950 ‘rush’ Ray Baker and his barmen were reported to have spent more time working the two shafts at the back of the pub instead of in the bar serving customers – and who can blame them!
“All I hope is that I find the reef, and not under the hotel,” he told reporters.
The Wedderburn Hotel was established in the 1850s, during the first Victorian gold discoveries, and had plodded along trading quietly and unassumingly for almost a century, before the 1950 rush revived the sleepy farming hamlet.
The other pub, Arthur Langley’s Royal Hotel, also got into the action.
The 62-year-old publican also sunk a shaft in the pub yard, where digging went ahead at such pace that bar-staff delivered refreshments and food to their boss in his diggings.
The Royal Hotel was established in 1863, and closed as a pub in 1970.
Besides the initial find, and several small pieces, no big discoveries of gold were found at Wedderburn during the 1950 rush. By August the town returned briefly to its sleepy backwater status.
That was until two years later when 55-year-old prospector, Les Hall turned up a £400 gold nugget in Wilson Street. Ten minutes later he was in the Wedderburn Hotel, “shouting for the boys”, sparking another brief rush. But it was short lived, and it never matched the frenzied activity of two years previous.
Today, only the Wedderburn Hotel remains to quench the thirsts of any die-hard prospectors.
Footnote: There was a third pub in Wedderburn, which had closed thirty years before the 1950 gold rush. The building remains though. Originally built in 1879, it was first known as the Carriers Arms, but renamed the Commercial after a transfer of ownership in 1889. Nine years later, it was destroyed by fire, but the owner – a Bendigo cordial manufacturer – chose to rebuild it in brick, to a design by renowned architect William Vahland. The hotel was delicensed and closed in December 1921, but three years later reopened as a private hospital and functioned as such until 1938. In the years since, the building has had a range of uses, including as private rooms, the Rampling and Hall Boot Factory, a dry cleaner, one of Givoni’s factories making dressing gowns, a second-hand store and the home of an electrical business.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018. Updated July 2021
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