Rushworth, a town full of pride and identity

By Shepparton News

The past comes to rest above Rushworth like an invisible picture frame.

Take away the cars parked in the spectacular expanse of the main street and you can still see the timber carts pulled by teams of oxen trundling up the hill to start their turning circle.

On either side of the huge grassy median strip are the hotels and verandahed shops, the magnificent colonial offices of the Rushworth Chronicle, the Commercial Bank of Australia and the Mechanics Institute where the miners and loggers would have drank, ate, slept and met for gossip, business and education from 1853 onwards — when gold was discovered and the town became the centre of feverish madness.

At its peak, Rushworth and its surrounding forest had 26 mines and a population of 40000.

Today, the population is nearer 1300 and the pace of life is a little slower.

It is 8.45am and retired Rushworth policeman Ian Harris is hauling bins packed with bargains from his Rushworth Gift and Variety store on to the pavement.

Ian’s store is on the corner of the sedate main street and the busy Moora Rd, which connects to Murchison and the Hume Hwy to Melbourne.

The bustle of ox carts has been replaced by the roar of trucks on the corner where the old and new worlds meet.

Ian policed the town for eight years before he left the force 27 years ago. He reckons not a lot has changed.

‘‘It’s a friendly town with accepting people. Everyone gets along — everyone knows everyone,’’ he says.

He is looking to sell up soon and retire.

‘‘This place needs someone new. I get about 30 or 40 people through here a day — it goes down in the winter, but you take the good with the bad,’’ he says.

Around the corner on noisy Moora Rd, David and Helen Barton are sitting at the bus stop waiting for a coach to Melbourne where David is having cancer treatment.

A share farmer, he and Helen ran a gold mine museum in Rushworth for 10 years before illness struck.

‘‘We had a mini mine shaft and mining artefacts — it was really popular. We had buses from Shepparton and Kyabram,’’ he says.

The coach arrives and the couple is off to the big smoke with memories and hopes for better health.

Further down Moora Rd, a school crossing lady tells me she can’t talk to the media because she works for the council.

Nevertheless, she offers a good reason for living in Rushy.

‘‘When you look at the news, you’re glad you live in Rushworth,’’ she says.

Outside the Rushy Timber and Hardware store on Moora Rd, the mowers are already displayed on the pavement and chainsaws and snippers are hanging from the window frames.

Inside, store owner and seventh-generation Rushworth resident Brendan Hawking is preparing for another day of supplying a bewildering variety of goods — gas, wood, cleaning fluids, tools, oils, auto repair items, air-conditioners, garden equipment — to the locals.

‘‘You’ve got to have a bit of everything,’’ Brendan says.

To prove his point, he indicates a fox tail with a $25 price tag, hanging between a load of fly trap bottles.

‘‘It’s real,’’ assistant Tracey Jones says.

Brendan reckons new people are moving into town, many from Melbourne.

‘‘It’s quiet, it’s very visual and there’s a lot of history,’’ he says when asked what Rushy has to offer.

Back on the sloping main street, on the quite wide pavement outside the Motofinish cafe sits Nick Buzza with a mug of steaming coffee.

Nick is a busy man, but he does not look busy.

He is president of the Rushworth Museum, he helps organise the town’s annual Easter festival, which has grown to attract thousands, he is involved in the three-day Waranga Film Festival at the end of June and he co-ordinates the annual Wildflower Hunt at the end of August.

‘‘We walk around the bush tracks and see what we can spot. It all depends on the rain, but if there’s no flowers there’s plenty of historic gold sites. Some of them look like the miners have just upped sticks and left,’’ he says.

A surveyor with a keen interest in history, Nick has lived in Queensland and big cities across the world but, for the past 10 years, he has lived in Rushworth.

‘‘You’ve got good services — a bank, hospital and a supermarket. It’s got the forest and history,’’ he says.

Nick agrees with Brendan that new people are moving in.

‘‘For the first five years I didn’t see a single house being built, but now there are few people building in town,’’ he says.

‘‘They’re tree changers from Melbourne — and retirees.’’

He says unlike some small Queensland towns he has lived in, Rushworth is welcoming.

‘‘For country towns to survive you’ve got to be open to new ideas and people, not live in a bubble,’’ he says.

Rushworth’s golden bubble may have burst 150 years ago, but there is still plenty of precious things to be discovered in the streets, the buildings and the people.