‘…the miners, their machinery, and their buildings have gone; but in the hill the great open cut gapes like a crater…’ – from Don John of Balaclava by Miles Lewis 1977.
The ghost town of Whroo, Victoria, is an abandoned attraction in an abandoned ghost town built at an abandoned gold mine.
Two sailors – John Thomas Lewis and James Meek Nickinson discovered a gold nugget in the grass at Whroo in 1854, the same date as Russia’s Battle of Balaklava in the Crimean War, hence the name. A gold mine was quickly opened and was very profitable for the first few decades, leading to the development of the town of Whroo. The mine then operated on and off and officially closed in the 1960s. In the 1980s attempts were made to protect the site as a historic landmark. Sadly, little remains of the former town.
Near the dusty parking lot at the Whroo historical site are two small buildings. A Lonely Planet listing informed us that ‘Whroo visitors centre has a café and a newly produced DVD and history book for sale’, though when we arrived we found that the visitor’s centre (below) is now little more than a plaque on an empty shack holding two faded sepia photos of the area nailed to the walls.
Next to this visitors centre is another small building, formerly a church, with a For Sale sign on the sealed doors. The same locked door bears a faded sign warning tourists against entering the mine due to ‘current conditions’ and from the look of the sign, I can’t say just how current that warning is.
A stroll through the tunnel and open cut mine at Balaclava hill make for an interesting 860m circuit from the car park. You may also wish to see the remnants of the old cyanide vats, which were once used for separating the gold from quartz. A worn and graffitied sign (presumably the sign was erected in the 1980s) indicates that at some point the mining company tried to save money by blowing up the mine workings at Whroo with a large charge of dynamite: ‘They hoped this would enable them to quarry the mine, but the blast only made it unsafe to continue shaft mining. However, a convenient opening was made in the side of the hill and the whole body of the hill was conveyed by tramway…’
At the entry to the open cut mine, tattered remnants of an orange plastic barrier flapped in the breeze. Similarly, a bundle of orange plastic sat on the dusty ground just outside the tunnel entrance. Needless to say, it was hardly a deterrent.
The nearby Whroo cemetery includes some beautiful, dilapidated headstones, and is perhaps most haunting for its numerous unmarked graves. Indications are that about 400 residents were buried here, and of the graves with headstones, the epitaphs tell of a harsh life lived at Whroo.
A walk through Whroo cemetery and the abandoned mining tunnel is well worth the trip, but don’t expect a cup of coffee at the visitor’s centre. This is a true ghost town – it’s only a shame that nothing more remains of the 130 buildings that once stood here in the hey day of Victoria’s gold rush.