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Early Travel

The settlers came into South Gippsland by various routes. The following stories tell of the different ways used by pioneers to enter the region.

A track though bush land
A track though bush land with gum trees
A track though bush land

Above: Public Records Office of Victoria

By Land

In the days when a trip from central Melbourne to Cranbourne was a five hour journey, the long haul to South Gippsland was not for the faint-hearted. From 1875 to 1880 early settlers came in from Western Port along McDonald’s Track

“It was February 1876, that I arranged with young Sam Medley to go with him into this new district. On February 24th at about 8 am we took our seats in a six horse coach, at the Albion Hotel Bourke St. It was a clear sunny morning with a wind that even them was warm, from the north. We arrived at Dandenong at 11am and exchanged the coach for a two horse wagonette and arrived at Cranbourne at one o’ clock. We pulled up at Mrs Harris’s old “Mornington Hotel” and soon did justice to a good meal in anticipation of a 21 mile walk. There was now a fierce, hot wind blowing and almost the whole country was enveloped in fire and smoke. We passed through Tooradin and Tobin Yallock (Lang Lang) and at about 8 pm arrived tired, heated, dusty and blackened at a haven of rest and comparative enjoyment. This was a slab house, newly erected, built and occupied by an intrepid bushman commonly called Jimmy Baker. His good wife, “Darcas” as he called her, soon made us happy with the delights of a pail of water and towels, supplied us with a splendid supper of roast beef, good home made bread and tea a plenty. Next day Sam and I walked up McDonald’s Track, walking leisurely and stopping at a creek to boil our billy and take our dinner.”

From Land of the Lyrebird

Right: Public Records Office of Victoria

Illustration of horse cart among the trees

By Sea

Hugging the coast, in small vessels, the sea leg of a journey to South Gippsland was the easy part. Travelling by sea from Melbourne to the various South Gippsland Ports was an early way for settlers to enter the region. They then travelled from the port on tracks to the area to be settled.

Australian coastline

Above: Shutterstock Licensed

From Inverloch

“We left Port Melbourne early on the morning of February 3rd 1888 on the Ripple, our destination Inverloch. I travelled with my mother and two brothers. We had with us our utensils, furniture, linen and clothing. The vessel was small as we were only travelling along the coast. Our first port was San Remo where some goods were unloaded. Continuing on we sailed along the coastline. Soon we entered a sheltered inlet and then tied up at the Port of Inverloch. There we were met by my father who had a wagon ready near by. Our possessions were loaded onto the wagon and my father was ready to take us to our new home at Koonwarra. As it was quite late we camped around the wagon and left in the morning after a meal of bread and tea. It took us six hours to make the trip through first tea tree, then thicker forest on a rough dusty track. We were very tired by the time we arrived at the slab house my father had built. It was small and had few comforts.”

From Grantville on Western Port

“My father and I landed at Grantville in March 1875, coming from Melbourne to Hastings by coach, and then to Grantville in Jones’ fishing boat. After staying in Grantville for about a week, we went to the Bass River and pitched our tents and commenced stripping wattlebark and splitting staves for sale in Melbourne. We carted bark and staves to Grantville with a bullock team until the road was unfit to cart on, and then started to pack them using six horses, which I had to drive making two trips a day from the Bass to Grantville a distance of six miles. In about two years time, finding that the bark and staves were not paying and that the land on the Bass being thrown open for selection, we started to guide selectors to their respective holdings”

H Dowel in Land of the Lyrebird, p 125

Other settlers entered the region by sea at Port Albert and San Remo.

By Rail

Started in the early 1870s, some rail lines weren’t completed till almost 20 years later, with the Great Southern Line through South Gippsland a crowning achievement of the engineers’ craft. For early settlers, the partially completed rail lines were a small comfort.

In 1873 the Government approved the construction of a railway to Sale. The Sale section started first and the Sale-Morwell section was completed in 1877. Then the Oakleigh to Bunyip section was completed. Passengers took the coach to Oakleigh, then the train to Bunyip, coach to Morwell and finally train to Sale. Later the gaps were filled

Steam train over wooden rail bridge

and the connection made from Oakleigh to Spencer St. The Gippsland line was finally a reality by 1879. Spur lines were then constructed which greatly aided the early settlers. The line from Morwell to Boolarra and Mirboo North was completed in January 1886. The Great Southern Railway from Dandenong to Yarram opened in 1891 and the branch line from Nyora to Wonthaggi opened in 1911. There was also a line from Koo wee rup to Strzelecki and Korumburra to Outtrim.
Dodd and Lydiard’s Track from Morwell

“After suffering the heat and discomfort of Elmore and Echuca 1864 to 1878 and the deaths of four children, my wife and I decided to move to a cooler climate. In Christmas week 1877, I reached Moe and engaged Mr John Gallagher to show me the land. We reached the Tarwin River on January 1st 1878 and I pegged out 320 acres… When we came into Gippsland the railway was not completed to Melbourne. Staying at Morwell for one night at the Club Hotel, which was then only a bark and sapling dwelling, I left next morning for Mirboo North accompanied by my son, George Goldsmith and William Wright. We reached Mirboo North that night and stayed with Mr Gallagher, who had two large tents pitched in the scrub. We had partly walked and partly ridden the 20 miles. The horses being tied to musk trees, and with plenty of wire grass growing around they were able to get their fill. The journey was completed next day 10 miles further on to the Tarwin River. Thus we came to the wild bush of South Gippsland in the last week of the year 1878. My small son was the smallest specimen of the white human race to see the Tarwin River in those days.”
Mrs Dodd and family came in to live on the river in August 1879, bringing three boys and two girls. They came from Melbourne to Morwell by train and then by coach to Mirboo North. A coach was run at this time from Morwell to Matt Brennan’s at Mirboo North. This part of the long trip was all right, but from Brennan’s to the Tarwin was done on horseback. This proved a thrilling experience for one who had never been on horseback before, and to ride along a bridle track such as that required some nerve. William Smith took the two girls, one on each side of him, sitting as best they could on leg and knee, with a rope tied around the lot.
“I took the youngest boy, a nine month old little chap, in front of me, and at one awkward place the horse stumbled and fell. The boy disappeared in the ferns and scrub, but was soon recovered, none the worse for his fall. However the journey was completed and all reached their new home in good spirits. This was the first family to come onto the Tarwin River to live.”
Frank Dodd in Land of the Lyrebird, pp 130-133

From Drouin to Poowong and Jumbunna

“When about eight years old, I journeyed with my mother by train to Gippsland, leaving Melbourne in the morning of the last Saturday in September 1879. We reached Drouin at about 11 am and while we were enquiring about the mail coach to take us to Poowong, a mud bespattered wagonette drawn by two horses made its appearance which we were told was the coach and we climbed aboard. A cold, bleak wind was blowing with rain coming down in true Gippsland style. We got along fairly well for the first few miles then the road got rapidly worse and our troubles began. Progress became painfully slow and slower till we reached Clifton’s “Halfway House” as it was then called- drenched with rain and numb with cold. Mrs Clifton had a good meal ready and a roaring fire going which was a treat after the hardship of the coach journey, but all too soon the cry “all aboard’ was heard and we had to resume our journey. The state of the weather became worse, until quite a hurricane was raging and trees were being blown over in all directions. The road or track winding through the timber country was a quagmire of mud, in some places axel deep, and, to make matters worse, one of the horses knocked up. Darkness overtook us and our progress became very slow and several times interrupted by trees that had fallen across the track, the driver having to cut them off the track or cut a way round them. When the way was clear he would strike a match and my mother, who now had the reins, would drive towards the light. We thought we would never reach Poowong but at last we did and at half past nine arrived at the post office kept by Mrs Horsley, who received us kindly and soon had us seated by a good fire.”
The Mountain Forest of Gippsland, p 23 (originally from “Land of the Lyrebird”)

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