During the heady days of Victoria’s gold rush, a digger claimed the location of a 2.5 kilogram nugget came to him in a dream.
There were wild rumors that nuggets weighing up to 18kg had been unearthed in the St Arnaud area, and thousands of people rushed to its hills, ravines and creeks in hopes of changing their fate.
The small town in the Northern Grampians has been described by some as a ‘golden city with a golden future’.
This era, as captured by local historians, still shines on the town’s main street more than 150 years later.
Napier Street, with its two-storey pubs, ornate iron conservatories and original post office, courthouse and fire station, will be celebrated as part of Australia’s main streets week.
This week’s national movement encourages cities to support their local businesses, while recognizing the crucial social function of main streets.
“The essence of most people is that they want to belong,” campaign spokeswoman Alli Price told AAP.
“If we don’t have main streets or town centers anymore, that sense of place is gone, that connection is gone.”
Many participating cities across Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria will showcase their heritage.
About 100 kilometers west of St Arnaud, Horsham’s theme is ‘What Was and What Is’, featuring the story of the Wimmera Coffee Palace, now a nightclub.
When built in 1918, the Horsham Times described it as “a splendid addition to the town”, with Queensland maple paneling and a spacious veranda.
Ballarat architect and heritage consultant Wendy Jacobs says preserving historic main streets is both atmospheric and practical.
“It’s a sense of belonging, a sense of identity that this is our home,” she said.
“Then there is tourism, people like to go back in time and see it. And the verandas are useful. They are shaded in the summer and protect from the rain in the winter.”
High street businesses can also look to history to improve commerce, says NSW heritage consultant David Scobie.
“David Jones, Grace Brothers and Myer trained window dressers. It was a very skilled trade in preparing window displays and changing merchandise regularly,” he said.
“Today you’re lucky if you see something out the window. I sound like an old British sitcom, but we’ve lost a generation of skilled and trained people.”
He says lighting, street furniture and murals enliven tired main streets, and a one-stop shop can bring change.
“It’s becoming more than a cafe, more than a clothing store,” says Mr Scobie.
“Everyone meets there, and they discuss everything.”
Cities involved in the campaign are transforming their main streets into living art spaces, open libraries and markets throughout the week.
Ms Price hopes it will remind people to gather in their town centres, especially after periods of pandemic isolation.
“The main streets are really the heart of the community,” she said.
Australian Associated Press