An historical account of Traralgon, written for the boys and girls of the city.
First published in 1970. Reset on CD Rom 2001
About the author - William J. Cuthill - click here


Chapter 1 - How the first Settlers Came to Traralgon - 1840-1844

My Dear ****

This is going to be a story all about Traralgon, the place where you live, and I do hope you will like it so well that you will read it from the beginning to the end.

What do those stars mean?

Well, you see, they stand for the letters of your name, the name of the boy or girl who is reading the story, and you must put the letters in for yourself, because I cannot do it for you, as I do not know the names of all the boys and girls in Traralgon, though I am glad to say I know the names of a great many.

So, if your name is Jack, or if it is Joan, the number of the stars will be all right for you, but if your name is Betty, or Katherine, or Herbert, all you have to do is add as many stars as you like. But, if your name is Jim or Ann, what you must do is take away a star, and there you are. When you have changed the stars into letters of your name, you will see that the story is really and truly written for you, my dear ****.

Suppose I were to ask you to tell me all about your own home, you would say "Well, that's easy enough", and you would tell me what kind of house it was, and where it was, and perhaps who built it, without stopping to think. And then perhaps you would go on to tell me about the garden, and the fruit trees. and the fowl yard, and the dog kennel, and where the cats and their kittens live. You know all about it.

And if I were to ask you about your school, it would be just the same. You would have everything at your fingertips, and could tell me all about the classrooms, and the playgrounds where the boys play cricket and football, and the girls their basketball and softball.

But if I were to ask you to tell me all about Traralgon, your own town, how about that ? I am quite sure that boys and girls do not know the story of Gipps' Land and Traralgon nearly as well as they ought, and this story is to help them know more about it.

It's a very sensible idea, my dear ****, to begin at the beginning, and most people do so, except those who like to begin at the end of the story, and that takes away all the fun. If you read a fairy tale and knew how it ended, you would miss a great deal of pleasure and wonder, and when it came to the end, when the Prince was married to the beautiful Princess, and they lived happily forever afterwards, you would say, "Oh, I knew all that", just because you didn't begin at the beginning.

So let me begin my story at the right end, which is the beginning, and not at wrong end, which is the end. It sounds a bit queer, this, but it really isn't so.

We must go right back for one hundred and thirty five years, when the people of England were still sending out shiploads of convicts to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land to stay there, some for seven years and some for fourteen years as a punishment for their crimes. There were quite a number of adventurous people too, who decided to sail right across the world to make their homes in far away Australia. All the eastern part of our continent was called New South Wales, and there was just one big town - Sydney.

Tasmania was still called Van Diemen's Land, and two men there decided to come to Port Phillip Bay with their friends and their sheep and their cattle, and make new homes where no white men had ever built their houses before. And what were their names ? John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner. That was in the year 1835.

Their new village on the banks of the Yarra had to have a name, and what did Governor Bourke in Sydney call it ? Why, Melbourne of course.

But the settlers on the northern side of the Murray River, who had moved down from Sydney, were still seeking more and more land for their sheep and cattle. There was plenty of land for everyone - just pick the best place, and squat. All you had to do was tell your neighbours which was your piece of land- your "Run" - you became a "squatter", and the land was yours for £10 a year.

By the year 1838, some squatters had come right over the Australian Alps, and had taken up a run at Omeo. and a bold Scotsman called Angus McMillan, in the next year, even rode down as far as the Latrobe River near Sale. Of course, there was no City of Sale there then. On a later journey he called this new river the Glengarry. Glengarry, a chief of his clan back in Scotland, arrived at Port Albert in 1841, with some of his people to settle there.

strzelecki_riley In the year 1840, some squatters near where our Federal Capital of Canberra now stands, thought that they would like to see if there was any good land further on past Omeo. Their names were James McArthur and James Riley who was only a lad of 19 years. They had a blackfellow with them called Charlie Tarra. There was a very learned man named Count Strzelecki, a scientist, who had heard about their journey, and he asked to come along, too.

James MacArthurWe must always be careful how we spell his name.

So, with their two other servants, the six of them made their way right across this part of New South Wales. making for Corner Inlet. On the way, the Count climbed a mountain, the highest in Australia. He called it Mount Kosciusko, after one of the leaders back in Poland, his native land. The party reached Omeo, and from then onwards, there were no more settlers - just blackfellows in their gunyahs. They were able to follow McMillan's tracks for part of the way, and explored the country around the Gippsland Lakes, before heading west again.

They crossed the River Thomson near the present town of Heyfield, and called the river the Machonochie. They were heading for Corner Inlet, and crossed the Latrobe River about three miles east of our town in the middle of April, 1840. As they were the first white men who had ever been there, the date is a very important one for us.

Although Angus McMillan had reached this river thirty miles further downstream a year before, he did not give it a name then, but Count Strzelecki did not know this, and named the river La Trobe, after the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, which was the part of New South Wales around Melbourne. The river has kept the name La Trobe, although nowadays we usually write it Latrobe.

PHOTO: right, of the Strzelecki monument - probably you have passed it many times!

If we go out on the Princes Highway three miles on the way to Rosedale, we will find a monument on the right side of the road. It marks the place where Strzelecki, McArthur and Riley passed through away back in the year 1840.

Pushing on to the south, Strzelecki and his companions soon found themselves climbing the hills near Koornalla, and it was quite impossible to get through the huge trees and over the big logs with their four horses. They had to leave them here, and the Count decided to make straight for Western Port where they knew they would find settlers. He guided the party in a straight line up and down the ranges, and they were all very lucky that they did not die from starvation and exhaustion before they reached Western Port at last, after twenty two days in the forest. They even ate koalas when their food was all gone.

When they reached Melbourne, Strzelecki reported his discoveries to Governor Gipps in Sydney, and he even called the new country Gipps' Land in honour of the Governor. And we are still proud to call it Gippsland, although we now make it all one word.

How did Traralgon look to the Count and his companions ? The La Trobe River ran through a morass three miles wide in places, full of thick scrub and rushes. But on the higher ground there was a beautiful red gum forest, and plenty of kangaroo grass. And all the ranges were covered in forests of big gum trees like the few we have left in Bulga Park. There were not many blackfellows in this part. There were more eels, fish, ducks and kangaroos around the Gippsland Lakes, and that is where most of the blackfellows lived, although they would visit the Traralgon area at times. They called themselves the Briakolung or "Men of the West" , and their leader was a huge fellow named Bungaleene. They believed that a spirit called Loo -errn lived on Wilson's Promontory, and that deadly yellow snakes lived near Mount Baw Baw where there was also a boiling pit into which you would be sucked if you went too far in that direction.

Soon after their arrival in Melbourne, another party went back to get the horses, and the Count's specimens which he had collected on his journey. James Riley and John Rutledge took with them Charlie Tarra and a New South Wales blackfellow called Pigeon. They left in June, and were back in Melbourne by August, 1840. They found only one horse alive out of the four, and found that the country where they had been left was without water, and this in the middle of winter. We think that the horses must have been left in the ranges between Koornalla and Jeeralang, but of course we are not sure. All we know is that this party went along the line of the Princes Highway in both directions, and were the first white men to do so. There were some settlers this side of Dandenong, but none at all once they entered the forests near the Bunyip River.

strzeleckimapPHOTO: Click on the thumbnail photograph, left, for a full page view of a map drawn by Count Strzelecki showing his route through Gipps' Lane in 1840.

When Count Strzelecki's story was told in Melbourne, some settlers there decided that they would go to Gipps' Land and see for themselves, and take up land there. They thought that the easiest place to reach by sea would be Corner Inlet. They joined together and called themselves the "Port Albert Company". They were going to this new port, and being loyal subjects of the Queen, they called it Port Albert after Prince Albert who had married their Queen Victoria a few months before.

They sailed round to Port Albert in a little steamer called the "Singapore" at the end of 1840, and, after landing in this part which had never been visited before by white men, built huts and storehouses. This was the first settlement in Gipps' Land. When Angus McMillan made another journey down from Omeo, he was surprised to find them there when he reached Corner Inlet.

Early in the year 1841, these people at Port Albert divided up into three parties. Some went back to Melbourne in the "Singapore" , some decided to walk back to Melbourne, and three men stayed behind to look after the settlement. We are interested in the men who walked back through the bush.

We have their names - W.A. Brodribb, Alexander Kinghorne, Kirsopp, Norman McLeod, Malcolm MacFarlane and Charlie Tarra, the blackfellow who had been with Strzelecki. They followed the track which had been marked by Angus McMillan on his way down to the coast some months before, and had a really good look at all the country around the Gippsland Lakes, before setting out for Melbourne. They travelled along the north side of the La Trobe River on 2nd April 1841. We must remember that date too, and that the men from the Port Albert Company probably had a better view of Traralgon across the river, than Strzelecki and his party had out at Loy Yang. It seems that these men crossed the Tyers River and they called it the Kinghorne. They then crossed the La Trobe to the Morwell side, and must have gone past the place where Morwell now stands, because they called the Morwell River the Kirsopp.

During the year 1841, the little settlement at Port Albert grew bigger. Among the newcomers was Glengarry, the Scottish Highland Chief, who arrived with 23 servants. But there were 3 other men who decided to travel through the bush from Port Phillip to see for themselves if they could drive cattle into the new country. Their names were Albert E. Brodribb, Edward William Hobson, and Dr. Edward Barker. We must remember these men, especially Edward Hobson, for he was the first settler at Traralgon. Edward Hobson was a squatter near Arthur's Seat , where Dromana now stands, and Dr. Barker had his run next to Hobson. One of the leading doctors in Melbourne in those early days, was Dr. Edmund Charles Hobson, a brother of Edward Hobson. He was one of the gentlemen who founded the Melbourne Hospital. In June 1841, Brodribb, Hobson, and Dr. Barker with four blackfellows from Western Port, made the journey to Port Albert, and, so far as we know now, came through the Traralgon area, and then cut across through Rosedale to get to Port Albert. They ran out of food and nearly died of starvation, and decided that they had no hope of bringing in their cattle along the line where the Princes Highway runs today. They went back to Port Phillip along the coast, and found it much easier. The track along the coast became the first way from Melbourne into Gipps' Land.

So now we have had three parties going past the site of our town. First Strzelecki in April 1840; then the men from the Port Albert Company in April, 1841, and now Hobson, Brodribb and Barker in June 1841.

Although there was quite a settlement at Port Albert by this time, and squatters were moving up into the plains around Sale, which at that time was known as Flooding Creek, there was no Government of any kind in Gipps' Land. The settlers were settling their own disputes, and trying to protect themselves from the blacks, who were spearing their sheep and cattle. In addition there were bad men coming over on the cattle boats from Van Diemen's Land where they had finished their punishment as convicts, and had been given tickets of leave. So, in 1843, Governor Gipps in Sydney named Charles J. Tyers, an officer of the Royal Navy, Crown Lands Commissioner, and told him to go to Gipps' Land to make sure that the laws were being obeyed. We will not forget his name either, for the Tyers River is named after him and so also is Lake Tyers in East Gippsland.

But it was not easy to get to Gipps' Land, as Tyers found out. He had a party of police, both black and white. The black policemen were natives who dressed in uniforms, like soldiers, and rode horses. They carried a carbine and a sword. Commissioner Tyers and his party tried to travel through the bush as Hobson, Brodribb and Doctor Barker had done, but the country was all flooded, and they were forced to go back to Melbourne. They then heard that some settlers had travelled into Gipps' Land from the Devil's River, up near Mansfield. So Mr. Tyers and his men went there, but found that they had no hope of getting over the mountains to get into Gipps' Land through the place we now call Licola. So they went back to Melbourne once again, and this time they tried to go around the coast to Port Albert, but again the country was all flooded after heavy rain.

In the end Mr. Tyers had to take a ship and sail around to Port Albert, and he left his men to follow on by land when they could. He reached Port Albert in January 1844.

His first job was to see what land each settler claimed for his run, and to make sure that all the boundaries were correct. As he had all Gipps' Land to do, he must have been a very busy man. In February 1844, he came to the station of John Reeve, called Snakes Ridge, which was the place we now call Rosedale. He found Edward Hobson there with Commissioner Powlett, who was the Crown Lands Commissioner for Western Port. They had ridden up from Port Phillip through the bush, crossing the Buneep Buneep, as it was then called, and going around the head of the Moe river. Dr Edmund Hobson had already put his name down for a run on the banks of the Morwell River, and it seems that his brother Edward, acting for him, picked instead 25 square miles where the Traralgon Creek ran into the La Trobe River for a run. He must have been told by Mr. Tyers that the run was his, for he returned to his own run at Arthur's Seat to get his cattle ready for the long drive to Gipps' Land.

The party of police which Mr. Tyers had left in Melbourne were all ready to push a new track round through the bush of South Gipps' Land to Port Albert. They had all their food and tents in a dray which was pulled by bullocks, and they waited for Hobson to join them with his cattle. He did not arrive, and they at last set out without him. They had a terrible time, and ran out of food in the ranges near Wilson's Promontory. To keep alive, they even had to kill one of the bullocks which was being used for pulling the dray.

Edward Hobson, however, was following on behind them. He left Western Port in April 1844, seven days behind the police party. He had a large mob of cattle, and another settler named Hugh Reoch had his cattle in the mob as well. They had two drays to carry their food and tents, and even then it took them two months to drive the cattle all the way to Traralgon. It was a big party of twenty men, but they still lost 240 cattle and two horses on the journey. As the Hobson brothers held a run at Tarwin Meadows near the present town of Inverloch at this time, we can suppose that they paused there for a while on the way here. There was no grass at all in the mountains of South Gipps' Land, and they had to swim their beasts across each river as they came to it. They would have come right around to Port Albert and then through Holey Plain near Rosedale to reach here.

Hobson's were the first cattle to be driven from Port Phillip into Gipps' Land, and June 1844 is, possibly, the most important date in this story, for it was the beginning of the Traralgon we know today.

End of Chapter One

Chapter 2

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