Macarthur Historical Society

 

 

HISTORY

Macarthur – humble beginnings

Aboriginal tribes resided in two areas around Mount Eccles - one area south of the park at Lake Gorrie, the second at Lake Condah, west of the Park. They constructed stone huts in both areas and stone fish traps at Lake Condah, and lived on fish, native plants and animals. They were permanent residents in these areas until European settlement slowly pushed them out.  

Macarthur on the Eumeralla river, was originally called Eumeralla, thought to be an aboriginal name meaning “ Valley of Plenty”. It was a settlement of pastoral licences long before any towns appeared. Macarthur was a popular resting place half-way between Hamilton (“The Grange”) and Port Fairy ( Belfast). Travellers rested at the Eumeralla Inn.

In 1857 John Turner surveyed a township and named it Macarthur, after Victoria’s administrator General Edward Macarthur, John Macarthur’s eldest son. John Macarthur was the known founder of the merino sheep industry in Australia.

Pastoral Licences

 One of the earliest pastoral licences was “Harton Hills” taken by Bolden Bros (Armyne, George & Menuel) in 1840. It was sold in 1842 to well known squatter, William Carmichael.

The Pastoral Run that began in 1842 as Eumeralla was divided into two licences - "Eumeralla West" and "Eumeralla East". Both Eumeralla licences were taken up in 1842 by Hunter, Hoskin & Davidson of Sydney, and sold to Benjamin Boyd in 1843. Eumeralla West and Eumeralla East were separated in 1846.

Boyd sold Eumeralla West in 1846 to Sam Gorrie & Sam McGregor, hence the name Lake Gorrie, south of Macarthur. The pastoral licence was cancelled in 1873, with W.J.T. Clarke being the last to hold the lease. The property has passed through many owners and is currently owned by the Fleetwood family.

Eumeralla East changed hands many times until in 1861 Edward Hurst who held the licence, purchased the freehold. Eumeralla East was subdivided with only the Eumeralla Homestead on 15 acres still remaining.

Blackfellows Creek licence was originally owned by John McKay and William Carmichael. The licence was cancelled in 1865 when William Carmichael was the owner.

Other notable properties were Weerangourt in 1865 (William Melville), Breakfast Creek in 1873 (David Aitken), Dunmore in 1841 (MacKnight, Campbell & Irvine), and Squattleseameare in 1844 (Browne – known as Rolf Boldrewood, who was an author, and who wrote “Robbery Under Arms” and “Old Melbourne Memories”.)

It was during this era of early pastoral licences where there were many confrontations with the local aboriginals, with stories of aboriginal and white man ‘wars’ and aboriginal massacres.

 

Early settlement

Macarthur’s first house was the Eumeralla Inn in 1852 built by Mr. Gwyther. It was situated on the corner of Heckfield and Russell Streets, Macarthur.

The first land sales were held on 17 July 1857, where town blocks were sold in Lots, costing 8 pounds per lot.

On the map of the first land sales appears the name of Joseph Twist, who purchased 15 acres on the Eumeralla river. Joseph Twist, who died at 89, was one of the districts first settlers. He was known as a skilled horseman, bullock driver and stockman. He and his wife Margaret, were also successful dairy farmers and had some of the best Hereford cattle around. Catholic church services were held in their home. Other well known Macarthur names to purchase freeholds were Robertson, Ewan, Cameron, Phillips, Deardon, Twist, Squires, Kennedy, Young, Nield and Cruickshank.

Another notable name was that of John Huntley, who was the Minhamite Shire Secretary and architect of many district buildings. He was also President of the Mechanics Institute Hall among others.

Early settlers entertained themselves with dances which were held in private homes or woolsheds.

Edward Hurst was one of the larger land holders/stations at Eumeralla East, followed by his son Joseph, who was one of the inventors of the little clip we use for closing up wool bales! On the opposite side of the river at Eumeralla West was J.R. Learmonth who was a Minhamite Councillor and a judge of stock at Melbourne and other shows. Other big stations in the early years included Glenburnie (Thomas Laidlaw), Moyne Falls (manager - Jack Black), Weerangourt (William Melville), Breakfast Creek (David Aitken) Harton Hills (manager - Ernest Goldie), and Ardonachie (John Hick).

The 1860’s saw the arrival of the Travellers’ Rest Hotel (Victoria Hotel), Post Office, General Store, Court House, School, and Police station to name a few. It also saw the emergence of a saddler, butcher, blacksmith, stonemason, wheel-wright, tinker & jeweller, and carpenters.

The 1870s saw the emergence of the Macarthur Inn in Heckfield Street built by John Ewen, later known as the Commercial Hotel. This building was demolished around 1937 after a fire, and the materials used to build a private home on the Port Fairy road. Another hotel was registered in 1874 called the Farmers Inn, owned by Patrick Fahey and was eventually lost to fire. Another hotel operating in the 1870's was Silberberg's Hotel, which by the 1880s was known as the Victoria Hotel and located on the corner of High and Heckfield Streets. Other buildings were constructed in the 1870’s and included the Church of England Church, Presbyterian Church, The Mechanics Insititute Hall (1877), the National Australia Bank and shops.

Local Government saw a major change in 1870 when on Dec 22 nd, the Shire of Minhamite came into being after being severed from the Shire of Belfast. The first President was Sam Baird and the Secretary J.L. Huntley. The first office was a ‘booth’ near Moyne Falls.

Probably Macarthur Primary School’s most famous pupils in the early days came from the Crowther family (Joseph & Mary Ann). They were well known in Victorian professional circles, one being a doctor, another a solicitor, another the first headmaster of the Brighton Grammar School and another held high positions in educational circles.

Horse racing was held initially at the site of the Macarthur Rec Reserve, and was moved to where the Golf Course is now. Cricket was played on a pitch in the town square and a rifle club operated in a paddock on the Hawkesdale road. Football was played, but an exact starting date has not been found.

The 1880’s saw the construction of a Methodist Church, Butchers, Stocks General Store, Bootmakers, Coach Builders, and Sheep Selling Yards. The doctor practicing in Macarthur at the time was Dr. Ross, in the Commercial Hotel. A few years later in the early 1890's Dr. Gerald Haydan, who was famous for the incident with the bubonic plague, began more than three decades of practising in the town from High Street. Gerald’s brother had been a research worker on bubonic plague in India and was continuing his work in Macarthur. There was quite a standoff, with the authorities seizing and destroying the material so as to not endanger the community.

The 1890’s saw the opening of the Butter Factory (1892), Wool & Skin Buyers, and a new Court House. Farming really took off with potatoes, dairy farming, beef and sheep being the main industries. A notable name of the time was Rev William Campbell Wallace who served as a Presbyterian Minister for 25 years. He was largely instrumental in the clearing and draining of the Condah Swamp and the employment of hundreds of out-of-work men on that project in the 1890 depression. The settlement of Wallacedale now perpetuates his name in his honor.

 

Into the 20 th Century

During the depression farmers were hit hard. The Butter Factory opened new doors with the export of its butter, and gave work to the community. The output in its first year was 20 tons, and in its fiftieth year this had risen to 400 tons. In 1904 the Macarthur Butter Factory received a first prize in London. The following year it won nine 1 st prizes, three gold medals, three silver medals and a silver cup – testifying to the claim of the abundance and quality of the pastures in the ‘ Valley of Plenty’.

It is interesting to note that the Mechanics Institute Hall was gutted by fire in 1913 and rebuilt. A lot of buildings succumbed to fire in the early days.

Macarthur had its fair share of volunteers for the First World War, with the following giving their lives for it.

1914-1918 - Those who have their lives: Leith Baulch, John Bigham, Stan Chamberlain, Alec Claridge, Roy Fox, George Grant, Les Greyland, Chas Greyland, Jacob Jacobson, Leo Kelley, Vivian Lucas, Arch Munroe, Frank Nield, Stan Reid, David Risk, Frank Roberts, Albert Sheehan, Winton Triggar, Cecil Twist.

 

Between the wars

In 1919/1920 the large stations of Knebsworth and Squattleseamere were subdivided into smaller farms.

In town, the local progress group was busy in the 1920's putting in footpaths and trees and stocking the river with fish.

A famous identity of the 1930’s and 1940’s was a nurse named Sr. Gallagher, or Sister Gal as she was called. She was widely known to be as good as a doctor and was held in very high regard. The community even chipped in and bought her a car to get around in.

The region was also hit by the depression in the 1930's and many swagmen came through the area looking for work to get food. Local farm workers had to take pay cuts and rabbits became a good source of both food and income.

World War II

World War 2 saw two Macarthur boys, brothers Maurice and Lawrence Sullivan, receive high war decorations – the George Medal and Distinguished Flying Medal respectively. Both gave their lives. Many others perished in the war.

1939 – 1944 - Those who gave their lives - Antony Fox, Gordon Hillas, Douglas Kelley, Robert Lindsay, William Risk, Lawrence Sullivan, Maurice Sullivan, Albert Vinnell, Arthur Vinnell.

 

1946 Floods

The 1946 floods were devastating, but particularly for the Macarthur community. The Sparrow family had awakened at 6am to find water almost waist high in their home. The family tried to flee on the horse and gig, with the father walking ahead. The gig capsized into 10 feet of water and Mrs. Lillian Sparrow, her daughter Letitia “Mavis” (24), and sons Bruce (19) and Ronald (15) drowned. Mr. Sparrow also died of a heart attack trying to reach help. One son survived the flood and another was away at the time - (Roy and Allan). The floods washed away bridges and stock losses were high. Many men received medals of honor for bravery in attempting to save people stranded in the great flood.

 

Soldier Settlement

Soldier Settlement blocks were subdivided in the ‘50’s from the larger holdings after the second world war. These included Moyne Falls (1950), Gerrigerrup (1950), Glengleeson East (1951), Officer’s Estate (1952), Glengleeson West (1954), Elwood (1956) and Weerangourt (1957). As a result there were an influx of young families and an explosion in the population.

Businesses boomed and this saw many businesses established in the town over the 1950’s and 1960’s. There were 3 stores, 2 pubs, a bakery, butcher, 2 fruit shops, 2 garages, barber, haberdashery shop, boot-maker and a chemist. The Macarthur Primary School hit an all time high enrolment of 214 pupils in 1963. The only thing to close was the Butter Factory in 1966 when it was bought out by Murray Goulburn.

 

Community digs deep

The Macarthur Swimming Pool was originally built beside the Eumeralla River in 1957 by volunteers. Unfortunately due to leaks and cracking on the wall facing the river, the pool was abandoned after a few years. The new Pool was built on the Market Square site in 1966.

The Macarthur and District Memorial Hospital was opened in November of 1960. A committee was formed as far back as 1953 to raise funds for the hospital with fundraising coming from the growing of potatoes among others.

Also built in this era was a Baby Health Centre in Heckfield St, the Macarthur Bowling Club and the Macarthur Tennis Club on the site of the Market Square.

 

Of More Recent Times

Although Macarthur does not have the population it once had it the boom times of the 1960’s, it still has a tight knit and sports minded community. On the sporting front, no one would be more famous from Macarthur than Billy Picken who played for Collingwood and Sydney in the VFL and then AFL. His career spanned 13 years and 240 games, playing his first game in 1974. His son Marcus also played for the Brisbane Lions and the Western Bulldogs.

The 1980's saw Macarthur winning both the infamous title of Victoria's most Boring Town and, in response to the title, Victoria's most Tidy Town. The local Historical Society also moved into the town's Court House when it was closed.

The local Macarthur Football Club amalgamated with Hawkesdale in 1997 as is a sign of the times in small rural communities. Macarthur still has a Cricket Club, Bowling Club, Golf Club, Gun Club, Angling Club, Lions Club

A lot of the shops of the past have closed, but Macarthur still has some thriving businesses such as Nields Transports, Parfrey Plumbing, Pekel Wool, Bunworth Tyres, Knell Panelworks, P.O., Chemist, General Store, Milkbar/Café, Sirch Engineering, Cowland Earthworks and the Macarthur Hotel to name a few. It also has a Pre-School, Primary School and Community Health Centre.

 

Mt. Eccles

A favorite tourist destination is Mt. Eccles National Park, which is approximately 7kms from the centre of Macarthur.

Mt. Eccles National Park is approximately 6120 ha in size. Beginning about 20,000 years ago, volcanic eruptions opened the earth's crust and poured out thousands of tonnes of molten lava, forming Mount Eccles and the surrounding landscape.

Today, the three main craters hold a 700 metre long lake known as Lake Surprise, which is fed by underground springs. The once red-hot lava has been covered with the lush green of heath-land and Manna Gum forest.

Koalas, Sugar and Yellow-bellied Gliders, Possums, Eastern Grey Kangaroos, Quolls, Brush-tailed Phascogales, Dusky and Swamp Antechinus can be seen in the park. The 68 species of birds recorded include Grey Thrush, Peregrine Falcon, parrots, wrens, ducks, and coots.

Sources: “The Valley of Plenty” – The Back-To Macarthur Committee, 1971.
“Four Towns and a Survey” – by Noel F. Learmonth 1970.
“ Boring? Not Likely – Great Characters of Macarthur” by Simone Dalton, 2005.
Macarthur Historical Society, High Street, Macarthur, 2006.
Parks Victoria website – parkweb.vic.gov.au

Written by Leanne Young.


CONTACT: Macarthur Historical Society, High Street, Macarthur, Vic, 3286
Phone: (03) 55761221

Historical Society formed March 1987 -
Hours of operation: Open by appointment only.

Last updated - June 19th, 2013