Castlemaine may be a picturesque, relaxed, rural setting, but this 19th Century gold rush boom town is also now a major regional centre teeming with creativity, arts and inspiration.
The area is home to over 400 practising artists, a thriving live musical scene, markets, festivals (including Australia’s most renowned regional Arts Festival), circuses, local artisans, dance, theatre, street performances … we could go on.
Castlemaine State Festival
Every other year in autumn the town transforms for ten days into a mecca for artists, performers and spectators as people flock from all over Victoria to get their fill of all things creative at the State Festival.
The Festival boasts work from the area’s finest visual and performing artists together with that of national and international artists. You name it, the Festival has it: music / dance / theatre / opera / storytelling / film / music / visual arts / performance / circus / children’s events.
Running since 1976, the Festival enjoys the support and involvement of the entire community, from local schools, sporting groups and hot rod enthusiasts, to gardeners, musicians, artists, artisans and designers.
The Festival incorporates an open studios and exhibitions program, through which local visual artists, collectives and galleries promote their work to festival audiences.
Castlemaine Fringe Festival
Like its big cousin Melbourne, Castlemaine also has its own Fringe Festival, usually running a week out from the State Festival. The artist-run Fringe showcases a wide cross-section of mainly local artists, musicians and performers. Any creative fix you can’t get in the State Festival is catered for here and then some.
Vibrant and eclectic music scene
Some Castlemaine locals only half-joke that if you’re not an artist or artisan then you must be a musician. On any given weekend you will hear the sounds of local, city and even international acts wafting out onto the street from the numerous hotels in a town where the live music scene is alive and well. Or catch an open mic night midweek. And check your calendar for the Castlemaine Jazz Festival, Newstead Live or the Maldon Folk Festival.
The Theatre Royal
Speaking of music, the town’s cinema, the beautifully preserved Theatre Royal, doubles as a live performance venue, with regular appearances by local and Melbourne bands plus DJs bringing in the crowds as city folk mix with locals on the dance floor. The Theatre shows a variety of mainstream and arthouse films on other nights, but is also just a bubbling, centrally located place to sit and chat in the sun over coffee and cake at any time of day.
On Saturdays try the Wesley Hill Market only a minute’s drive from the centre of town if you’re after some local produce, plants, vintage clothing, pre-loved tools and other treasures. Or hop in the car and make the leisurely drive to Maldon for its own monthly market. The first Sunday of every month also brings the extremely popular Castlemaine Artists and Farmers markets, both showcasing the best of what locals have to offer.
Galleries, theatres and museums
Catch the superb displays of heritage and contemporary artworks by Australian and overseas artists in the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum, which also houses a wonderful collection of artefacts from the gold rush times and beyond and a mountain of stories to go with them.
Eating, drinking and being merry
Castlemaine is brimming with a crowd of cafes, microbreweries, cideries, restaurants, delis, gardens (like Tellurian Gardens) and tearooms to cater for all tastes and budgets.
Seriously, there is so much to do in this town you will wonder what all the fuss is about Melbourne culture and nightlife. And you may even find yourself considering a tree change to arguably Australia’s most culturally alive and diverse region.