Plains of calming ocean
SUMMER HOLIDAY READING
By ROBYN BROWN
By ROBYN BROWN
IF YOU pinpoint mid north central Victoria you locate East Loddon nestled in the area between Loddon River to the west, Bendigo Creek (known as Piccaninny Creek in early European settlement to the east, taking in Terricks and almost as far north as Durham Ox, south to Tandarra and 6km south of Serpentine where Marong Road diverts off Loddon Valley Hwy.
Bullock Creek splits the shire in two halves making East Loddon quite a distinctive area.
Local historian, the late Jack Tresise insisted that any history of East Loddon district would be incomplete without reference to the early inhabitants of the area, the Jajoueroung (sic) tribe of aborigines who roamed the length of the Loddon River and were later referred to as the Loddon Tribe, of which only a small sub tribe lived. More information can be found in the book ‘Central Victorian Aborigines’ by John Tully who recorded the clans of East Loddon namely: Yulowil Balug (bounded by the Piccaninny and Bullock Creeks) Tjanne Balug and the Teerup Balug.
The district constitutes a plains area so flat that the eye rests on nothing higher than a water tower or a wheat silo beside the railway line. It is on the fringe of the goldfields to the south and east and although very close to the industrialisation of Bendigo is almost given over wholly to rural enterprise.
In July 1836, when explorer Major Thomas Mitchell reached the summit of a rocky hill which he named Pyramid Hill and looked down on the open grassy plains and tree lined streams below he saw great possibilities for land hungry settlers. Squatters soon followed him to the area and took up large tracts of land.
Small patches of native forested areas remain today on private land, around the Pompapiel Cemetery and Terrick Terrick National Park.
Pastoralists became food producers for the growing population of the goldfields. The sea of waving native plains grasses and high stands of salt bush were replaced by grazing cattle, sheep and cropping. The East Loddon area was in the main, occupied by four large pastoral holdings; Serpentine Creek, East Loddon, Terrick Terrick West and Tandarra.
There were less than 100 people living in the area at that time working on the four vast pastoral runs as overseers, shepherds and station hands or running shanty type wayside pubs, coaching stables and mail deliveries.
Ludwig Becker, German artist with the Burke and Wills party wrote in August 1860: “There is no certainty about the distance in the bush and on the plains, the travellers being almost all on horseback underrate generally the distances when asked. After a few miles ride we found our selfs (sic) on the Terrick plains. The effect on one who sees extensive plains for the first time is somewhat very peculiar, the plain looks like a calm ocean with green water, the horizon appears to be much higher than the point the spectator stands on, the whole plain looks concave ...”
In 1848 Serpentine Creek Post Office became one of the earliest post offices north of the Great Dividing Range providing communication for the early settlers and stockmen. Cobb & Co. coaches used Serpentine as a changing station and camp ground for bullock drivers passing through. Dwellings consisted of a log cabin, bark hut and later a hotel called Serpentine Inn.
In 1866 Serpentine was surveyed by George Watson who named it Janiember. Although the name Janiember appears on early maps, the name never caught on with locals and travelling teamsters who continued to call the place Serpentine. The name Janiember gradually died out.
During the early 1860s the roads were so bad that although the Cobb & Co Coaches left Bendigo at 6pm with four horses and sometimes five, they had to change horses every 10 miles and even then didn’t arrive at Serpentine until 1am in the morning - a seven-hour trip.
In rural areas legislation provided for the establishment of road districts which had powers of road making alone, and were managed by boards elected by groups of settlers.
The Road Districts and Shires Act, 1863, provided for the establishment of shires as well as road districts, and it was under this Act that the East Loddon District Board was proclaimed. It was, of course, local government in theory and not in practice followed by the proclamation of the East Loddon Road District on December 28, 1864, the following year electing the ﬁrst district board: William Fenton, Robert Russell, Obediah Edwick, Patrick Flynn, Joseph Raleigh and Austin Mack.
When Land Acts were passed in the 1860s allowing free selection the region began to prosper with selectors taking up to 320-acre blocks and transforming the plains with their crops and flocks, dwellings and little settlements. This influx created a need for roads, water and other infrastructure.
When the road district was officially constituted as the East Loddon Shire on the July 28, 1871, the number of those paying rates had risen to 319.
East Loddon Road District was approximately 380 square miles and grew when the Shire of Marong to its south, redistributed an area adding 81 square miles totalling 461 square miles for East Loddon, in today’s terms 1200 square kilometres.
Shire of East Loddon headquarters were established at Serpentine in the East Loddon Shire Hall building designed by famous architect William Charles Vahland (1828-1915). The notable building was demolished during 1960s and replaced by new shire offices. The Vahland building did remain standing for a few years after the completion of the new Shire of East Loddon Council offices and chambers.
Railway infrastructure from Bendigo to Swan Hill in 1883 was a prosperous development; however the lack of permanent water proved to be a big obstacle to the future of the area. The development of a stock and domestic water supply from the Loddon River at Bridgewater carrying water through a series of channels throughout the shire failed in the dry years leading up to the drought of 1901-2.
When State Rivers and Water Supply Commission was established in 1906 plans were made to bring water from Goulburn River and Waranga Basin to the area. Permanent water created a highly productive area with an extensive irrigation system and was instrumental in ensuring the prosperity of East Loddon Shire.