ON THE NED KELLY TOURING ROUTE
Many people believe that the warrant issued for Dan Kelly, which was written and signed here at the Chiltern Police Station on 5 April 1878, was a turning point for the Kelly family. This warrant caused police to attend the family home at Greta and harass their mother.
‘You can mess around with us men, but not with our women’ is a quote often associated with the Kelly boys.
Chiltern presently has a population of just over 1000. It is close to the Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park and is 34 kilometres from Wodonga and 280 kilometres from Melbourne. The Hume Freeway runs one kilometre to the east of the township.
Aside from the township’s wonderful historic buildings and nearby wineries, there are a number of scenic drives on the outskirts of Chiltern, many of which traverse the Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park. North-west of town is Donchi Hill Road, which leads to a scenic lookout over the surrounding plains and passes through areas of old mining sites. South of Chiltern, on the road to Beechworth, is the turnoff to Mount Pilot where impressive views can be enjoyed from the mountain’s peak.
Originally known as ‘the Black Dog township’, in 1858 Chiltern was named after Chiltern Hills in England and established as a town. In 1859 people following the gold rush from Beechworth and the Ovens Valley districts moved to Chiltern and contributed to its growth.
In its heyday Chiltern supported 12 hotels and three banks. The Grape Vine Hotel on the corners of Main and Conness streets apparently boasts the largest grapevine in Australia, which was planted in 1867.
In 1859 a local newspaper known as the Federal Standard began publication. Its printing office was later built of locally made bricks. The building is one of seven in Chiltern on the Register of the National Estate. The newspaper continued to publish until the 1970s and the Standard Building is one of the highlights of a visit to Chiltern.
Unlike many other areas, the gold around Chiltern was extracted by sinking deep wet leads. This type of mining needed miners with greater and different experience and saw the skilled workers coming from many of the other goldfields. The miners from Ballarat in particular were considered radicals due to their involvement in the Eureka Rebellion of 1854.
A great legacy of Chiltern’s mining days are its well-preserved historic buildings built around the town’s central junction of Main and Conness streets, including the Federal Standard newspaper office (built in 1860), the Star Hotel (1866), Dow’s Pharmacy (1860) and Gilmour’s Corner Store (1890).
The Chiltern Athenaeum Museum – originally the town hall and council chambers – presents a large collection of historical books and paintings. Further north along Main Street, north of Crawford Street, is a group of historic government buildings, situated just outside of the town’s commercial centre. There is a post office (built in 1863), masonic hall, the former courthouse (1865) and an old police lock-up which was erected in 1874 at the rear of the courthouse.
People of note from Chiltern include our 18th Prime Minister, John McEwen, author of The Getting of Wisdom, Ethel Richardson (her house is worth a visit and also on the Trust registry) and Mary Gaunt, another novelist who was one of the first two women enrolled at Melbourne University.
After its founding, Chiltern overshadowed Beechworth within a few years, especially when the main Melbourne-Albury railway bypassed Beechworth. However, when the gold dwindled during the early 1900s, so too did Chiltern.