Almanac Travel: Castlemaine’s Arts Hub



Castlemaine has probably been in the shadow of Daylesford in terms of the cool weekend destination for Melburnians, but the gap is definitely closing.


Yesterday, we took the hour long trip from Ballarat to see the Old Castlemaine Gaol and also singer songwriter extraordinaire Gareth Liddiard play at the Theatre Royal.


Daylesford is approximately forty minutes en route so we stopped for some lunch. The artist David Bromley who now owns the Old Castlemaine Gaol, has a retail outlet in the main drag which is very impressive and contained some very expensive art.


When asked by the salesperson whether we’d like anything, we replied that we would pop next door, buy a Powerball ticket and perhaps get back to her.


We then paused at the makeshift memorial for the five lives lost last weekend who were innocently spending family time together in a beer garden.


Looking at where the car came from, the odds of what occurred were millions to one of anything so tragic happening. It was an abrupt reminder of life’s fragility and the need to make the most of every day.


Another twenty minutes up the road and we were at the Old Gaol which has been transformed into a brilliant art gallery by new owner David Bromley.


Bromley’s sugary paintings are fairly recognisable and have been reproduced for commercial purposes in the past and there are many examples of them throughout the gaol especially within the claustrophobic cells.


But what’s so impressive is that Bromley is simply a huge art fan and has displayed much of his personal collection here. Everything from Picasso to Brett Whitely to Charles Blackman to Andy Warhol are represented extensively.


Bromley started out making ceramics then turned his hand to sculpture; there are plenty of fine examples of both within the gaol and outside in the gardens. I particularly love his depictions of kids in the ’60s BS (Before Screens), just being creative, having fun and maybe having a cheeky smoke.


Originally from Sheffield in the UK, Bromley has an interesting life battling mental issues which has been captured in a documentary Bromley – Life After Dark. There will be a special session shown at the Theatre Royal Castlemaine on November 25 at 12.30pm. There’s a trailer for the film HERE.


Details for tickets which includes a Q&A with Bromley live on stage can be found HERE. According to staff the $25 entry on the day includes entry to an after party at the gaol.


The Old Castlemaine Gaol is fantastic and it’s not finished yet. The top floor is yet to be curated which will be an amazing addition to what is already a must see. Entry is $20 for adults and $14 for seniors like me. Here are some photos from the visit.





A three minute drive from the gaol and you’re in Castlemaine central. The houses and commercial buildings are typical of the region with beautiful colonial architecture adorning the city.


We had plenty of time to kill so we blew an hour or so in Stoneman’s Bookshop which was expensive but a lovely old shop perfect for browsing. After buying some Xmas presents it was time to consider dinner.


We booked a table at the Railway Hotel, an old pub that wouldn’t look out of place on the Yorkshire Moors.


It sits adjacent to the railway station next to the footy ground a gentle fifteen minute walk from the centre of town.


The food was delicious and the portion sizes were well above average. An hour later and I rolled out of there looking eight months pregnant. Lynda described my post meal stomach as a ledge.


The very popular Theatre Royal is purportedly the oldest theatre on mainland Australia. Its namesake in Hobart is the oldest and I was expecting a similar interior to that one which is almost Shakespearean in appearance.


This couldn’t be further from the truth. Although the Castlemaine theatre has a beautiful façade and foyer, the concert space was a tad underwhelming. There were leather couches around the perimeter and joined together plastic chairs sitting on what could have been a giant parquet dancefloor in the mid-1800s.


The stage is in two levels. The first level was where the show was and behind that was another level higher that had a giant curtain coming down, which we assume the cinema screen sits behind, from what must be a sixty foot ceiling,


It’s the height of the ceiling that is so imposing. Despite not looking like the traditional theatre we were expecting, the sound quality and acoustics were as good as anything we’d heard anywhere.


It is primarily a live venue so it makes sense to have that configuration where they can move the plastic seats out when bands like The Cosmic Psychos and Amyl and the Sniffers are playing, which is what’s coming in the next month.


Gareth Liddiard will never have commercial success, nor will we see him advertising a gambling app or a beer thankfully.


He is however one the most gifted musicians this country has ever produced and he put on another spellbinding two hours solo last night.


I’ve been fortunate to see Gareth in all his other incarnations (The Drones, Tropical F..kstorm and Springtime) but I love seeing him stripped back like this where you can truly experience his unique guitar playing.


He’s also a funny, self-deprecating guy who likes to interact with the crowd. As laconic as he appears, he writes and delivers his songs in a Dylan-esque style.


His stories are authentically Australian and his ability to bring high drama to his songs is unparalleled. Ed Kuepper has similar qualities, but seems not as friendly.



Gareth was ably supported by Jess Ribeiro. Jess is an ex-teacher who has been around the independent music scene for over ten years. She is very talented and reminded me of Joni Mitchell and Martha Wainwright.


The immediate future of regional cities like Castlemaine will be interesting. We couldn’t afford to rent or buy in Melbourne and you can see more people like ourselves heading bush, particularly over 50s.


When you have access to the arts like Castlemaine, Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Ballarat are providing, it makes the decision to move a lot easier.


Since we arrived three months ago we’ve been able to see Tex Perkins, The Umbilical Brothers, Urzilla Carlson and Tom Gleeson will be here shortly. The heritage listed Her Majesty’s Theatre is under renovation and will bring another desirable element to Ballarat.


There were a lot of hipsters in Castlemaine yesterday where it’s Movember twelve months of the year. The shift from Melbourne is happening rapidly, but you may need to develop a taste for craft beer. Not a lot of VB sold here.


Nonetheless, Castlemaine is another gem in the Victorian countryside and is quickly becoming another destination point for weary Melburnians.



(All photos supplied by the author)




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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.


  1. Great yarn, Ian. We live in Bendigo only half-an-hour drive away and are in the Maine regularly.

    We pick up wine-making friends in Harcourt, halfway between the towns, and eat out for lunch at Fig or the cafe now established in the old Fire Station.

    And the four of us are regular attendees at the biennial Castlemaine State Festival, held every two years. On one occasion we saw the late Uncle Jack Charles in a biograpical life story.

    It was staged at the old Castlemaine gaol. Uncle Jack said it was an appropriate venue as he’d spent time in a slammer in his younger days.

    The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra used to open the festivals back in the day at the Castlemaine basketball stadium. Catering was provided on an adjacent sports oval by Army Reserve personnel — the Weekend Warriors.

    And as a current semi-retired sports writer, Ian, I’ve spent many Saturday afternoons at the Maine’s Camp Reserve oval. Covering games for the daily Bendigo Advertiser. Not so much in recent seasons as the Maine Magpies have been down the bottom of the Bendigo FNL ladder.

    But I was there for this year’s Rd. 17 match against Sandhurst. The Maine lost.

    However this coming season with ex-AFL playing coach Michael Hartley in charge Castlemaine is anticipating a surge up the ladder. The A grade netballers reached the 2023 A grade preliminary final but lost to eventual flag winners Gisborne.

    And did you know ex-Knacker supremo Paul Daffey used to refer to Castlemaine as the “Northcote of the North’. Appropriately he referred to Northcote as the ‘Castlemaine of the South’.

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