The McIvor-Heathcote Goldfields opened in November 1852 after William Bulling and his two mates struck gold. A rush started early the next year with the digger population estimated at around 40,000. However, by the following year many of the diggers had moved on, leaving around 2,000 people in the area.
The first official land sale was in January 1854 and it was at this time the township was named Heathcote. Records are unclear as to why – possibly it was after a newly appointed British MP, or perhaps simply the abundance of wild heath growing in the area.
By the mid-1860s the town had a hospital, school and Anglican, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and Catholic churches. Many beautiful buildings from this era still stand – particularly in the main street – showcasing the stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the time.
Outside of gold; agriculture and flour milling were the main industries. Then, in the 1880s when railway expansions were at their peak, the train line running from Bendigo to Melbourne offered further opportunity. As well as transport, trains meant the Heathcote timber forests were able to provide quality timber to the region.
In the 1900s, the decline of the timber trade saw the population – and the rail services – decrease. However, by the 1970s, Melbourne residents recognised the town as an attractive getaway and commuter location. Three vineyards were planted in the late 1970s – although the late 1800s were also a rich and prosperous time for winemaking – and it was also during this time that conservation became an issue with the end of gold sluicing.
Now, almost four decades later, the choices made at that time are offering rewards: beautiful buildings, an attractive main street, award-winning vineyards and an abundance of flora and fauna in the surrounding forests.