Historic Driving Tour - Ararat

1. Railway Precinct

Stroll towards the Railway Museum from the Railway station. Just past it on the left is the signal box, and at the foot of the steps, note a piece of rusty equipment once vital to any train. It is a sand-drying box. Sand was used to help brake the trains.  



1a. Sand Dryer  

This sand dryer was originally located in the Ararat Locomotive Depot. A fire was lit to dry the sand it contained. The dried sand was collected and placed in the sand box on board for train brakes to function efficiently. When the brakes were required, a lever on board the train allowed dry sand to be delivered in front of the driving wheels. The dry sand caused friction and minimised wheel slippage in wet conditions and on steep grades.  


1b. Ararat Railway Station   

Ararat Railway Station opened in 1875 to link Melbourne to the gold centre of Ararat. Later it became a part of the Melbourne-Adelaide line. A branch line to Portland in 1877 and another to Avoca-Maryborough in 1890 made Ararat the key junction of an interstate and port-hinterland system. It was also the controlling point for the Maroona-Geelong line, established in 1913. At the height of the steam era up to 88 locomotives were at the Ararat Depot and by the 1950s the railways employed around 600 people.  


Return to your car and drive along the laneway nearest the tracks. On your left is   


1c. Commercial House  

Built for Mr. Walter Augustus Claringbold in 1905, “Claringbold’s Commercial House” represented the latest in boarding houses and was designed by local architect James Irwin. Mr. Claringbold had earlier managed the Railway Refreshment Rooms and in 1900 had built a commodious Coffee Palace. 1922 saw the building leased by David McAdie, a member of one of Ararat’s pioneering families, who also ran it as a boarding house until after the Second World War.  It continues to operate as a boarding house today.  


To your right is the once busy  


1d. Railway yards  

The depot was constructed to maintain large numbers of rolling stock when the Ararat yards were the busiest in rural Victoria. In 1928 an electronically operated turntable was built in Alfred St. which was the first and the longest in Victoria. An engine shed built at the same time was originally a 24 road round house with a 15 tonne crane and 3 work pits. The turn-table itself still exists, but most of the shed has been demolished and engine pits filled in.    


Straight ahead is the 


1e. Terminus Hotel  

The original building was erected in 1877, and then rebuilt in 1911 by Alexander McDonald, who ran it until the early years of the Second World War.  As Ararat was a key centre for Victoria’s interstate and port-hinterland rail system, with large numbers of shunting engines moving back and forwards 24 hours a day, the Terminus bar became the bar that never closed, and was a favourite meeting place of many railway workers. The Terminus is currently a private residence housing an art gallery & art supplies store.   


Turn left here, then turn right onto High St, passing the    


2. Lyceum Theatre site and the Common School  

Ararat's first permanent school building in Collegiate Gothic style, the Common School served the public from 1867 until 1875.  It later became public baths and in 1952 the building was leased to the YMCA as club rooms. The indoor heated swimming pool was originally the site of a Protestant Hall and later became the Lyceum Theatre.  In 1913 a fire broke out, but the building was not destroyed.  Later still, it became Ararat General Electric’s store which was totally gutted in 1980 by one of Ararat's most memorable fires.  


On your left is the site of      


3. Ararat’s power generating station now the Senior Citizens Club Rooms

Gaslight was used in Ararat from 1887 to 14th June 1913, when electricity from the Power Generating System was switched on. The site is now the Senior Citizens Club. It was centrally located in order to reduce power loss and long cable runs. When running costs and fuel became too expensive the supply was bought out by the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in 1969. There were 8 Ruston Hornsby Diesel Engines providing power to the turbines, one of which is displayed at the Langi Morgala Museum.  


Continue to the lights and turn right. Drive straight ahead to    


4. Alexandra Gardens on the left  

In 1859 land was allocated for botanical gardens and early plants were supplied by Baron Ferdinand Von Meuller of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Work was undertaken by prisoners of Ararat Goal; however the bulk of development work began in 1901 with Hugh Linaker as curator.  In 1907 the Ararat Traders Association raised sufficient funds to pay for wrought iron gates at the entrance (later removed). Mayor R Hargreaves officially opened the botanical gardens named in honour of Princess Alexandra. A walk through the garden will reveal a fountain presented by William McCulloch, a well known pioneer of the district. A rockery and drinking fountain was erected by the Rechabites, along with the fernery and adjacent native garden, the Orchid House and many of the original planting trees.  


After the gardens, continue to the T-junction with Girdlestone St and turn left to see   


5. J Ward  

Completed in 1861, this infamous bluestone building was originally a goldfields prison.  In 1886 the buildings became a temporary housing for the Criminally Insane. They then became a ward of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum where the most dangerous men in Victoria were housed. The Ward was closed in 1991 and is now one of Ararat’s major tourist attractions.  Information regarding tours can be obtained from the Visitor Information Centre.  


Return along Girdlestone St, passing     


6. Pyrenees House   

Completed in 1886 as a general hospital to replace its 1860 predecessor. The architect, A G Legge, was directed to erect a Queen Anne style structure fashionable in the 1880s. It operated until 1937 when it was converted to a nurses’ home.  From 1953-1986 it became John Pickford House, Geriatric Centre. Since 1988 it has been used as administration offices and with recent refurbishment in 2011 continues to operate as a Conference Centre and Nurse Education Centre.    


To your right is the home of   


7. Donald Chisholm Residence  

Designed by Michael Ryan and built in 1902 for the successful local draper, Mr. Donald Chisholm, this was for several decades the Chisholm’s family home.  It represents the move by shopkeepers from living above their businesses to living in suburban residences early in the 20th century. At the beginning of the Second World War it was let to Robert Shea, a local farmer, who then purchased it in 1947. His purchase illustrated another trend, that of successful farming families retiring into Ararat.  


Continue until you reach a T-junction then turn left onto Campbell St. Drive 1.4 km to reach the   


8. Ararat Cemetery  

The cemetery was set up on this site on 1st July 1861, following the closure of the old Cemetery Hill site (in Lowe St., behind the hospital).   Seven pioneer headstones were transferred from the old cemetery and the first burial on this new site was conducted in 1862.  The robing room at the entrance was built in the early 1930’s.  A short drive around the cemetery will reveal Chinese headstones and the graves of many of our pioneer settlers.  


Return along Campbell St, turning left at Baird St. When you reach the roundabout, take the second exit and go under the railway overpass. Turn right then take the next street left. On this corner is   


9. Donisthorpe  

English-born James Donisthorpe Smith, engineer, came to Ararat and set up a store in Barkly Street, which he later sold to George Grano. He built Donisthorpe in 1872 as a wine and spirits store to attract the custom of railwaymen and asylum workers as they made their way home but he was unable to obtain the beer licence he wanted. The corner door you see led to the bar area. It was de-licensed when he died. It has only had five owners in 131 years.  


Proceed to the next corner and turn left. Drive to the roundabout, then follow the Western Highway towards Melbourne, noting on your left   


10. Aradale Mental Hospital  

Aradale was constructed between 1864 and 1867 as the Ararat Lunatic Asylum. It had its own market gardens, orchard, vineyards and piggery.  At its height it employed over 500 staff. Today the complex has 63 buildings, including a forensic unit built two years before the facility closed in 1993. Despite being closed, the facility housed female prisoners until 2001 when it became a campus of the North Melbourne Institute of TAFE (NMIT). Information about tours can be obtained at the Visitor Information Centre.  


Past this view of Aradale is a left turn entrance to   


11. Green Hill Lake  

Green Hill Lake was originally called the Warrayatkin swamp. Many attempts were made to develop this area into a recreational reserve. In the 1980s work began to deepen it and with the help of prisoners from the local gaol, volunteers and the Municipal Council, the embankment was erected and the lake deepened. On 22nd March 1987, a plaque to commemorate the upgrade was unveiled by Prime Minister R. J. Hawke.   

3000 people attended the occasion. Today the lake is used for boating, swimming and camping.  


Return to Ararat, taking the left road at the roundabout into Barkly St. Follow the road, turning left into King St next to the Catholic Church. Take the first turn right to pass the first State Primary School   


12. P.S. 800 State School  

This attractive building marked the arrival of free, compulsory and secular education in 1872.  The foundation stone was laid with great festivities on 6th April 1875, the day the railway also came to Ararat. Built from polychrome brick, popular for school buildings at that time, it was opened on 1st November 1875. Additions and alterations have been made over the years, notably larger windows in the early part of the 20th century.  A central tower was removed in 1915 when wooden offices were added to the facade.  


On the next corner note the elegant   


13. Radley Residence  

Built in 1916 by William Radley, a plasterer and contractor, this house may be one of architect Michael Ryan’s designs. It is unusual, being symmetrical about a diagonal axis. The entrance is on a corner under a heavily ornamented portico. The bay windows are richly decorated with broken pediments in the Mannerist style. The decorations distinguish the house from other Federation houses and may reflect the relationship between the owner and architect.  


Drive on, crossing King St and Vincent St. into Banksia St. At the T-junction, turn right into View Point St. Cross Barkly St and continue, noting on your right the    


14. Holy Trinity Church  

The Church is of local significance historically.  It is a great example of the work of church architect Leonard Terry [1825-1884].  Its English Anglican Gothic style, simple forms and use of blue stone was typical of Terry’s church work. It could not be consecrated until it was free of debt in 1882.The church was gutted by fire in 1940. The diocesan architect, Louis Williams was responsible for the new design. The condition of the building is excellent. The Rectory at 49 High Street is worthy of an inspection.  


Continue, turn left at the junction with Lambert St (Western Highway). Note on your left    


15. Mt Romnya House  

This very impressive home was built in 1893 by local builder Daniel Beer. He lived in it briefly but for many years it had a succession of middle-class tenants. The house was eventually sold to Dr de Crespigny for use as a private hospital which functioned for many years. It is supported by a terraced garden which includes several mature palms, a popular choice at that time. Architecturally it is early use of the Federation/Queen Anne style. It remains in good condition and is now used as a private dwelling.  


Continue a short distance to    


16. Gum San Museum (Canton Lead)  

The world-class Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre tells the story of the arduous journey made from Southern China to the Victorian goldfields during the 1850’s. As they made their great trek on foot from Robe in South Australia to Bendigo, these men discovered one of the world’s richest shallow alluvial goldfields at the Canton Lead, Ararat. Designed in the traditional Southern Chinese style and incorporating the principles of Feng Shui, the dramatic two-storey building with its authentic Chinese tiled roof houses a fascinating selection of interactive audio-visuals and static displays.  


Continue along the Highway, turning left at Golf Links Rd, pass Chalambar Golf Course on your right. Turn right at the T-junction and follow the sealed road up the hill to   


17. One Tree Hill Lookout  

This is named for a tree which stood on the crest of the range forming Ararat’s western boundary, also marking the boundary of three large properties, Burrumbeep, Allanvale and Lexington. It offers unparalleled views over the surrounding landscape. The first interstate television signal between Melbourne and Adelaide passed through here in December 1962. Signals now transmit television and telephone data between Queensland and Perth. The monument on the hill was erected by the Rotary Club of Ararat in memory of the pioneers of the district. A popular car rally is conducted here.