MAFFRA TOWNSHIP HISTORY
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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.
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,
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.
NSW squatter, Lachlan Macalister, established the Boisdale Run opposite
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
original "Mafra" (with one -f-) was a sheep fold located on this
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,
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
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
town and surrounding parish.
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
commenced on the existing Primary School site in 1871.
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
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, 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,
The railway from Melbourne reached Heyfield in 1883, was extended to Maffra in 1886 and
Briagolong in 1889; this expansion created increased financial
opportunities for the district. Linked
with Traralgon (and therefore Melbourne), Stratford and Briagolong, Maffra
was in an ideal position to
become the hub of a thriving cattle industry.
well as beef cattle the district produced wheat, oats,
barley, peas, forage
and hops; livestock included sheep, pigs and horses for the carriage trade
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,
The decades of the twentieth century up until
World War 2 were ones of consolidation rather than ones of major change:
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
· the Nestle Company bought out a former butter factory in 1921
· the Willsmere Certified Milk Company opened a factory in 1922
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
photographs - top left downwards
refers to Maffra Sugar Beet Museum archives
of Central Gippsland pastoral runs, late 1840s [JH]
by Louis Wuillemin of Bushy Park homestead 1868 [MSBM]
from New Tourists Guide .. 1889 [in Gippsland Heritage Journal
State School 1890s [MSBM]
Maffra Shire Hall
& Co's saleyards 1890s [MSBM]
crossing new bridge over Avon River at Boisdale 1880 [MSBM]
Remains after fire
in Johnson Street December 1913 [Weekly Times 1913]
electrical poles, Johnson Street 1913 [MSBM]
wall 1926 [MSBM]
Products factory with T-model Ford trucks 1920s [MSBM]
Butter Factory 1920s [MSBM]
Page modified 25/01/2012