Around for more than 170 years, the Red Hill Hotel in Chewton, Vic, has been used as everything from a morgue to a modern venue for drag queens.

Story + Photos Stuart Walmsley

In the 1850s, when the diggings around Chewton in central Victoria became the richest alluvial goldfield in the world, Bonnie Robertson’s Scottish ancestors were among those who turned famine into fortune. Back then, the area was known as Forest Creek, and the 3 brothers from her paternal grandmother’s family escaped the Highland Potato Famine to the epicentre of the Victorian gold rush.

“I didn’t actually find out that connection until after we bought the pub lease, and I feel like they definitely still drink here,” Bonnie says, looking up at the spirits behind the bar of Chewton’s Red Hill Hotel, where she has been proprietor since late 2022.

The Red Hill was one of numerous hostelries that sprung up during the 1850s as prospectors from around the world flocked to Forest Creek. More than 170 years on, it’s the sole survivor, still perched a few metres from what was the muddy Goldfields track, now the Pyrenees Highway.

“They built the pub around 1852,” says the building’s owner Jeffrey Makin, a renowned Australian landscape painter and long-time Herald Sun arts critic. “A couple of years later, the bloke that built it found a big nugget over the back fence, and he added on the music hall.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #151

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2023