Chiltern is a gold rush town that boomed in the mid-19th century. But its best days may be yet to come.
Browse through the pages of the Chiltern newsletter, The Chiltern Grapevine, and the signs of a robust country life are all there — a men’s shed, a fishing club, line dancing nights, a neighbourhood watch, girl guides and local sustainability awards.
The town, in Victoria’s north-east, has all the makings of a first-rate treechange location, scoring top marks by our researchers for its high occupancy rate — signifying actual residents versus mere tourist trade — and a strong community events calendar.
What’s to love
Situated in a shallow valley on the banks of the Black Dog Creek, Chiltern is an attractive town surrounded by the Chiltern-Mount Pilot National Park.
It has some serious historical clout, too, with a series of well-preserved 19th century buildings around the junction of Main and Conness Street.
“Locals here are very proud of their history,” says Chiltern cattle farmer Lois Hotson.
“And people really celebrate it here, even those who are relatively new to the town.”
There’s the Federal Standard newspaper office that was built in 1860; the Star Hotel (1866), which is still used for local plays and classic film nights; Dows Pharmacy (1860); and Gilmour’s Corner Store (1890), among others.
Chiltern has also enjoyed a moment or two in the spotlight: the Disney film Ride a Wild Pony was shot here and the town’s main street still features the largest grapevine in the world — it was planted in 1867 — and verified by the Guinness Book of Records.
Our researchers noted the paucity of cafes and restaurants, although Mrs Hotson swears by the food at the Telegraph Hotel, adding: “The meat at the butchers is excellent, too.”
Housing is affordable, with a median house price of $190,000, and Chiltern received high marks for its connection to other centres — a 30-minute drive will land you in either Albury/Wodonga or Wangaratta.
The Chiltern Athenaeum Museum, housed in the former town hall built in 1866, features memorabilia of the region’s mining and agricultural past, plus writings and paintings by local artists.
Take a tour of the National Trust property, Lakeview House, the former home of Henry Handel Richardson or step back in time at Dows Pharmacy, which has been preserved in its 19th century state.
There is a museum in honour of the legendary grapevine (called, you guessed it, The Grapevine Museum) and car enthusiasts should check out Stephen’s Motor Museum, with its hand-operated historic petrol pumps and enamel signage.
What locals say
Born-and-bred local and President of Chiltern Tourism and Development, Kevin Mayhew, has long been a fan of his home town, and has noticed that more and more people are discovering Chiltern, too.
“People are moving here for the country lifestyle, but it isn’t too far away from other centres,” he says.
“The nearby national park is also popular among cyclists and twitchers.”
Furthermore, three new stores have opened up recently, defying a nationwide trend across Australia of struggling bricks-and-mortar retail shops.
Retirees will be right at home in Chiltern. There is a medical centre, plenty of volunteer organisations, and, most importantly, housing is extremely affordable meaning the retirement nest egg will go a lot further.