One of the best-known products of the Harcourt region is Harcourt Granite.
Long ago, a large mass of granite welled up from the depths of the earth, pushing up the sandstones of central Victoria. As the granite cooled, it shrank. The sandstones collapsed and were washed away. It left behind the familiar mountain that we see today.
In 1851, Mount Alexander was the most famous mountain in the entire world. It was a welcome landmark to gold-seekers from Britain, Germany, California and China. The goldfields were in the foothills to the west. The mountain itself was not gold-bearing country.
Mount Alexander Regional Park displays a natural beauty with astonishing rock formations, flora and fauna, not forgetting spectacular views.
In 1859, Englishman Joseph Blight quarried surface granite to provide construction material for the new Melbourne to Murray River railway. Impressed with the durability of the stone and the ease of working the granite, by 1865 Joseph Blight opened up a commercial quarry on the lower north-western slopes of the mountain.
Granite quarrying reached its peak in the early years of the 20th Century.
After 1920, as transport improved and roads were built further onto the mount, other quarries were opened up. At present, only two quarries in regular operation on Mount Alexander.
A disused surface quarry, known as Lodge Brothers, can still be found by bushwalkers in a gully accessed from Picnic Gully Road.
Harcourt Granite in Architecture, Near and Far
Harcourt Granite takes a good polish. It is durable and attractive in building construction.
At first, Harcourt stone was used locally. From the 1880s, it was also used in prestigious buildings in the centre of Melbourne. Harcourt Granite from Blight’s quarry is found in buildings in every major city in Australia. Additionally, many tons of Harcourt Granite were exported overseas.
The builders of the railway used stone from the immediate area. Harcourt granite was the primary building material for bridges at Harcourt.
The district’s largest structure is a three arch viaduct over Barkers Creek built by German stonemasons 1859-1861. High standards were applied in shaping and dressing the granite for the bridges. Such techniques were not commonly employed in building until the boom era of the 1880s.
Granite Homes of the Valley
Harcourt’s granite homes comprise a unique group of dwellings, primarily vernacular architecture, which, seen as a whole, are one of the distinguishing features of the Harcourt Valley. There are over thirty granite homes, with construction dates ranging from 1860 to the present day. They illustrate many approaches to building construction and design that emanate from—and are virtually dictated by—the use of Harcourt Granite as a building material. They are private homes, not open to the public.
Locally, granite has been used in Harcourt Uniting Church, Faraday Primary School and in several wineries.
Pillars of Harcourt Granite dignify the former Bendigo Post Office, the Law Courts and Town Hall and contribute to Bendigo’s nationwide reputation as a boom-time city.
In our state’s capital, Harcourt granite has given a solid and enduring character to many buildings in the city. It has a proud place in many of Melbourne’s buildings, bridges, guttering, docks, viaducts, cathedrals and war memorials.
It first appeared in Melbourne buildings from the late 1880s when it was used in the columns of the original Stock Exchange (380 Collins Street) and in Parliament House. It was not until 1891 that it started to be used as a structural base for buildings in Melbourne and was subsequently used extensively in this way. As building methods changed from the 1920s it continued to be used as a cladding material in the lower parts of buildings through to the present time.
We now see granite used in paneling, walkways, tiles, benchtops, garden walls and statues.
Harcourt Granite is in popular demand for monumental work. Many examples exist throughout Australia.
The largest stone sent from Harcourt was the Burke & Wills Monument in the Melbourne Cemetery. Weighing 36 tons, it was quarried from a surface block near the northern boundary of Blight’s Quarry. This large block of Harcourt Granite caused a sensation when it was brought to Melbourne in 1864. It was photographed on arrival, and in transit up Collins Street, surrounded by immense crowds.
Bendigo’s Alexandra Fountain is made of Harcourt Granite. The turned and polished bowl of the fountain, reputedly the largest in the southern hemisphere, is three metres diameter and fourteen inches thick, supported on a granite disc 2.4 metres diameter and 13 inches thick. The granite shaft, ornamentation and surrounds are all of interest as examples of late Victorian ornamental exuberance.