When deciding what events to cover in Gippsland it’s always a bit of a guessing game for me, trying to pick what might be appropriate and could be considered of some historical value and worth writing a story for posterity. But I guess it’s not for me to decide what’s of historical value as, in many cases, not having much in the way of a record for even the most mundane seeming event could be leaving out a piece of history. Who knows that in 100 years, these sorts of events may be of great interest. Even just seeing some of the people about at such events could be of interest to future historians. This blog is predominantly about recording events etc in Gippsland in order to produce some sort of record for the future, so I guess it’s worth considering all and sundry as they come along. But to be honest, events etc that I cover have to also be of some interest to me; a regular crowded market or swap meet isn’t what I would call interesting, unless there was something quite special involved at the same time.
I would hope one thing that should be evident by now to anyone that reads my blog is that I’m pretty much a lover of nature and the Australian landscape, especially our forests. The preservation and utilisation of our forests is something that has always been of interest to me though, in saying that, I’ve never been an activist or such in pursuit of unrealistic ideals or ends. And, to be honest, I think it’s the activists that have done far greater damage to our forests than any single group or industry. That activism all too often prevents proper forest management, allowing things such as fuel loads to build to levels that when a forest fire occurs, it becomes something of a monster. It’s something that we’ve experienced a number of times in recent history and which became a serious issue in Mirboo North in 2009. The US is realising that the same activism is the root cause of the devastating California fires and is something that the government is now addressing, but we still have a long way to go.
As with our boy’s trips during off long weekends and weekdays, which we call High Country Cruises, we like to do family camping trips in much the same way. We used to do Christmas camping trips over the Christmas holiday periods, but that’s become difficult as many of our favourite camping places have been closed and campers are now pushed into large open areas where there’s no peace or privacy for anyone. So over the last few years we’ve been doing a sort of pre-Christmas week of camping during a time when it’s more likely to be relatively quiet and with campsites free. So we did this again this year, this time travelling to the Dargo region which is slightly closer and easier to get to than our previous forays to the Nunniong Plains area and offers much better river options.
The Boolarra Community Hotel has been on our check-list to visit for some time, but we were told that it wasn’t open and certainly whenever we’ve gone past, there hasn’t been any noticeable activity within or without. So I was more than surprised when I heard that the hotel had been acquired by the Boolarra community, with residents chipping in to take shares in ownership. Sometimes this seems to be the only way to resurrect a hotel that has fallen by the wayside and with a community located where it is, not having a pub handy is always an issue. And so it was with some interest that we decided to visit this Sunday for lunch, especially as we’d heard that the meals were very good.
Thorpdale is a small town nestled amongst lush rolling hills, best known for its potatoes and, in many ways, with an aspect and history not too dissimilar to that of Mirboo North. Thorpdale was first settled in the mid-1870s as a timber harvesting area and soon after established a school, hall, stores and a pub, with a railway station opening in 1888. When the timber industry began to slow down, farming became a major activity and potatoes were a natural for the region. Thorpdale potatoes are especially famous because of the rich, deep red, soil that covers the rolling hills. Thorpdale has long been associated with potato growing, which is still the main and most prized produce.
The Old Pub (The Old Boolarra Pub as it’s alternatively known) in Boolarra has had a chequered history since it was first established in 1884. Apparently it was called The Selectors Arms originally, thought to have become a boarding house in 1916 and then named the Old Boolarra Pub some time later. When we first came to Mirboo North, we visited Boolarra not that long after and went to visit the Old Pub, but unfortunately it was closed. It was (is) a private residence and was re-opened as a cafe and B&B and, I understand, in 2014 it re-acquired it’s liquor license and is now a licensed coffee house and eatery. The Old Pub is a fine example of an old bluestone and timber building of the era, which carries that bluestone character to the interior of the pub. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to discover very much more about the history of the pub itself.
The concept of community gardens dates back centuries as a traditional style of land use in Europe and the UK, and has become a worldwide phenomenon that is often promoted in ‘food’ shows such as River Cottage. The first Australian community garden was established in 1977 in Nunawading, Victoria (the garden state). So how did the idea of a Mirboo North Community Garden come about? Eric Walters from the Grand Ridge Brewery thought that it would be a great idea to create a community garden on a property opposite the brewery, which belongs to the brewery, to provide the Grand Ridge Restaurant with fresh produce, as well as to allow Mirboo North residents to grow and access their own ‘home’ grown produce.
I guess that it’s only appropriate that my first story about Gippsland townships should be about my home town Mirboo North, first settled in the 1870s and subsequently becoming a thriving farming and timber region as well as a rail terminus for the timber industry. The first train arrived in Jan 1886 and the last one left in June 1974. The first school was established in 1881, a hotel around 1882 and a general store in 1885. Being a significant dairy region, a dairy factory was opened in 1893. Since those days, there have naturally been many changes, with businesses coming and going, as well as a major change when the council amalgamations occurred in the mid-1990s. Since those days Mirboo North has grown to a population of 2000+ and, from what I’ve observed, is attracting quite a number of tree changers (including us). Apart from being central to a farming and timber industry, Mirboo North also hosts numerous art, craft, music and other events.
After a recent trip to Melbourne, where I had to hang around the Berwick area all day, driving around and killing a bit of time shopping, I realised that there was no way that I could ever return to suburbia. The traffic, the crowds, the absence of any feeling of character made me realise how fantastic are the townships in Gippsland, especially those located amongst the rolling hills, farmlands and historic areas. Not only is the aspect outstanding, it’s accompanied by a far more relaxed and genial lifestyle. So I thought I’d use that spark of a realisation to do some stories on such townships, not the larger regional centres, but the townships that may only have a local store or pub, or modicum of commerce, and often may support a fairly wide rural community.
For many years, on a small rise next to the Strzelecki Highway just out of Morwell, at a locality called Driffield, there has resided what appeared to be an old hay shed. The shed has always caught my attention every time that we’ve driven past, but I’ve never stopped to take a photo for some reason, even though I’ve had a feeling that I should. Then late last year, things changed and the shed had been revitalised by a local community that I’ve written about previously, and it had become something completely new again. What was something that looked quite abandoned, had been transformed into a memorial to the Driffield farming community. By not stopping by earlier, I’d missed out on providing an example of the then and now.