Five members of the Ben Cruachan Walking Club (BCWC) assisted Parks Victoria with maintenance work on a significant section of McMillans Walking Track within the Grant Historic Area on August 9.

The section is a benched track, leaving Brewery Creek Track not far from Talbotville and then follows the embankment of an old water race to the Wongungarra River. As with much of McMillans Walking Track it was constructed in the gold rush era of the 1860s.

These tracks were built to a specification that required a minimum width of four feet (1.2m) and a steady gradient to facilitate movement by miners with pack horses or on foot pushing a wheelbarrow. To obtain the minimum width it was necessary in places to hew into the rock and build up the outer edge with dry stone walling. There is still ample evidence of this construction work along this 1.9km section of track.

This section of track is also significant in the history of gold mining in Victoria. In 1864, a member of McMillans track cutting party stumbled onto gold-bearing quartz at the point where the track departs Brewery Creek Track. McMillan recorded in his diary: “Tuesday April 12. Remained in camp. Some of the men found a quartz reef which appears to be very rich…most of them leaving.”

McMillan named the reef “Pioneer” after his favourite horse. Whereas the alluvial gold mining rush in the Crooked River Goldfield in 1861 was initiated by Howitt’s find of payable gold in the Good Luck Creek, some 9km upstream, this event on Pioneer Reef set off the quartz mining rush in 1864, which was to last much longer than the alluvial workings on the Crooked River.

Unfortunately after the March 2019 bushfires burnt through this area, blackberry has bounced back in abundance. When BTAC cleared the track in March 2022, the section of track along the old water race was in places totally obscured by blackberry. Walkers had not been able to find their way through. Hopefully, a program of spraying and regular clearance will help preserve this historic section of track.

The Ben Cruachan Walking Club have been busy, along with Parks Victoria, undertaking works on the iconic McMillans Walking Track. Photos: Contributed

It was a cold and foggy start on August 9 when the team met up at the depot in Dargo, but the day soon warmed to a perfect working day as they made their way through Grant and Talbotville to the start of the track. With lack of rainfall in recent times, the crossing of the Crooked River was straightforward. Armed with chainsaw, brush cutter, hedge trimmers, loppers and rake, the team cleared a basic way through to the Wongungarra River and then turned back and started attacking the blackberry in earnest.

The work by the BCWC and Parks Victoria team involved cutting the blackberry and other vegetation back from the track as well as clearing logs and fallen trees to ensure the track is fit for walkers. A surprising amount of work was achieved in the short working day they had. Parks Victoria organised the day, working alongside members of BCWC. This work will enable walkers to enjoy traversing this section of the track in greater safety and comfort.