Some country towns you just fall in love with. You may not know about its history nor the stories of why it came to be, but it just feels like a sweet place to drop into for a cuppa, if you have the time.
Camperdown is one such rural town for me and if you’re travelling around Australia on Highway 1 (aka, the Princes Hwy) you’ll eventually drive along the pretty tree-lined main street of this charming Victorian village.
Just over two hours west of Melbourne, Camperdown has long been a designated pit stop for those on their way to the Port Fairy Folk Festival, or to see the whale-watching in Warrnambool, or to walk The Great South-West Walk from Cape Bridgewater to Nelson. But just recently, we decided to actually stay the night in order to get to know the place a little better.
We rolled into the clean and neat Manifold Motor Inn rather late one afternoon after a long drive exploring every town between Penshurst and Timboon (via Port Campbell). After a good night’s sleep, my husband rode off into the sunrise to explore the district on his gravel (push) bike, while I took a gentle stroll along the main street taking photos of divine architecture in the summer's morning sun.
As I wandered from street to street, I was transported through time admiring bluestone buildings built in the 1800s, to the gorgeously pink theatre constructed in “Free Classical Revival style” at the end of the Roaring Twenties. A true feast for the senses further enriched by the avenue of huge shady elm trees which runs through the town, creating a median strip of green, perfect for sipping cappuccinos and hot choccies.
I’m not going to go into the history of Camperdown but scratch around on the net and you can find plenty of historical value on how the township – as many Australian towns did – uneasily came to be in the 1830s. Liwura Gundidj are the traditional land owners. The bulk of the town’s buildings were built in the 1850s and 60s. Camperdown was officially declared a town rather late in 1959. I do love the idea that Cobb & Co ran a service between Camperdown and Warrnambool in the 1870s, but can you imagine traipsing around in those long dresses and all that dust and mud?
Camperdown is nestled in the Lakes & Craters district and so a small meander in the car brings you to a myriad of beautiful rural views including Mt Leura, an extinct volcano’s vent which solidified to form a cone-shaped hill, and Lake Bullen Merri and Lake Gnotuk which are twin volcanic craters.
Dotted throughout the farmland are historic homesteads, broken-down windpumps (which we refer to as windmills, though they’re used to pump water, not mill grain), and dry-stone fences (originally built by skilled craftsmen – not convicts, as legend would have it – from local rocks, to help keep rabbits away from crops). There's also plenty of trails (including a rail trail) to cycle for those looking to expend a bit more energy.
So, if you have the time and you’re in the area, pop in to any of the several cafes for a cuppa or lunch, or have a beer at one of the old pubs, and you’ll hear a tale or two from the locals. There’s plenty of arts and crafts to browse, as well as historical-monument plaques to read.
And of course, you can’t miss the 35-metre clock tower standing like a proud grandfather in the centre of town, overseeing thousands of passers-by over a million minutes of time.
But really, time becomes irrelevant in this neck of the woods. It's a place to hang up the watch, put the phone away, and just relax overlooking the peaceful pastures surrounding this grand old dame of a town.
Camperdown. Time to camp-a-down and feel the stresses of life melt away.
At least, it did for us.