The Green Hills Native Police Station
Maffra’s connection with the Native Police Force 1845-1853

     The third attempt to establish a Native Police Corps in the Port Phillip District had initial success from 1842 under its founder Henry Dana. It was quickly engaged in a variety of activities which included forming a detachment of guards at Pentridge prison, pursuing bushrangers and policing the grazing lands which were rapidly extending through the colony.
     It was this policing of grazing lands which created the connection between the Native Police Corps and what was eventually to become Maffra.
     White settlers quickly followed McMillan into the Gippsland plains and the inevitable clash of cultures created a growing "native problem". Complaints poured in to Commissioner Tyers from Strathfieldsaye, Bushy Park, Kilmany Park, Fulham, Tom’s Creek, Clyde Bank, Heyfield, Mewburn Park, Merrimans Creek and Boisdale that stock was being speared and stockmen endangered. Tyers, however, was in a bind. He had few police at his disposal and these were needed for the protection of the settlers themselves rather than their cattle. The best he could manage was to organise his first "expedition" against the Gunnai/Kurnai in February, 1844, and to request Superintendent La Trobe to establish an additional two police stations.
     La Trobe undertook a tour of the Gippsland district in February and March of 1845. Significantly he was accompanied by Henry Dana and escorted throughout the region by settlers William Raymond, Angus McMillan and Lachlan Macalister. La Trobe is said to have enjoyed the "uproarious Highland" entertainment. By the end of the year a Native Police station had been established at Green Hills (the eventual site of Maffra township) under the control of Henry Dana' s younger brother, William.


     The actual position of the station and paddock is revealed in map 10 of Wilkinson's Gippsland River Survey – "Junction of the Rivers Macalister & Thomson 1851". He clearly shows the swamp and low hills which delineate the present town. By comparing this map with a modern map of the same scale, it would appear that the barracks were situated where the Rural Water Commission’s depot now stands and the shed beside the horse paddock would be in the roadway in front of the Maffra Medical Clinic.
     Although the paddock is not specifically named as being for police use, common sense would suggest that this was the logical place to keep the horses required by up to eighteen police. This contour map, on the same scale as the one above, shows how suitable the site was, with a low range of hills marking out the boundary of the paddock, a narrow entrance between hills and river to the east and a swamp as a natural barrier to the west.

     By 1849 Dana had at his disposal at the Green Hills barracks one officer, one corporal and sixteen Native Police. To maintain the widest possible control Dana split the contingent into groups, which would then be instructed to meet at a specified trouble spot travelling by different routes. In this way a reasonably constant presence was maintained, and it is claimed that while the police remained in a district very few stock were killed.

     In March 1847 the police camp at Green Hills came under what was claimed to be a siege. Late the previous year the Native Police had been part of what eventually turned out to be the fruitless search for a white woman believed (almost certainly incorrectly) to have been abducted by Aborigines after a ship wreck. Upon his return Dana and most of the force undertook a tour of duty, leaving only six police at the camp. Early one morning some two hundred Aborigines gathered in the adjacent bush but seemed content to just watch. Sergeant McLelland decided that the situation was sufficiently calm to allow him to take four police to the aid of Fred Taylor, whose run at Deighton, near Lake Victoria, was said to be in danger.
     Such, in fact, proved not to be the case and the troop returned to Green Hills. A small group of Aborigines was driven off but several days later over two hundred again gathered, this time adopting a far more menacing posture. McLelland prepared his men for battle but before firing sent his two white troopers to conduct a parley. It turned out that the whole episode was an attempt to convince the police that the surrounding natives wished to exchange the alleged abductors (who didn’t actually exist) for a reward of blankets and food. It is to McLelland’s credit that he managed to persuade the natives to depart peacefully when their ruse was uncovered.

     The nature of police work changed with the official discovery of gold in the colony. Many white police (in common with a wide range of other workers) deserted and the Native Police Force was called upon to exert control over the goldfields, a role which was strongly resented by white diggers. Then a further blow fell upon the force. During a search in foul weather for bushrangers in November 1852 Henry Dana contracted pneumonia and died in Melbourne. No one seemed able to take his place of command and several months later the Native Police Force was disbanded.

     With the disbanding of the Native Police one would imagine that the link with Maffra would have been broken. Such, however, is not the case. In fact we are presented with something of a mystery. C.P. Rafferty's survey map of the Parish of Maffra, 1861, shows an area of some 640 acres set aside as a "Native Police Reserve". It is still basically in the same place but somehow the reserve grew, at a time when its stated occupants did not exist! The map is less exact than Wilkinson’s in that the river is less clearly defined, and it does not show either the ferry or a bridge. The roads defining the boundaries to the north and east however exactly correspond on a modern map to George and Powerscourt Streets respectively.
     One further point needs to be explained. When the late Max Rowley was engaged in researching the site of the Newry township and aboriginal reserve he contacted the Surveyor General’s Department regarding the site of Maffra township. The reply he received indicated that the town was surveyed by George Hastings in 1863 and that the first sales were made on 1st June, 1864. Using the recently acquired microfiche copies of historical maps of our district I was able to view the first town plan of Maffra. It was published on 3rd January 1865. The odd thing though was that on it is a hand written inscription which reads: "contract surveyor's plan: Hastings September 20th 1864".
     Is there a discrepancy, or is it simply that officialdom was a bit slower than private enterprise in registering formal occupation of the site?

     There is the matter, too, of the town’s name. The 1861 map has dropped the name "Green Hills" from the police reserve site and has used the name of Macalister’s stock yard, with an extra ‘f’, as the name for the parish, viz. "Maffra". This would have made sense at the time as there were no obvious centres of population to provide a name and this yard was roughly in the middle of the parish being surveyed.
     The extra letter has been the source of concern for some, but surely it is only creating an Anglicised version of the word, which was originally Portuguese. With one ‘f’ the pronunciation would require an ‘a’ sound as in the word "hay", which would make the name difficult to pronounce. The same change in sound has occurred, by the way, with the "Avon" river, the English pronunciation using a long ‘a’ sound as against the short hard ‘a’ (as in "hat") we use locally. In this case though a spelling alteration was not needed.
     It is understandable that subsequently Hastings (or whoever gave the instruction) would name the town after the parish; unless he had lived in the area there is no real reason why he should have known about "Green Hills", and there may have even been local objections to the name, given that it had been associated with police (though that is mere speculation). The name was however later applied to the local race course.

Major references used:

  • Maps
    Gippsland River Survey, 1851
    Parish of Maffra survey, 1861
    Township of Maffra survey, 1864/5
  • Correspondence with Surveyor General's Department
  • Victorian Aborigines 1835-1901: Public Records Office, 1984
  • Broome: Aboriginal Victorians - a history since 1800. Allen & Unwin, 2005
  • Pepper & De Araugo: The Kurnai of Gippsland, Hyland House, 1985
  • Priestly: The Victorians – Making Their Mark, Fairfax Syme & Weldon, 1980

Page modified 05/08/2015