The history of Longwarry District begins with a rough track to the north of Longwarry for the Gippsland mailman. This led over swamps and through the Great Forest to the much earlier settled East Gippsland. In 1849 Mrs. Perry, wife of Bishop Perry, in describing a trip through Gippsland says of the District “the country had the look of a large park with scattered clumps of trees and we then ascended a very steep hill.”
She wrote that they passed mobs of sheep and a poor bullock dray that would be weeks arriving at its destination as the dray had to be pulled apart scores of times to get between trees when they entered the forest.
Parts of the track are still visible about one mile (approximately 1.6kms.) north of the Tarago River (then the Tarwin River).
In 1849 Thomas Walton of Buckinghamshire, England obtained an agricultural lease of 23,000 acres (approximately 9,000 hectares or 93 sq. kms in today’s measurements). However as travel for this type of settler was on a strictly do it yourself basis, his actual arrival date is not known (convicts travelled free of charge back then!)
By 1851the Buneep Cattle Run lease, as it was called, was passed to H. Jennings. This area is now Labertouche. A new route was surveyed and became known as The Old Telegraph Road, as in 1865 the Sale telegraph line was erected on this road. It passed through Cannibal Creek, Buneep and Crossover.
In 1867 David Connor built a hotel on land at the present junction of the Tarago and Bunyip Rivers. The licensee was a son-in-law of Connor called Devanny. The last licensee of this hotel was a Mrs. Cock whose family descendants remain in Gippsland to this day. There is a story that a willow tree was planted on the grave of a young girl who had died on the coach trip and that this tree lasted well into the 1950’s/60’s at the site of the hotel.
In 1867 the Riverbanks homestead was erected above Picnic Point with materials brought from England and was the first permanent house in the District.
The discovery of gold in Walhalla in 1862 brought many men who were nervous of travelling by sea to Port Albert through the district. They travelled along the Telegraph Road and gave great impetus to the hotel. The demand for mine machinery at Walhalla meant that agitation began for a usable road from Melbourne for bullock teams, so the Government rushed ahead with a new road called the Sale Road. This is the position of the present Princes Highway as far as Drouin West, and by the side of the road, the first tradesman in the district, a blacksmith set up his business.
Around the new Buneep hotel a settlement grew up with bark homes, a hall and the Snell Bakery, which remained in business for many years. The land act of 1869 caused a great rush of settlers to Gippsland. The surveyors, Jackson, Lardner and McDonald (names we are familiar with even today) set out the base lines, but the work of actually laying out the blocks of up to 320 acres (about 130 hectares) was subcontracted out to smaller teams of men who lived very lonely hard lives during the time they were on the job.
Towns were growing up along the Sale Road, Bunyip, at Devanny’s Hotel, Whiskey Creek (Drouin West), where there was a racecourse, and Brandy Creek (Buln Buln), but the coming of the railway only a few kilometres to the south meant the death of these towns by the late 1870’s.
The proposal to build a rail line through Gippsland caused much argument in political circles. One politician is recorded as saying “It would not even pay for axle grease”.
The Oakleigh – Gippsland line was built in four sections, the last was the Bunyip to Moe stretch. The section between Bunyip and Longwarry took 3 years to build owing to the swampy conditions, but the line opened for business on March 1st 1878.
Sleeper cutters worked along the line, but tended to gravitate to the obvious area of a crossing point of rail and road to actually live. There was just such a road crossing where the current railway crossing is now located. This place was simply known as the level crossing track, or passing point. Later it became known as The Siding and later as we know, Fraser Siding after Donald Fraser who had moved his mill there from Drouin in 1881. Finally to “tidy things up” and after the first survey for a township in 1886 it became Longwarry after the cattle run of the same name to the south of Longwarry and that had at one stage had cattle yards at the siding for holding cattle to be transported by train.
During the 1870’s Tom Maisey and Joe Kennedy arrived and shared a tent. Both men went to work for Fraser when his mill opened up, Kennedy as a tally clerk and Maisey was splitting posts and rails before eventually opening a small store in the growing township.
Building material such as shingles and timber came off the blocks where the construction was being built, other small items came through Bunyip.
Before the Bunyip River was crossed by a bridge, a pump trolley, manned by Con Drake and Jim Moriarty, brought the goods to the railway plank bridge and they were then carried across to another pump trolley operated by G. Bruce and J. Holman (Duncan Holman’s Grandfather and for whom Holman’s road is named) Sawn timber had to be transported out to the Sale Road and around to Bunyip until a road bridge was built.
The Early Settlers
Messrs. Pearse, Peterson, Ketts, A. Beard, Dodson, Snowball, and McFarlane took up land on the “hills”. Later, P. Thompson took up land between the township and Sale Road. He put in a big drain (Thompson’s Drain), running from Corduroy Road to the railway to take surplus water away from the Picnic Point area. He then subdivided into five, ten and fourteen acre blocks, and sold them as farmlets. The Collet family took up one of these before moving to the south of the railway line. Possibly the earliest settlers to the south of the town were the Gardners and Pembertons in 1873, with further selections by Osborne, Stone, Wallace, McDermid, Wilson, Hanlon, Sullivan and Murdoch. Gardners and Pembertons held onto their land, but many others moved into the hills, no doubt looking for land that wasn’t quite so wet.
In 1874 the area we now know as Labertouche was surveyed into 50-120 acre blocks (approximately 20 – 55 hectares), and in 1876 the first settlers, James and Alexander McDonald moved in. Descendants of this family have names that are well known over a very long period of time, names such as, McKinnon, McIvor, Galloway, Norton, and many more who have contributed in so many ways to the development of the District.
Other family names that we know of as early settlers during this period were the McClures, E. Shaw, Alcorn, Gleeson, Tobin, Boyd, Kydd, Ferris and Middleton.
The Proctor family were original settlers at Labertouche and is another name that still maintains a very large presence in the District.
In Longwarry North early settlers were Harry Mills, Devanny, Steenholdt, Neagle, Hanna, Collins, Holland, Monger and Kennedy.
To the south of the town the Longwarry Pastoral Run, (this had in its time also been known as The Heifer Creek Run and The Musk Creek Run, no doubt because it was in the vicinity of both creeks), was first selected by Messrs. Connor and Mulchay in 1855, and always seemed to struggle to be profitable. It was finally forfeited in 1874 although the lessee at the time, in a fit of disgust no doubt, said “that he was eaten off his run” from trouble with settlers getting free meat from his herd.
The Buneep Cattle Run which had run as many as 640 head of cattle was subdivided and there are some views that many of the blocks that were taken up from this subdivision were too small to be viable over time.
Next month – “Longwarry – A town grows.”
The Longwarry and District History Group would dearly love to hear from descendants of these families to collect their stories and, photographs and any other information that will give these early pioneers the recognition they deserve for their role in developing the District.
In large part the above story is an edited version of the work undertaken by Mr. Clarrie McDermid “A Brief History of Longwarry” for the 1964 Back To Longwarry Committee. We wish to acknowledge his work as perhaps our first true historian.
We also acknowledge the work of John Wells – Most Colourful Tales Of Gippsland – 1984.