Click on images for full size pictures  (details of the photographs at the bottom of this page)

     The township of Maffra is situated on the banks of the Macalister River 18km north of the city of Sale in central Gippsland, Victoria. It currently has a population of some 4000.

      Before 1840 the area bounded by the Latrobe, Thomson, Macalister and Avon Rivers was occupied by small groups and families of the Gunai or Kurnai people.  The town site was originally within the territory of the Brayakaulung tribe.  Little physical archaeological evidence remains of their occupation apart from scar trees, grinding rock sites and the appearance of an occasional stone implement.  It is probable that the swampy parts of the river further south offered better opportunities for food, though the ridge which runs through the town could well have served as an excellent lookout.

      For a more detailed account of pre-European occupation of Gippsland, click here  


Boisdale Run map        The first Europeans known to have reached this part of Gippsland appeared in January 1840 when Angus
  McMillan's party reached (and named) the Macalister River downstream from the current town site; Paul
  Strzelecki's party appeared some weeks later. 
It is doubtful though whether either actually passed directly over
  the site in 1840.  McMillan probably did the following year.
Bushy Park homestead       NSW squatter, Lachlan Macalister, established the Boisdale Run opposite Angus
  McMillan's Bushy Park in 1840; this consisted of 57,600 acres between the Avon and
  Macalister Rivers; the run was purchased by John Foster in 1850.
  The original "Mafra" (with one -f-) was a sheep fold located on this run several
  kilometres south east of the present town of Newry; it has the same name as one of
  Macalister's properties in NSW, which was in turn named after a town in Portugal where Macalister's regiment
had been stationed during the Napoleonic wars (though Macalister himself would have been too young to have participated in that war).

      640 acres (one square mile) within the Boisdale Run were designated as a Native Police Reserve in 1845 following a visit to Gippsland by Superintendent (later Lieutenant Governor) La Trobe in response to complaints by European settlers about stock losses.  Although it was originally named "Green Hills", this square mile was to become the site of Maffra township.  The actual police ‘station’ was where the Medical Clinic now stands, at the foot of Mafeking Hill.  At its busiest there were three officers and sixteen native police stationed there, together with some fifty horses. The Native Police force was disbanded in 1852 but maps even as late as 1861 continued to mark the Reserve's existence. 

      For a more detailed account of the Native Police station, click here  

      By the late 1850s the aboriginal population of central Gippsland had declined to a fraction of its pre-European numbers and belated attempts were made to alleviate the plight of the remaining few. The Moravian church sent a missionary, the Rev Hagenaeur, to found a Christian mission for them and one of the places suggested for its establishment was the former Native Police reserve at Green Hills. Before this could happen the boundaries of the designated agricultural areas were extended to include Green Hills. Two smaller mission stations were eventually created elsewhere: Ramahyuck, south of Stratford and Lake Tyers, east of Lakes Entrance.

In the meantime, with the discovery of goldfields in the hills to the north-west, Green Hills became the point at which the Macalister River was crossed on the way north from Sale or Port Albert. Job Dan built and operated a punt across the river in 1862, and James Gibney set up a tent hotel and subsequently built a bridge on virtually the same spot.  Anticipating the advantages of gold discoveries in the mountains, a group of Stratford businessmen urged the government of the day to create a formal settlement on the Macalister beside the river crossing; thus the former police reserve was surveyed as a town in 1863 by George Hastings.  Taking the name from the original sheep fold and anglicising by adding an extra "f". Hastings applied "Maffra" to both the town and surrounding parish.
State School Shire offices

     The town was Gazetted in 1864 and the first town lot sales took place.  Butler’s Woods Point and Gippsland General Directory 1866 shows the fledgling township with a post office, two hotels, two stores, a butcher and some twenty permanent residents.  Growth was steady, if slow, for the first twenty or so years. Churches appeared: Presbyterian in 1866, Methodist in 1868, Catholic in 1870-71, Anglican in 1871. The original school was a short-lived private affair in 1865. This was followed by a public school in 1866, permanent buildings for which commenced on the existing Primary School site in 1871.

      The 1870s and early 1880s saw the start of a boom period for the town, with the appearance of two cheese factories and a flour mill, a stock and station agency, a third hotel, a brick works, a court of Petty Sessions, a newspaper (the Maffra Spectator) and a permanent Post Office.  The town became the centre of the Shire of Maffra, proclaimed on 14th October 1875, and the first municipal offices were constructed; by 1880 there were said to be 3000 people living in the shire.

      The stock and station agency A.McLean & Co was established in 1872;
their sale yards expanded to become the largest in rural Victoria,McLean's saleyards second only to Newmarket in Melbourne. Allan McLean himself progressed from local to state politics and became a man of influence (he eventually became Premier of Victoria for a short time and went on to be Gippsland’s first Federal Member).

      For a more detailed biography of Alan McLean, click here

Briagolong railway      The railway from Melbourne reached Heyfield in 1883, was extended to Maffra in 1886 and reached
  Briagolong in 1889; this expansion created increased financial opportunities for the district. 
Linked now
  with Traralgon (and therefore Melbourne), Stratford and Briagolong, Maffra was in an ideal position to
  become the hub of a thriving cattle industry.
 As well as beef cattle the district produced wheat, oats,
  barley, peas, forage and hops; livestock included sheep, pigs and horses for the carriage trade and the
Indian army.
  With such a well developed infrastructure, a fertile and well watered hinterland and an influential parliamentarian resident in the town, Maffra could hardly not be favourite to be the location for Victoria’s experiment in sugar production.  Although there had been other minor attempts to establish sugar production from beets in Victoria from as early as 1866, the local effort was by far the most serious. The Maffra Sugar Beet Company was registered in 1896, with capital of £70,000. Building of the factory commenced in the following year and was completed in 1898. The Colony's first 500 tons of sugar were refined that year.  The industry, originally in private hands and later taken over by the Victorian Government,  lasted until 1948.

      For a detailed account of the sugar beet industry, click here
The decades of the twentieth century up until World War 2 were ones of consolidation rather than ones of major change:   
           Electricity arrived in 1913.
      A major fire on Christmas Eve, 1913, burnt out one whole block of shops in the main street.
      An irrigation scheme was commenced on the Macalister River in 1919 at Glenmaggie; water flows after 1926 boosted the dairy and sugar beet industries.
      Closer Settlement Schemes at Boisdale, Newry and Kilmany introduced the era of the small farm; later many were found to be uneconomic and a period of consolidation led to today's farm sizes.  With improved transport it became possible to close smaller cheese and butter factories in the surrounding districts and concentrate manufacture in Maffra itself:
·  the Maffra Co-operative Milk Products Company Ltd was formed in 1918
·  the Nestle Company bought out a former butter factory in 1921
·  the Willsmere Certified Milk Company opened a factory in 1922
    Main street fire 1913 Electricity pole Glenmaggie Weir


     Maffra today survives thanks mainly to dairying and vegetable growing. A major Murray Goulburn factory processes millions of litres of milk a week at peak times, mostly for export. Southern Rural Water has its headquarters here. Several rural supply companies have erected state-of-the-art distribution centres. The DNRE has regional offices here. A major veterinary clinic has teaching connections with Melbourne University. There’s a Herd Improvement Co-operative and a research farm nearby. The town also boasts one of rural Victoria’s largest single-campus Government secondary colleges.

Details of photographs - top left downwards
[MSBM] refers to Maffra Sugar Beet Museum archives

  • Location of Central Gippsland pastoral runs, late 1840s [JH]

  • Sketch by Louis Wuillemin of Bushy Park homestead 1868 [MSBM]

  • Illustration from New Tourists Guide .. 1889 [in Gippsland Heritage Journal #21]

  • Rebuilt Maffra State School 1890s [MSBM]

  • Maffra Shire Hall 1875 [MSBM]

  • A.McLean & Co's saleyards 1890s [MSBM]

  • First train crossing new bridge over Avon River at Boisdale 1880 [MSBM]

  • Remains after fire in Johnson Street December 1913 [Weekly Times 1913]

  • Erecting electrical poles, Johnson Street 1913 [MSBM]

  • Glenmaggie Weir wall 1926 [MSBM]

  • Co-operative Milk Products factory with T-model Ford trucks 1920s [MSBM]

  • Willsmere Butter Factory 1920s [MSBM]

Page modified 25/01/2012