Thursday, September 20, 2007

As good as gold

Beechworth is much the same as it was 150 years ago when the first diggers arrived, but with better food and nicer accommodation, reports Andrew Bain.

It's been said that if Ned Kelly resurrected and rode over the hill from Wangaratta, he'd still recognise Beechworth. One of the best-preserved provincial towns in the country, its framework has barely altered in 150 years. Look beyond the granite stonework and iron-trimmed verandas, however, and it's clear that this town is no simple museum piece. Created and built on the proceeds of the gold rush, today it's fine food and wine and a sophisticated shopping scene that is Beechworth's new fortune.

History

First settled in 1839, Beechworth's boom began in 1852 with the discovery of gold. Within 20 years there were 20,000 people living in the town, and houses of worship numbered seven churches, or 61 hotels, depending on your preferred spirit.

As any visitor will quickly learn, Ned Kelly made court appearances in Beechworth in 1870 and 1880 (daily Kelly walks operate from the visitors' centre), while other famous figures also passed through, including Sir Redmond Barry, Sir Isaac Isaacs and ill-fated explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, who served as police superintendent between 1854 and 1858.

Beechworth's heyday was short, with the town going into decline when the railway was routed through Wangaratta in 1873. Today, it's home to about 3000 residents.

Where to stay

Beechworth's newest accommodation option is also its most surprising. Opened just a month ago, 1860 is a timber cattlemen's hut carried piece by piece from near Taggerty, 200 kilometres away, taking four years to rebuild and fit out. Looking like a Man from Snowy River set from the outside, it's all simple luxury within. Rates are $225 a night midweek, and $245 Friday to Sunday (minimum two-night stay). Contact 0408 273 783, www.1860luxuryaccommodation.com

Or try the Black Springs Bakery, a private hideaway five kilometres outside town. Constructed around 1875, and operating as a bakery until 1946, the National Trust-listed building offers self-contained accommodation over two levels in the bakery's barn. It has been fitted out in French rural style, complete with a formal garden, quince walk and olive grove. Rates are $220 a night midweek, and $265 Friday to Sunday (minimum two-night stay). Contact 5728 2565, www.blackspringsbakery.com

www.theage.com.au

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