Updated: May 20, 2022
We’ve all heard of the Grampians in Vic - where these rock formations that were formed some millions of years ago. They are known for their stunning formations, amazing walks to breathtaking lookouts and waterfalls, its easy to spend a week here exploring.
But have you heard of the Mount Difficult quarry tucked in a section of the Grampians ?
Back in the 1860’s an Irish stonemason by the name of Francis Watkins discovered Freestone ( a type of hard sandstone ) at the base of the mountains, this was soon to become a very important site for all of Victoria. In 1864 he took out a lease on 2 acres to mine the sandstone for a mere 3 pound and soon won the contract to supply the stone for public buildings in and around Melbourne.
In 1880 the stone was chosen to be used for Parliament House in Vic, and just two years later a rail line was built from the quarry to Stawell, funded by the government, in Feb 1882 the first load was sent out.
Over the next few years over 100 men were employed here, nearby a settlement of Heatherlie was established with shops and a school.
But as soon as it started men were getting laid off in 1890 when the great depression hit. But by 1899 things ramped up again when this good quarry stone was needed for more major works and repairs in and around Melbourne.
This continued until 1941 when the rail line closed to Stawell and eventually the quarry closed around 1980.
Located just off the Mount Zero Road, the mine is free to walk around with a stack informative signs along the walking tracks. There’s three beautiful sandstone cottages to admire, a host of old gear like boilers, engines, cranes and small carts.
They used the carts to load the stone onto ( with the cranes ), then push the carts along the narrow gauge tracks to be loaded onto the train to Stawell.
Viewing points across and into the old quarry sites are pretty amazing where you can see the chisel and rod marks in the stone where the stone masons used a feathering effect to break the stone into the acquired size blocks.
An amazing feat considering this was done by hand with limited explosives. It’s cool to see where the tram way goes between the cuttings, how deep the original quarry used to be, tonnes of discarded blocks with cut marks in, old crane bases and so much more.
The stone that was used is an extremely hard sandstone and even in todays terms it is very highly regarded. Have a poke around the streets of Melbourne and indeed Flinders Street Station, the town hall, state library - these places and more is where the stone went too.
It's also said that the stone masons came all the way from Italy to work and they were sending 4 train loads of stone a week away. Most of the buildings from Heatherlie were sold and moved away when the quarry folded as more families left the area.
Another beautiful part of the Grampians tucked away from the hustle and bustle, make sure if you're in the area - check it out. Oh and just down the road is a fantastic free campsite - call the Plantation - all free !!