Pastoral runs in the Stawell area were selected in the 1840s, but it was the gold found by a shepherd in the district in May 1853 that provided the real reason for the foundation of a township. By August 1854, 5,000 people were seeking their fortune at the Pleasant Creek goldfield. By 1857 the fabulously rich deep alluvial leads to Commercial Street and Deep Lead had been discovered and rushes of eager gold seekers brought 20,000 people to the fields.
The area was surveyed and proclaimed as Stawell in 1858. By the 1860s the alluvial fields were fading and the big business of reef mining took over, heralding an era of great private and civic prosperity during the 1870s. Mining of the quartz reefs in the Big Hill area yielded 58,000 tonnes of gold during 60 years.
The Stawell Athletic Club ran the first Stawell Gift in April 1878, which is still one of the world’s richest professional foot races. A rising water table, insufficient investment funds and poor returns closed the big reef mines down in the 1920s. New prosperity for the town was forthcoming through the North West Woollen Mills which began processing in 1922. Mining recommenced in 1984 and the town is now Victoria’s largest producer of gold.
Modern Stawell now has a vibrant and lively main street with a Grampians’ outlook. Although a reflection of this era, Stawell has maintained a proud, friendly and authentic country feel. This is evident in a number of fine historic buildings, including the Town Hall. The animated clock and Westminster chimes still ring daily. Stawell’s excellent range of accommodation and strong commercial centre makes it an ideal base for exploring the Grampians Ranges and nearby wineries.