General History of the Heathcote Region

The Heathcote district's first inhabitants were from the Nerboolok or Nari Baluk tribe in the South and East.  The Pipandoor tribe covered the area in the North.  In their tribal groups they ranged over the whole region.  There are many references in the histories of the area which indicate that from first contact with white explorers and settlers, relations deteriorated into shameful conflict.

Major Mitchell image

Major Thomas Mitchell passed through the area in 1836 on his return journey from Portland to Sydney.  The wheel marks left in the wet ground by the large expedition's bullock wagons came to be known as the Major's line by the 'overlanders who followed in his footsteps in the late 1830's.  The Major Mitchell Track today crosses from Redesdale in the west to Graytown in the East.  The first 'overlanders' from Sydney started to move flocks of sheep South in the 1830's and the whole region was settled by the 1840's, by men who controlled very large pastoral runs.  The runs covered vast areas that stretched in the north of the region from the Campaspe to the Mt Camel Range (Barnadown Run) and from Spring Plains, Redesdale and Mia Mia to Tooborac.

Gold mining image

Wolfscrag, later to become Wild Duck Creek Station, was acquired by E. M Curr's father in 1841. Curr himself a few years later took up large tracts of land at Colbinabbin and ran the properties jointly for some years before selling Wolfscrag and moving to Colbinabbin. Thus from earliest times the inhabitants moved around and interacted within this area with Heathcote becoming its commercial and administrative centre.

Heathcote's population ballooned to 20,000 during the gold rushes of the 1850's and became the major centre of the area which it continues to be today for the whole of the region.  It became the major staging post for the goldfields in the area.  Graytown in the east at the height of the rush had a population exceeding 20,000 for the few years that gold held out.  There has recently been in the Costerfield area a revival of the gold industry because of the viability of new extraction methods.

The major agricultural activities since gold rush days have been in grazing sector; cattle, sheep and wool; horticulture and crops such as wheat, barley tomatoes etc. in the northern part of the area.  The forests of the region have supported a commercially sustainable and viable forestry and wood industry from the middle of the last century right up to the present, providing many people in the district with employment.

Heathcote Township image

Today the district has seen a new and vibrant variety of agricultural activity. The grape growing and winemaking industry has become a major activity that has boosted employment and enlivened the tourist industry.  The Heathcote Wine and Food Festival, the wineries, the local restaurants, and a proliferation of accommodation places are all playing a part in encouraging and promoting the region.

Heathcote as the centre of the shire of Mclvor drew on a large area that stretched from Pyalong in the south, Mia Mia in the West, the Campaspe plains and the Mt Camel Range in the north to Graytown in the East.  Heathcote remains the only town of considerable size in the region.

Heathcote was originally proclaimed a District on 26th June 1863 and later proclaimed the Shire of Mclvor on the 23rd December 1864.  The northern end of the district was partly in the Waranga Shire which gained Shire status in 1865.  The amalgamation of shires in 1995 changed all the borders in the area.  Rather than wanting to join The City of Greater Bendigo and the Shires of Campaspe, Strathbogie and Mitchell, many people in the Shires of Waranga and Mclvor wished to be part of a separate entity because of their perceived social, economic and historical ties.  For many their wishes were defeated at a public meeting in Heathcote in early 1995. The Shires of Waranga and Mclvor were split up.  Nevertheless, Heathcote is still seen as the centre of the district by the people of the region.

Heathcote Hills image

Heathcote, at the foot of Mt Ida, is situated amidst attractive bushland beside McIvor Creek, 109 km north of Melbourne via the Northern Highway, 47 km south-east of Bendigo and 220 m above sea-level. Its population is about 2000. The principal products of the district are wool, timber, cattle, honey and wine.

Heathcote is clustered around High St (the Northern Highway) which presents an interesting and diverse streetscape of old shopfronts, hotels, churches, some distinguished homes and the post office. The trees which line the main street and the plantation at Queens Meadow were planted in the 19th century on the advice of Baron von Mueller who made a significant contribution to Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens.

A number of prehistoric quarry sites have been found at Mt Camel Range, to the north of Heathcote, providing evidence of ancient Aboriginal associations with the land. It is thought that the Wuywurrung Aborigines inhabited the district prior to white settlement.

The first Europeans in the area were the exploratory party of Major Mitchell who passed through in 1836. Mitchell named McIvor Creek after a member of his party and this title was later applied to the shire.

Pastoralists soon moved into the area and a track (with a couple of roadside inns) developed through what would later become the town site, along which produce was carted to and from the northern sheep stations.

However, the town itself developed on the back of a series of gold rushes along McIvor Creek which commenced in 1851. One of the major strikes (1852) was at Golden Gully (behind Heathcote's old courthouse). By 1855 the alluvial gold was running out and reef mining had commenced. Consequently, the population dropped to about 6000 by 1860 as ex-miners took up land or began timber-getting in the forests - an industry much aided by the arrival off the railway later in the century.

The town was apparently named by Lord Heathcote; not in honour of himself but because of the quantities of heath growing in the district - if that is plausible.

At the peak of the gold rushes there were allegedly 35 000 people, largely housed in tents and shanties on the fields. 3000 Chinese walked to the diggings from Robe in South Australia where they had disembarked to avoid paying a tax levied upon Chinese disembarking at Victoria. There were also three breweries, 22 hotels, two flour mills, reflecting the emergence of wheat-cultivation in the district, a bacon factory, a hospital and several wineries.

Although the population remained steady until the 1880s it was down to 1090 by 1891 as gold reserves dwindled. Other local mining communities were Balmoral (later known as 'Redcastle') which once had 17 000 people but ceased to exist when mining ended around 1910. Costerfield, 12 km north-east, once employed 700 men but closed down in 1925. At one time it produced 92 per cent of the state's antimony. Greytown, 30 km north-east, allegedly had 60 000 on its fields but was short-lived.

In 1910 the Duigan brothers made Australian aviation history when they built and flew the first Australian-made aircraft at Mia Mia, 18 km south-west of town. However, the achievement must be kept in perspective. The contraption lifted off the ground for a total of seven metres.

Tourist Information Centre

Tourist information Centre image

The town's information centre is located at the corner of High and Barrack Sts. It is open from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily, Ph: (03) 5433 3121.