Castlemaine was established during the gold rush of 1851 and was originally named Forest Creek. The name was later changed to Mount Alexander, but the chief goldfield commissioner, Captain W. Wright, renamed the settlement to honour his uncle, Viscount Castlemaine. The old name is still present in the name of a major Melbourne thoroughfare, Mount Alexander Road, which before the establishment of the Calder Freeway was the route to Castlemaine.
In September, 1851, three shepherds and a bullock driver discovered gold in Specimen Gully, about 5 km NE of present-day Castlemaine. Within a month the alluvial bed of Forest Creek was being worked with 8,000 miners on the field by the end of the year and 25,000 by March 1852.
The Theatre Royal opened in 1856 to provide entertainment for the gold diggers, with the first performance being provided by the world renowned Lola Montes and her celebrated Spider Dance. The theatre still hosts films (including several world and Australian premieres), concerts, and functions, and claims to be the oldest continuously operating theatre in mainland Australia.
In 1859, the historic Castlemaine Football Club was established, and recent evidence makes it the second oldest football club in Australia and one of the oldest football clubs in the world.
After gold mining gradually ceased a number of other secondary industries sprang up. The largest was established in 1905 as the Castlemaine Bacon Company, producing smallgoods. The company is still the area’s largest single employer with around 750 employees there. It is now however known as KR Castlemaine after merging with a Queensland based smallgoods manufacturer. Tourism exploring the gold-rush era buildings, and other attractions including an art gallery featuring a number of fine Heidelberg School works, is also a major source of income for the town.
For the past thirty years Castlemaine has biennially been the home of The Castlemaine State Festival, one of Victoria’s premier regional arts events. The Festival, usually held in late March, has on offer over 130 free events, with a particular emphasis on outdoor events, visual arts, music and theatre. It has also attracted internationally and nationally renowned performers, including The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.