Traralgon: A Brief Introductory History (Circa 1995)

Compiled by J.F. Power

Traralgon today, as you will discover if you journey around its streets and byways, is a modern city. With a population of around 21,000 people, its bustling commercial centre is the largest in Gippsland.

Most of this growth and prosperity has occurred in the fifty years since the end of the Second World War. During this period the city has undergone marked changes in its structure, demography and economy. The following outlines the city's background and the factors which have influenced its development.

Beginnings

In 1840, the Polish born Count Strzelecki, after exploring the Snowy Mountains, where he climbed and named Mt. Kosciusko in honor of the Polish patriot, followed McMillan's track through Gippsland to the Glengarry River, (later named the Latrobe). He then journeyed south west along the north bank until he came to a spot nearly opposite the present site of "Fernhill" homestead. Here his party crossed the river. He intended to proceed due south to Corner Inlet, but the dense forest of the ranges, later named after him, forced them to turn towards Western Port. Somewhere near the spot known today as Koornalla they abandoned their horses and turned west. The journey, expected to take only days, took three weeks.

As Strzelecki journeyed through the plain country south of the river, he passed probably no more than three or four kilometers to the east of the future city. He noted the fine land, and after his return to Melbourne, reported on this. Very soon other parties were penetrating into the area. In one of these was a young settler from the Port Phillip district, Edward Hobson, who with his brother Edmund had large holdings in the Rosebud area. Hobson's party had to fight their way through thick scrub to approach the district from the west. He was very impressed with the country in the vicinity of the junction of the Traralgon Creek and the Latrobe River. His brother, Dr. Edmund Hobson, who conducted a practice in Melbourne, took up a run of 19,000 acres which covered all of the area of Traralgon and out to Wade's Creek in the west, and to about the spot where Refair is today. The southern boundary was the edge of the hills. He made his brother Edward his overseer.

In April 1844, Edward went out from their station near Arthur's Seat, with a large mob of cattle. It took them two months, travelling via Tarwin and South Gippsland, to reach the run. On the way they had to contend with flooded rivers and creeks, and lost 240 cattle. They finally arrived in June 1844. Hobson constructed a hut down near the mouth of the Creek, and this was the first building to be erected in our district.

During the next year, 1845, other settlers began to move into the area. James Rintoul had already taken up Loy Yang to the east, and Gorringe had taken up Maryvale on the west. Another settler, Henry Meyrick, was taking sheep to the Glenmaggie run for his brother Alfred. While wintering at Hobson's, his young assistant, George Bolton Eagle, was mysteriously stricken with a strange illness and died very quickly. He was buried some distance away from the hut, close to the junction of the Creek and River. The grave is the oldest known grave of a European in this area. In 1963, the Traralgon and District Historical Society, erected a plaque to mark the site. In 1994 as part of the city's Sesquicentenary celebrations, the then Council of the City of Traralgon, in conjunction with the Historical Society, erected a more permanent plaque and fenced the site.

In 1845, James Rintoul sold Loy Yang run to John Fowler Turnbull. Turnbull lived on the Pre-Emptive Right until the early 1870s, but by this time much of the original run had been cut up for selection. Edward Hobson lived on the Traralgon run until the early 1850s when he returned to the Mornington. Peninsula area. In 1847 Dr. Hobson made his only visit to the run. In 1848 he died suddenly. The run was administered by his Trustees, J.H.N. Castle and J.R. Murphy. In 1853, James Castle applied to have the run split in two, divided by the Creek. It was then known as the East and West Traralgon runs and the lease was put up for sale. Edward Hobson purchased the West run, which covered the area from the Traralgon Creek to Wade's Creek, and Turnbull purchased the East run, from the Creek to his boundary. In 1851, Hobson sold the West run to James Purves.

In the meantime, the track to Melbourne through West Gippsland had been opened up. In 1846, a man named Thomas Windsor, who probably worked for Turnbull, set up an accommodation house on the hill overlooking what is today Victory Park. He and his wife ran this inn until about 1856, when Jeremiah Smith took it over. In 1846 a son, William, was born to the Windsors. He was the first white child born in the district.

The era of development

In 1854, James Purves sold the West Traralgon run to Duncan Campbell. Duncan and his brother built a home on the present site of "Traralgon Park", later to become the home of another Campbell family who were also to play a large part in the development of the town. In 1858, Duncan built a hotel on the rise immediately to the west of the Creek and situated right on the main track. He called it the Travellers' Rest, and for sixty years it served the people of the district as Post Office, store, Court House, Church and what today we would call a community centre. It was pulled down in 1914 to make way for the present Traralgon Hotel, which is known today as Ryan's, The "Woods Point and Gippsland General Directory" for 1866 lists under Traralgon - Duncan Campbell: Grazier, Hotel, Post Office, general store. The first wedding was conducted there in 1863. The Catholic Church conducted their masses in the building used as the Court House, until their own church was built in 1883.

Not long after Duncan built his hotel, gold was discovered in Gippsland on the Tanjil. As Traralgon was on the direct route to the gold fields it soon began to grow. The authorities decided to station a policeman at Traralgon, and late in 1860, Mounted Constable John O'Connor moved into a residence and office that had been constructed on land that now comprises the area from Latrobe Valley Real Estate to Riggall's Gift Shop.

By the laid 1860s a few more buildings had appeared and there were about fourteen families living in the village. In 1869 Duncan Campbell disposed of much of his land and moved to Sale to live. However he still retained ownership of the hotel. It was at this time that the homestead and much of the land down to the Latrobe River and to the west was purchased by the other Campbell family, who had come from Ballarat. There were four brothers, Hugh, Nicol, James and Dugald. The family have played a significant role in the district's progress ever since. Dugald was one of the first Councillors of the Shire of Traralgon, and later became President. The present owner of "Traralgon Park" , Mr. Dugald Campbell, is a grandson of James.

At about this time the amendments to the Colonial Land Act enabled many people to take up land, and much of the leasehold land of Loy Yang, Traralgon West, Maryvale and Scarne, as well as much Crown Land, was thrown open for settlement. As a result, by the mid 1870s the population of the area had increased dramatically. Shops were being established, and churches, a school, and several more hotels were built. One of these hotels, the Star, built by George Hickox in 1875, has recently been restored, and now operates as a tea rooms and craft shop. At that time, most of the buildings, including the school and first church, were on the east side of the Creek. With the coming of the railway, the town began to be centred on Franklin Street.

The Rosedale Roads Board was established in 1864, and the Traralgon area came under its jurisdiction. In 1867 it became the Rosedale Shire Council, and local butcher and prominent citizen, Henry Breed, was elected to represent Traralgon. By 1879 the people believed that they were not getting satisfactory service from Rosedale, so a move to form their own Council was started. The Traralgon Shire was formed in 1879, and in 1880 the Council met for the first time in the Courthouse, adjacent to the hotel. Councillor Edmund Kelleher was elected the first Shire President. The first Shire Office was built in 1881 on land fronting the east side of Franklin Street. The site is approximately where the main bus stand outside the Traralgon Plaza, is today.

The building of the railway from Sale to Drouin commenced in 1874, and this provided much work for laborers, sawmillers and sleeper cutters. When the line to Maffra was built some years later, the repair shops and Locomotive Depot were moved from Sale to Traralgon. They remained in service until the 1960s and provided hundreds of jobs over the years. In the Depression years they were the main ...

By the late 1870s a number of shops and other businesses had been established. Ikin and Betteson had a shop in Kay Street near the present site of the Post Office, and Oswald Marriage, from Rosedale, had opened his store on the corner of Franklin and Argyle Streets. Edmund Kaye had bought the Star Hotel from Hickox, but found it was cut off when the road to Sale was relocated. He then built a new Star, a two-storied building in Argyle Street, where today, Latrobe Country Credit's office stands. The top storey of the building was used by the Masonic Lodge. It was later destroyed by fire. James Rogers rebuilt it, only for it to be burnt again years later. It was again rebuilt, and known as the Coffee Palace; then served as an accommodation house until the early 1950s. The new Masonic Temple was built in Church Street, where it remained until the 1970s, when they relocated to the old TV studios near the Golf Course.

By the mid 1880s, much of the surrounding country had been selected, and the town was now a bustling place providing goods and services for the settlers. Many suffered hard times, particularly those who had settled in the hill country. Poor roads and wet winters meant that many lived in virtual isolation for months at a time. Many letters from ratepayers to the Council during these years invariably dealt with the state of the roads.

In 1883, the Agricultural Society was formed, and an area was set aside for recreation, and to conduct Shows. Today, 113 years later, it is one of the finest Recreation Reserves in the State.

In the mid 1880s, the present Post Office and Courthouse were built and were opened in 1886. Today both buildings, with Ryan's Hotel, enjoy National Trust status.

The main occupation of the settlers in the area was dairying. At first it was very primitive. Milk was set in dishes; the cream was then skimmed off and made into butter, which was sent to Melbourne by train. In the early 1890s, the first Creameries were set up; the farmers took their milk to these, where the cream was separated. The skim milk was taken back to their farms to feed their pigs. By 1894 the first cream separators began to appear on the farms, and this revolutionized the industry. Very soon all of the little settlements had their own Butter Factories. Traralgon had two; the second one lasted until the late 1950s. In 1952 it was bought out by South Eastern Milk Products. They later erected a large modern milk factory on the Glengarry Road. Eventually, it in turn was taken over by Murray Goulburn, and all operations were transferred to Maffra and Leongatha. The original factory building still exists. For some years it served as a Cordial Factory and then a Market.

For nearly seventy years, the farming sector was the backbone of Traralgon's economy, and Wednesday was the busiest day of the week. The farmers brought their pigs to the weekly sale, conducted by Thomas Standing and Company in yards at the west end of Hotham Street, about where the Fire Station now stands. While the men were at the sale, their wives did the shopping. Stores such as Layton Bros., (later W.A. Purvis Stores), O. Gilpin and Jefferys were busy places, as were Cuddigan's, Bullock's and Brereton's, the grocers. Then there were Vickers, Phillips and Cincotta, the green grocers; and Stoddart and Marsh, the butchers. Most of these traders no longer exist. Stoddart's is still trading, but is now in Henry Street. Riggall's store still exists; but is now a gift shop, and is no longer owned by the Riggall family. Now, the big stores like Coles, Kmart and Safeway hold sway.

During those years from the 1890s until the mid 1930s, nothing much changed in Traralgon. The war caused much trauma, as it did everywhere. Some two hundred men and several women went from the Traralgon district to the first World War. Fifty two of them did not return. The motor car began to appear in the 1920s, although the odd one had been around before the war. Wireless also became common, and people were able to listen to the rest of the world. Gas had been produced for many years, and by the late 1930s, much of the district had electric power.

In 1936, Australian Paper Mills decided to establish a Pulp and Paper mill at Maryvale, about eight kilometers west of Traralgon. Although the actual site was in the Shire of Morwell, it was Traralgon that received the most benefit. Most of the employees made their homes here, and the Company purchased land in the town and erected homes for its senior employees. Many who had been out of work, due to the Depression, obtained employment on the construction site, and later as production
workers. Wood was obtained from the mountain forests to the north-west, and this provided more work for timber cutters and carters.

The Second World War intervened and many of the town's young people went off to fight another war. Their places were taken by the older men and women. Many women worked at the mill during the war years, doing the work that had previously only been done by men. Although nearly 900 men and women served in the forces during the war, the casualty list was not so great. Thirty three citizens gave their lives in that conflict.

After the war, the town began to grow rapidly. The vast expansion of the SEC at Morwell led to more jobs in Traralgon. The APM began a big program of expansion, which included the large scale construction of houses in Traralgon for their employees. This led to the establishment of numerous industries in the town, including the Great Eastern Brickworks and Gippsland Cement. These, of course, provided more work and led to a further increase in the population. Many of those who came were migrants from many different countries. They enriched the life of the town. Unfortunately, while the brickworks is still in production (now owned by Boral), the cement factory is closed.

By the late 1950s, moves were afoot to sever the town from the Shire, as it could be seen that the development of the urban sector was moving much faster than that of the rural sector. There was much, sometimes bitter, argument surrounding this question, and eventually, in 1961, the Borough of Traralgon was created. Councillor John Maskrey became the first Mayor. Two years later, Traralgon was declared a City, and Councillor Don Cooper was elected its first Mayor.

Since that time, there has been great progress. Development really boomed in the mid 1970s, when the SEC commenced the Loy Yang Project. At the same time, the APM brought another paper machine on line at Maryvale, and also increased its pulp mill capacity.

The Shire agreed to many large subdivisions of rural land, both on the outskirts of the City and at Traralgon South, Hazelwood North and Callignee. Many of the workers engaged on these projects elected to live in these areas, leading to a large increase in the surrounding population, which in turn, boosted the business community. The economic downturn in the 1980s was compensated for by the establishment of the Australian Securities Commission Data Base Centre, which at its peak, employs up to four hundred workers.

In 1994, a further significant development took place with the Council amalgamations. The former City of Moe, City of Traralgon, the Rural City of Morwell, the Shire of Traralgon and parts of the Shires of Narracan, Mirboo and Rosedale amalgamated to become the La Trobe Shire. The former offices of the City of Traralgon became the headquarters of the new Shire. This has led to further growth in the district.

~Services~

The following list gives a brief account of the services and amenities developed in the community over its one hundred and two years of history.

Churches

ANGLICAN: The first church, St. James, was erected in 1880 on the corner of Church and Seymour Streets. Prior to that, services were held in the Presbyterian Church in Campbell Street. St. James Church was rebuilt in Church Street in 1922. The site was sold to Coles New World, and a new church built on the hill in Grey Street in 1970.

PRESBYTERIAN: The first church was erected in 1878 on the east side of the Creek, approximately where the Ambulance Station is situated in Campbell Street. It was made of brick, and was probably the first brick structure in Traraigon. The second Church, St. Andrews, was built on the corner of Kay and Church Street in 1914. In the 1960s, the Presbyterians combined with the Methodists to form the
Uniting Church. Services were jointly held in both churches until 1992, when a new modern church was erected in Park Lane. St Andrews buildings were sold, and are now part of a restaurant and entertainment centre.

METHODIST/WESLEYAN: The first church was erected in 1879, almost on the site of Windsor's Accommodation House in Mill Street. It was replaced by a modern brick building in 1939. When the congregation moved to the new church in 1992, the brick church was sold to the Salvation Army, and is now used by them as their local citadel. The old wooden church was used for many years as a Sunday School and church hall. It was sold to the former Traralgon City Council and removed to the Southside Central railway complex. It has been restored, and is now used as an Art Centre.

CATHOLIC: The Catholic Church has occupied the site on the south western corner of Church and Kay Streets since 1883. Prior to that, services were held in the old court house building next to the Traralgon Hotel. The original brick church was demolished in 1935 to make way for the present stone structure. In the late 1970s, renovations, including the fine stained glass windows, were carried out.

BAPTIST: The first Baptist Church was on the north-west corner of Church and Hotham Streets. In the mid 1960s they moved to the present site in Kay Street.

LUTHERAN: A church was established in the 1960s in Shakespeare Street near Liddiard Road. In the late 1980s, a new modern brick structure was opened at the western end of Kay Street.

CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER DAY SAINTS: The church was established in the town in the 50s and 60s.

Hotels

Early hotels still trading include - the Traralgon Hotel, (now known as Ryan's), opened 1858; the Crown, opened in 1884; the Royal Exchange, opened in 1879; and the Grand Junction, opened in 1884.

Hostels for the Aged

The first hostel opened in the City was the Grace Bruce and J.L.McMillan Memorial Home in Marie Street, formerly the home of W.M. Bruce, a well-known solicitor and brother of the author Mary Grant Bruce. The Yallambee Village for the Aged provides excellent living conditions for elderly couples and singles, and adjacent to it is the Marjory Cole Hostel, opened in 1975. A small well-equipped hall serves both the Village and the Hostel. Further south in Hunter Road is "O'Mara House", another hostel named for a long time Parish priest of St.Michael's Church.

Schools

The first school was a slab and bark-roofed building on the comer of Franklin and Argyle Streets, built in 1870. The first permanent school was built in Campbell Street in 1872. The second brick school was built in Grey Street in 1912. The Campbell Street school was moved to the Grey Street site, and became the Higher Elementary School until the establishment of the High School in 1951. Other Primary Schools are: Stockdale Road, est.1950; Kosciusko Street, est.1953; Liddiard Road, est.1960; Traralgon East, St. Michael's Primary and St. Gabriel's Primary. Secondary Schools: The Traralgon High School was relocated to a new building in Shakespeare Street in 1955. The Technical School was established in 1960, and is now combined with the High School as Traralgon Secondary College, using both campuses. St Paul's Marist Brothers College and Kildare College, are now the Catholic Regional College.

Scouts

The Scouting movement was established by Rev. Blundell in 1924.

Traralgon Brass Band

The Band was formed about 1881, and is one of the finest bands in the State.

Eisteddfod

Commenced in 1955, and is one of the largest in Victoria.

~Sporting Clubs~

Football The Football Club was formed in 1883. At first games were played against local sides like Morwell, Gormandale and Toongabbie. Later the club joined the Gippsland League, then the Central Gippsland League, and in 1954, the Latrobe Valley League. Traralgon has been the major force in this League for much of its forty two years of existence. In 1996 the Club entered a team in the VFL competition, comprising teams from the old VFA and North Ballarat. There is also a very strong Junior Competition in the town, with sections from Under 10 to Under 16.

Cricket The Cricket Club started in about 1873, when a team from Traralgon played Rosedale.

Horse Racing Racing first commenced in Traralgon about 1861, when meetings were held at the back of the Traralgon Hotel. Later a course was established in Grey Street, near the Tyers turn-off. The present course has been in existence since 1914.

Tennis The Tennis Club formed about 1890. The original courts were in Kay Street. Later new courts were established in Princes Street near the Bowling Club. In about 1970, a modern complex was built in Franklin Street, near the Creek.

Bowls The Bowling Club was established in 1908. The greens were originally in Princes Street on the corner of Breed Street. In the 1980s, the Club moved to a site in Liddiard Road; and is now one of the finest Bowling Clubs in Gippsland. The RSL Club established a second Bowling Club in 1960. It too has excellent greens and amenities.

Golf Golf was played in the early days, but then went into recess for some years. It recommenced in 1905, and for a time was played on land that was part of "Traralgon Park". Later they moved to the area now known as the Railway Reservoir Conservation Park, and eventually to the present site on the Princes Highway.

Soccer Since the arrival of many migrants in Traralgon after the war, soccer has had a strong following. For a time, the Catterick Crescent oval was used, but nowadays, it is mostly played at Harold Preston Park in Davidson Street.

Basketball Basketball has become very popular, and a modern centre in Garibaldi Street provides facilities for local, State and National teams.

Netball Courts at Agnes Brereton Reserve provide the venue for a keen army of netballers during the winter months. A strong competition is conducted in conjunction with the Gippsland Latrobe Valley Football League.

Hockey Also has a strong following, and it too is played at Agnes Brereton Reserve.

Rugby, baseball, and athletics are also popular in the City.

Cycling Cycling has been popular since the 1880s, and Traralgon has produced many fine cyclists over the years.


References:
The River of Little Fish - William J. Cuthill 1970
From Squatter's Hut to City - W.A. Thompson and Jean Court, 1976
A History of Loy Yang, 1844-1978 - Kathleen M. Huffer, 1979