About Numurkah & District

# Brief History of the District (Click on arrow near heading below, for more information)

# Brief Early History of Numurkah Township (Click on arrow near heading below, for more information)

Brief History of the District


People from the Yorta Yorta and Bangerang nations, occupied the wedge of land between the Goulburn and Murray Rivers. They had an abundant source of food and water, making them less nomadic. There was plenty of native flora and fauna to nourish them. Indigenous people have occupied this part of Australia for around 40,000 years. We acknowledge them as the traditional custodians of this land.


By the early 1840’s squatters had claimed most of the land in the district. Squatters moved south into the Goulburn Valley area from NSW or north from the Port Phillip District (centred around Melbourne). The claimed land in our area, like many other areas, became substantial "runs". These huge runs, about 100,000 hectares in size, mainly ran sheep and some cattle. The squatter paid an annual fee per head as rent. Some of the runs included the:

  • Cobram Run, Moira Run, Strathmerton East Run, Stratmerton West (Ulupna) Run, Kaarimba Run, Tallygaroopna Run (see illustration below)


The Land Act of 1869 heralded one of the most remarkable transformations seen in Victoria following the Gold Rush. In the decade following the passage of this act huge areas of virtually untouched bushland and plains, once held by squatters, became flourishing acres to be selected. Almost any male over 18 and any single woman over 18 could apply for a licence. During the selection period, the Numurkah district became renowned for its quality wheat. (see illustration below)

After the pastoral runs were made available for farm selection, the townships of Numurkah and Wunghnu were gazetted by the Victorian Government. Numurkah being on the banks of the Baala (Broken) Creek and Wunghnu being on the Nine Mile Creek. Surveying of the towns, and mapping out the blocks of land within the town, was conducted by Alfred Leahy.

The name Numurkah is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning war shield, although a recent authority thinks that this is mistaken. There was a report in an early newspaper that a local Aboriginal elder translated Numurkah as "little plains".

The name Wunghnu is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning boomerang, named after the fact that the creek partly enclosed this settlement in a boomerang-shaped bend.

Numurkah township particularly flourished when the Goulburn Valley railway line was extended to the town in 1881 and was the terminus for this line for the following seven years. As the rail lines were expanded, over the next decade, smaller villages along the lines developed eg Waaia, Katunga, Strathmerton.


As well as providing War pensions and other financial assistance, State Governments of the time set up ‘settlement’ schemes to support returning soldiers with work. These schemes involved subdividing large rural estates into smaller farming blocks and leasing them back to discharged service-people. Victoria’s scheme was created under the Discharged Soldier Settlement Act 1917. This scheme was only partially successful in the Numurkah area.


Prior to WWII the Victorian Government had commenced the development of the Murray Valley Irrigation District. Following WWII, the Victorian Government decided to develop some of this area as a soldier settlement scheme. Consequently, there were many farmers displaced from the land they had selected 60 to 70 years earlier. There was some dissension among these pioneering families, despite them being left with a smaller but importantly, irrigated farm.

Soldier Settlement farms were first advertised in August 1947. Thousands of returned servicemen applied for the farms. There was intensive screening resulting in the blocks going mainly to those with agricultural experience, who had the best chance of success. Settlers were also offered a course at Dookie Agricultural College, if they lacked the necessary farming skills. Approved settlers were given 12 to 15 blocks to choose from, and were asked to rank their choice of block from 1 to 10.

The peak of this intensive irrigation farming came in the 1960's and early 1970's, with many dairy farms and orchards benefiting from the regular supply of water. (see illustration below)


With the coming of economic pressures, water allocation changes, etc, recent farming practices have changed again. To maintain profitability, dairy herds have had to increase, so neighbouring farms have often been bought out and combined back into larger properties. In some cases, farms have reverted back to "dry" farming because of the changes to water allocations and pricing. Many farming services and industries have been "regionalised" so instead of local towns providing all of a farm's needs (including local milk factories), they have centred on the larger towns and regional cities. Despite these changes, Numurkah and District still remains a strong community, with long-standing farming links.

1861 - District Squatter Runs

1890's - Selections in the Kaarimba-Mundoona area

1960's - Soldier Settlement Irrigation Blocks: Baulkamaugh area


Brief Early History of Numurkah Township

  • Numurkah township (and Wunghnu township) were both proclaimed on 8th February, 1875

  • There were several founders of Numurkah during the early years of the settlement:

        • John Walters who lived in a shepherd's hut near the Baala Creek (now called Broken Creek). The hut was part of the Bajanna (Strathmerton East) Squatter Run

        • Peter McCaskill, who settled in what is now the commercial heart of the town, established a store-hotel-post office

        • Alfred Leahy surveyed the town and brought several blocks of land in subsequent years (but didn't actually live in the town)

        • Messrs Saxton, Meiklejohn, Gray, Brenion , Quinn, Knox all selected land surrounding the surveyed township. Many of these original settlers and townsfolk such as Messrs McCaskill, Dolphin, Stewart, Swallow have streets named after their families

  • Ironically, the main street of Numurkah was named after a person (Melville) who was charged with being a "dummy" for squatters wanting to retain some of their land. Eventually his land, south of the Broken Creek, was held in reserve for watering purposes and over the years much of this has remained as public land (recreation reserve, parks and gardens)

  • Even though the town was proclaimed in 1875 and there were a number of people settling in the town area, sale of town blocks didn't occur until 1878.

  • Peter McCaskill bought the block of land that he was already using for his hotel, as well as several other blocks

  • Joseph Crow bought a block of land and established the first newsagency

  • Basic businesses began: bakers, butchers, general stores, blacksmiths, hotels (our Museum has files and photos of many of the early businesses)

  • Once the Railway came through in 1881, the town developed very quickly with businesses spreading out from the railway station along Knox St, Meiklejohn St and into Melville St. Community organisations and services also developed quickly: medical services, legal services, fire brigade, education, churches, Mechanics Institute & Library, sporting clubs.

  • Originally (1871) the Numurkah area was in the Shire of Echuca. When this large shire was divided into two in 1879, the Shire of Shepparton was formed in the east (with some of the council business being conducted in Numurkah). The northern part of the Shepparton Shire became the Shire of Numurkah in 1884. In 1957, the Shire of Numurkah was divided into two, creating the Shire of Nathalia in the western part of the original shire. As part of the statewide amalgamation of shires in 1994, Numurkah Shire was merged with Nathalia, Cobram , Tungamah and Yarrawonga to create the Shire of Moira.

  • Interestingly the corporate seal of the Numurkah Shire (see below), displays the date of incorporation as 1879, not 1884.

Early Streetscape: Looking west, along Knox St, towards the Railway Station. Photo taken from the Water Tower, late 1880's
Early Streetscape: Looking north, along Melville St, towards the Post Office. Photo taken from the Bank of Victoria, early 1910's
Early Streetscape: Looking south, along Melville St, towards the Bank of Victoria. Photo taken from the Farmers Arms Hotel, 1920's
Early Streetscape: Looking south, along Melville St, towards the State Savings Bank. Photo taken from the Shamrock Hotel, 1920's