Sunday, October 30, 2011

murchison area

Murchison lies to the west of the Goulburn Valley Highway, between Nagambie and Shepparton. Further to the west is the larger town of Tatura. The whole of this area – like most other places in Australia – was originally the site of a short-lived gold rush.

As it’s part of the Shepparton Shire, there is a regular rotation of Shepp's many “Mooving Art” cows, between the two towns. 

The cows look even more interesting from the front but, hey, I tried. And anyway, who decided to set out this lot all looking the wrong way? 

This parkland along the river bank is conveniently located opposite the bakery.

Not far up the main street there is a park commemorating the visitation upon Murchison of a whopping great hunk of meteorite. “Big Deal” I originally said to myself.
Big deal indeed, according to QI’s 2nd Book of General Ignorance. As a result, I have revised my early opinion of this ad near the door of the shop next door to the bakery:

 Before white settlement Murch was home to the Daun Wurrung people. Two of my great great grandparents were teacher and overseer respectively at the Aboriginal protectorate in Murchison. After several years of searching, all I can be sure of is that the protectorate only existed here between 1850 and 1860, and that the Victorian Government’s attitude to protection was pretty slack. [Possibly the reason I can’t discover much.]

Hard to imagine this was all flooded six months ago

Australia’s rivers were once wider and deeper, and extensive networks of paddle steamers made it easier for primary producers to transport wool and other goodies.

It’s a sad joke that the philosophy of early settlers was “If it moves, shoot it; if it doesn’t, chop it down”. In the case of our waterways, we might add “If nature put it in one spot, move it to somewhere else”. By 1887 the steamers could no longer make it to Murchison. On the other hand, the creation of the Waranga Reservoir provided irrigation for dairy-farms and orchards.

My Aunt tells me that as a young’un, living in Melbourne at Ascot Vale, she went one morning to play with her Italian friend, only to discover the whole family had disappeared overnight. They might have been moved to Murchison or Tatura, as several internment camps were built in these here parts during WWII.
In the first instance the camps housed foreign nationals and later some refugees from Europe -  including a share of the people who arrived on the Dunera. [You’ll find more about the Dunera story in Hels’ blog.]

As WWII progressed, the district camps also became home to a large number of Italian and German Prisoners of War – many of these helping to pick local fruit crops, and many returning to this district after the war as ‘New Australians’.

The site of the camp located in Murchison is now an Italian Memorial Cemetery, with a mausoleum and ossuary for Italian detainees and prisoners who died in camps around Australia.
German prisoners who died in the area are buried in a special cemetery in Tatura.

At nearby Dhurringile, there is a 65 room mansion built in 1877 as a home for James Winter, who invested some gold mining money in pastoral pursuits.

Officers from the German merchant raider Kormoron were stationed here during the war; more strictly guarded than other detainees.

After the war Dhurrungile was purchased by the Presbyterian Church and used as a home for some of our other unfortunates – British Immigrant Children.
Two key features of this scheme were:
  • the children would not be fostered out, rather, Australianised and trained for useful occupations;
  • funding from the British and Australian governments was conditional on institutions not using the boys to raise funds from the public.
Best quality I can provide, but the substance of this letter is
"poor us, poor them, pour money into it".

The Presbyterian [now Uniting] Church sold the property when the training institution closed in 1964.
It was subsequently converted to a low security prison by the Victorian Government.

Apart from Dhurringile, the only remaining evidence of these camps is at Camp 1 – what remains of the rest is largely on private property. [I did once visit the area where the Greytown camp was located, and all that remained were a few lumps of concrete footings.]

When the Officers’ Mess at one of the camps had fallen into almost total disrepair, some paintings on the wall were rediscovered. The paintings were dug out of the wall as slabs, then restored and framed. These now adorn the walls of the nursing home where my mother lives.


This time I have sort of an excuse for the lousy composition of these shots: The flouro lights at the nursing home were hard to allow for when I took the pics, and I decided it might not be a good idea to turn the lights off while residents were moving around. There are heaps of these pictures on walls. Is this a case of 'we don't want to lose them, but where can we put them'?

There are historical societies at both Murchison and Tatura, staffed by volunteers -unfortunately I've never been in either town when they are actually open. The Tatura group organises one tour a year of Camp 1. 


  1. My father and step mother lived Kyabram way, which is why I know a little of the area. Murchy East was a good place for a break. Dhurringile always fascinated me and no one could tell me what it actually was. The internet has given me a good education.

  2. Hi Andrew, the GV Hwy bypassed Murchison East some time back. The hotel on that tricky corner now looks rather forlorn. The current works on a Nagambie bypass have caused some rather bewildering changes to many local roads.

  3. What a fascinating history!!! I love history as you know :)

    I have an Austalian movie called 15 Amore, set in the Hunter Valley ,about a family who housed italian internments and prisoners of war on their farm. Great movie, I can loan if you can't find and are interested and haven't seen it LOL

    great post :) I will have to do the touristy thing down there one day :)

  4. Hi B, It sure is an interesting history, and part of the fun is adding more pieces to the puzzle, bit by bit.
    It's very generous and trusting of you to offer to lend me 15 Amore. It's a great movie, and I'm sure I have a copy which, like a lot of other stuff, is 'somewhere in a box somewhere in the shed'.
    Yes, you must do the touristy thing - if you manage to actually get inside one of the historical society buildings I'll expect a detailed report!

  5. What a fab post, thanks FC :)
    Those poor Dunera boys, just cannot fathom the ineptitude that saw Jewish males classed as PoW and then to repeat mistakes with the poor British children was disgraceful.
    Those pictures are marvellous :)

  6. Hi Jayne, there is a warm sort of whimsy about the paintings, isn't there?
    I believe some of the Dunera detainees were released at one stage as volunteers for the allied cause. As for the immigrant children ... well, what medication is there for the sick feeling this all creates.
    I wonder what Australia will be embarrassed about 30 years from now? [Or if I'll even be around to find out :)]