History

The Diggers’ Store History

Photo by Danielle White for 'Countryphiles'

Photo by Danielle White for ‘Countryphiles’

In the Beginning…

Gold had been discovered in the area in 1851 and within two years 3000-6000 miners were living in a shanty-town that stretched along Campbells Creek.

The Diggers’ Store store was established in 1857. Today it remains a well-known heritage icon in Castlemaine and the surrounding area.

Mr William Wood was granted the land at 61 Main Road by Governor Charles Hotham in order to set up a gold-mining supplies store. He built a large two-story residence, with a single-story shop attached.

End of an Era

The gold rush had died down by 1862 and there was no longer such a need for a specialised gold-miners store, so Mr Wood established the building as the Vine Hotel.

By this time the village was booming, with the Phoenix Brewery in operation across the road, as well as numerous other make-shift stores and amenities, many established by the large Chinese population that had settled in the area, including: teahouses, temples, barber shops, gambling establishments, apothecaries, and opium dens – most of which were operating out of simple calico tents (something not dissimilar to a ‘Dead-Wood’ kind of town!).

The Haunted

William Wood’s wife unfortunately died not long after…. It was reported in the papers that she had been “taken by the hand of God.”  To this day, local people speculate that the house is haunted, persons reporting that Mrs Wood’s ghost would come down the stairs, walk outside to her horse and carriage and ride around the grounds.

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The Fire

Mr. Wood’s business prospered until 1876, when there was a major fire in the building. Although the local papers reported that the entire building had burned down, it was in fact mainly the interior that was harmed. Many of Mr Wood’s chattels, furniture, and fittings were also saved by Mr Wood, with the assistance of his neighbours. Although the papers reported that many of these said items were carried away completely by some of his less helpful neighbours.

As the exterior of the building was still in tact, this meant the building could mostly be restored to its former glory, with one major alteration – he extended the shop so that it was two-stories high, with the addition of the front balcony.

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Twentieth Century

On two occasions the house was left to institutions. Firstly, it was donated to the Catholic Church in the 1950’s, during which time the shop was consecrated and services were held here fortnightly.

However, it reverted back into private ownership again in the 1960’s when two Italian families resided in the building. It was during this time that the grapevines at the rear of the house were planted as well as the beginnings of the fruit tree orchard.

The house was left to an institution again after this time – this time to the Mount Alexander Old Peoples’ Home. However, a daughter of the previous owner disputed the will and it was then sold again privately to Graeme and Lyn Bennett.

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Photo by Sarah J: http://www.sarahjphotography.com.au/

A Family Affair

Graeme Bennett, the current owner of the building, and Lyn, his partner bought the building in 1982 in a state of some disrepair as the dwelling had been uninhabited for some years. They quickly set to work on making some repairs, while always maintaining the history and integrity of the building. Today many of the original fittings remain, and where new fittings were required Mr Bennett has always ensured that they are in keeping with it’s mid-19th century beginnings.

In the early 1990’s the Bennetts converted the stable into a bed and breakfast, ‘The Diggers’ Rest’, which they operated along-side their other main business ‘The Diggers Store Antiques’.

Here, The Bennetts raised their family, until leaving for Darwin in the late 1990’s. Since then the building has been inhabited by various businesses, until in late 2013 Graeme’s son Alexander Bennett and his partner Tina Helm took on the lease and re-established ‘The Diggers Store Bed and Breakfast’.

Alex and Tina have also worked to set up an all-analogue recording studio on the premises: ‘Sound Recordings’ and have opened up the property for events and functions.

Photos by Danielle White