Tim and I pick blackberries, cars surf the tarmac behind. Scrolled barbs falling over themselves across the main water channel. A concrete trough, the channel feeds out of the river Golipan to the south and slakes orchards, grapes, sheep to the jaw of the mountain Leanganook. 


The channel passes us standing on Harmony Way, formerly the Old Calder Highway (C789). Original jag direct to New Gold Mountain. Ever watched an old highway keeping up beside its replacement. Narrower, lower, meeting crossroads and getting distracted, shooting off across fields. Or coming upon a river and stopping completely bereft of ideas while its new, official self speeds past. Broken-edged, shoulderless, softened by overgrowth. ‘Kangaroos and wallabies own the old highway in twilight.’1


The oldest highway, Golipan shadows the broken one but never comes into view from it. Darts from the marshlands at Malmsbury to the plateau, into the floodplain at Taradale, and back up the slate valleys beneath the mountain. 


The soil was so soft in 1836 that Major Mitchell’s tracks could be followed a fortnight after he’d passed through the Moolort Plains on his way here.


Maybe there’s a fourth old route beyond the river, which can’t be seen at all.


As above so it is: the old highway a geological line, between the granitic and fertile soil of murnong and grapevine on the east, and the skeletal clay of heath forest to the west. Mitchell saw that the hills surrounding the Harcourt valley were ‘very lightly wooded’. That’s still true of the slopes that remain of the sheep runs; fire-managed woodland scarred to stubble by repeat grazing.


On this side is Galgal gundidj (‘forest people’) estate. Their clan may have numbered over one hundred before invasion.2 Their home was magically renamed Strathloddon Station by William Campbell in 1840; then named again as Castlemaine, Chewton, Campbell’s Creek and Yapeen. From Yapeen through Moolort and Campbelltown to Talbot I find barns with crude loopholes in their walls, built by hand like clumsy mistakes.


The head station of Strathloddon was a long way from most of its run. By 1850 miners were stealing unseen onto absent squatters’ land, here along the Forest Creek flats.


Our neighbour, Helen makes jam from the berries on the creek. Her grandchildren are forbidden to eat it. “It could be poisoned”, says Helen’s son.


On the northern side of Harmony Way is the estate of the Liarga balug clan, stolen by Dr Barker for his gigantic run in 1845.3 There at the top end of the highway, last summer I sped past a black snake writhing on the hot road. I think it had been maimed and was stuck to the tarmac. In the rear view, I saw a car pull over.


The snake’s body marked the location of the notorious Porcupine Inn in the 1840s, on the last rise towards Bendigo where bushrangers sprung onto the winding track.4


Further down, in 1972 a pair of losers took kids and a teacher for ransom at Faraday School. Even then, it was possible to do a midday stick-up. A country town is mostly fringe: hardly any centre.


Stick to the river’s way. Come up from below. 


Coliban Water, the authority in charge of the river’s flows, has twice been fined for dumping waste into its veins. Farmers raised the alarm that algal blooms were appearing in the river beside their pastures.


Tension between two points. 


The murnong had ‘virtually disappeared’ within two years of grazing.5 We virtually don’t pick the yam daisies on our property, they own it.


From the mountain boulders a piece of granite was extracted at Blight’s Quarry and took six weeks rolling on logs to reach Harcourt railway station and then to the 1864 Burke & Wills memorial in the Melbourne General Cemetery. ‘The progress of the monolith’ through that soft, unpaved soil.6 


Stay on the old highway until the Mallee. The violence of goldmining here is like that of mullenising mallee scrub there: raze, burn, dig. It is not like the hidden violence, the illusive organicism, the innocence of sheep nibbling and tramping. 


The dingoes in this valley were poisoned. The ones that sat up on the boulders. But I hear them calling together on frosty, clear mornings. When the river rises, first light displacing the last stars and the old highway’s beams into the soil.








1 Faraday Community Assocation, Kidnapped by Time, Griffin Press, 2014, xii.

 George Milford, Dr William Barker and the Mount Alexander Station 1845, no publisher, 1.

3 Milford, 1.

 Howard A Carr, The Calder Highway, 2006, 63.

 Howard A Carr, Bridging the Generations: The Story of Harcourt, self-published, 2002, 20. 

 Christina Harris, Granite quarrying at Mount Alexander, Harcourt, Parks Victoria, 2007, 10.


The original and continuing custodians of the old highway, renamed Harmony Way after the late elder Henry ‘Harmony’ Nelson, are the Dja Dja Wurrung. The fee for this publication is donated to Castlemaine Pay the Rent.