Wednesday 30 June 2021. Steiglitz is almost a ghost town. Located within the Steiglitz Historic Park, an area administered by Parks Victoria, and surrounded by the Brisbane Ranges National Park on three sides, the former goldmining town, really just a hamlet now, can count a population of around 50. By contrast, in the 1860s, when Victoria’s goldrush was in full swing, Steiglitz was a boom town with a population of some 1,500. According to Parks Victoria’s Steiglitz Historic Park Visitor Guide, the town had four hotels, a newspaper, a number of shops and an undertaker. Remnants of the town’s heyday include two timber churches, old shopfronts, a Golden Fleece petrol bowser, and the handsome brick Steiglitz Courthouse.
We visited Steiglitz during the winter school holidays to walk along Deadman’s Loop, a five-and-a-half-kilometre circuit beginning and ending at the Courthouse. Even though it was a bright, still day, the township was very quiet; no one else was at the pleasant Bert Boardman Recreation Area, where we enjoyed our pre-walk picnic, nor did we encounter many people during the walk. We ate our lunch listening to birdsong.
After lunch we drove the short distance along the Meredith–Steiglitz Rd to the small parking area next to the Steiglitz Courthouse, which is now a volunteer-run museum (open most Sundays). The Courthouse opened in 1875, replacing a timber courthouse built in 1858, then closed in 1879 – a reflection of the town’s already waning fortunes. It opened again briefly between 1895 and 1899, then closed for good. Just past the Courthouse Deadman’s Loop begins.
Deadman’s Loop begins with a walk into the bush along a former town street, now entirely unrecognisable as such, save for a section of cobblestones and signposted former street names. There may be buried foundations here and there. The loop then follows the course of Sutherland Creek West Branch for a while, crossing it, recrossing it and even winding through it, with moderately challenging ascents and descents, before leaving the creek behind. The loop emerges from the bush at the Meredith–Steiglitz Rd and follows the road back to the Courthouse. The bush section of Deadman’s Loop was formerly part of the Burchell Trail (a three-day walking trail through the Brisbane Ranges, since rerouted to begin or end at Friday’s Camping and Picnic Area) and is still marked as such on Google Maps.
And so we set out. It was curious to think that this initial section of the walk was along what had once been a town street, long consumed by bush. It was uncanny seeing signposted street names – ghost names for a ghost town. Deadman’s Loop indeed.
We noted many specimens of a parasitic plant, each of which had apparently killed its host, like some alien invader. I guess that’s what they are.
The walk along the ghost street was easy, but once we reached Sutherland Creek West Branch the going became a little tougher. For a kilometre or so we followed the creek. The track descended into the creek gully and out of it again a number of times, criss-crossing the creek and leading us up and down gradients that were at times slippery and treacherous. It would be quite challenging for younger children or older persons.
Before long Deadman’s Loop turned to the northwest while the creek continued southwest, and we left it behind. We walked through elevated terrain now and noted the presence of grasstrees. The going was fairly easy once again and the sun shone brightly.
After twenty minutes’ walking through this pleasant landscape we reached the Meredith–Steiglitz Rd and the final third of the walk, a somewhat dull stretch back to town along asphalt. At times the road’s shoulders were narrow or non-existent; we took care when vehicles passed by.
Walking along the road did however afford an opportunity to look at Steiglitz’s former Catholic church, St. Thomas’s, a modest little timber building located on the western edge of the township. The church was built in 1868–69 on the site it now occupies. In 1951 it was moved to Norlane in Geelong, where it was used as a church hall. It was returned to Steiglitz in 1982.
We arrived back at the Steiglitz Courthouse an hour and three-quarters after leaving it, slower going than we were used to. We had enjoyed Deadman’s Loop immensely and were glad to have undertaken it again after some ten years. The Steiglitz town walk is highly recommended too, a walk we completed a couple of years ago after picnicking at the beautiful and seemingly remote Grahams Creek Picnic Area (even though it lies just a few kilometres northwest of Steiglitz, in the Brisbane Ranges National Park). From the Courthouse car park we drove the few score metres up a little rise to the former St. Paul’s Church of England, at the back of which are some well-presented (and very welcome) drop conveniences. The placard on the church building notes that “the final service was held on Sunday the 19th day of August 1962 by William R. Dowell.”
We finished our outing with a quick visit to a property on Regent St that has in the past had marmalade for sale in a little cupboard on the front porch. Today, sadly, the cupboard was bare. At the front of the neighbouring property is an old petrol bowser, another relic of bygone days.