Branxholme : A Brief History

South-West Victoria, Australia

Branxholme is located in the Western Districts of Victoria. It is situated on a permanent spring feed creek called the Arrandoovong.

Major Mitchell was the first white man to visit the future site of Branxholme. On the 7th of September 1836 he crossed a streamlet called the Ar-ren-doo-vong. While waiting for his heavy wagons to catch up - Major Mitchell made a quick side detour to Mount Napier (an extinct volcanic cone) to reconnoitre the land ahead. His team then crossed after him by cutting into the streamlet bank and using a corduroy bridge of tree trunks. This crossing remain visible for many a long year. Major Mitchell team camped at night amongst the trees on the hill at the future Branxholme Pound paddock site and awaited his return.

At that time the Arrandoovong Valley (being a flood plain) was the ‘headwaters’ of the great Condah swamp with thousands and thousands of water birds – ducks, geese, brolgas, ibis, water hens, etc. By the very early 1840’s the population in the area would have numbered a few white people and local Gunditjmara people – all within a few kilometres.

On the 8th March 1843 Mr. Abraham Ward made an application for a licence to open a public house at Ar-ren-doo-vong. On 1st July 1843 he opened the “Traveller’s Rest” for business. This became the first known building in Branxholme. The first major confrontation between Gunditjmara and white people erupted soon after on the 8th August 1843 with the kidnapping of Martha, his two year old daughter. Her remains were found by police Captain Dana and ‘decently interred’. It was established that she had been killed by the Gunditjmara. Mr. Christopher Bassett from nearby Crawford Squatter Run was also killed in August 1843 - when he confronted a group of Gunditjmara killing his sheep. A contingent of native police lead by Captain Dana came across the incident while looking for Martha Ward. Reprisals were swift with a small contingent of Police killing or wounding a large score of Gunditjmara people. Part of the old Crawford Squatter Run now comprises Basset Pastoral Station. ‘Bassett’ is located along the west boundary of the Branxholme Township. Refer to the attached Addendum of the ‘Early Squatter’s and their Runs of the Branxholme District’. Mr Ward sold his license and left the district.

In 1844 Thomas Best took over the license of ‘Traveller’s Rest’. This establishment located on the Arrondovong Creek catered for all the customers travelling between Portland and Hamilton. Branxholme was then known as ‘Tommy Best Ford’. In 1848 Dr. J. Kent took over the license of the hotel, the locality now was more or less known as ‘Kent’s Inn’. Thomas Best built a new Hotel on the corner of Creek and Cox Streets in 1860 called ‘The Branxholme’ This ‘Inn’ became a horse change over and resting point for Cobb & Co. coaches in the same year.

The last original Gunditjmara to live in Branxholme was an old man called Tommy White. He was a tall fellow with a white beard, spoke excellent English and was held in high regard. Tommy White lived all his later life in a hut made of tree boughs reputedly with a pet venomous snake (possibly a docile red back black snake). This hut was located on the Town Commons. Tommy passed away peacefully in 1893 - in his hut - his pet snake resting on his chest.

The rich alluvial flood plains beside the Township were quickly utilized for garden produce. By the 1850’s the gold rush quickly dominated the economy of the Western District. Suddenly the rich gold producing areas of Ballarat, Ararat and Stawell were not that far away. Hungry miner’s needed tucker and Branxholme become ideally placed to procure supplies of meat and more garden produce. Drays and wagons carrying produce fanned out from Branxholme to all the diggings. One old wagon still held by the Atkinson family was reputed to have been upturned and used as part of the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat.

It was even said that people from as far away as South Australia sourced their garden produce from Branxholme. An old newspaper article from the time called Branxholme the ‘garden for the richer Adelaide people’.

There were quick profits to be made. The entrepreneurial Thomas Best - from the Traveller’s Rest Inn and later Branxholme Inn – ‘making a packet’ he brought and took over the Arrandoovong Squatter Run.

For many years there was a market garden situated on the corner of the Arrandoovong Creek and the other side was over the bridge and along the Branxholme - Byaduk Road. At one time there were about three Chinese gardeners working these fields. The last, Mr Sing left in 1902. The paddock is fed by a gravity spring located higher up and still shows traces of the original irrigation ditches. It was owned by Mr Joe Atkinson and is still referred to as the ‘Chinaman’s’.

In 1853 Branxholme was surveyed by the Government Surveyor Lindsay Clarke. He officially named the township Branxholme after a place of the same name in Southern Scotland. A cemetery of ten acres was surveyed four kilometres to the North of the township. The first retail shop was established by Jabez Best in 1856.

Most residents of the town were located along Creek Road and some others on the east side of the Arrandoovong Creek. In 1856 a Common School (Church of England denomination) was established. The children were initially described as ignorant, as most were brought up in the bush and knew little of numbers, religion and the value of coins and money. This school operated until 1877. On May 1877 the building of Branxholme State School (No. 1978) was started. The brick building has been the main part of the school ever since.

The first storekeeper in Branxholme was Jabez Best; he built his store on land he purchased in 1856. Jabez Best sold his store to Thomas Smith in 1862.

Another early storekeeper was a fine old English gentleman called William Howarth; in 1858 he purchased land in Branxholme and opened a shop called “New Store’. He also became the leading magistrate in Branxholme, being a Justice of the Peace for 42 years.

J.R. Price started a bakery in 1898, this bakery stayed in the family and traded up until about 1968. He started a long family history of ‘Price bakeries’ and storekeepers in Branxholme that has continued up until the late 1990’s. There was a Butchers Shop, a Saddlers Shop, a Boot and Shoe Emporium (at one stage three Boot Shops in town) as well as three Blacksmiths vying for customers.

In 1862 John Sewell set up as a carpenter in Branxholme. He was quickly followed by the carpenters - J. Koster & James Coutts, Bill Wilson and some of his sons. Bill Wilson’s sons, John and Russell later returned to Branxholme in 1957.

Wiltshire Bros. operated a Brick Kiln down at the bridge that crossed over the Arrandoovong Creek. John Duncan was a Blacksmith in Hamilton. He moved to Branxholme in 1868. His Blacksmith Shop was located on the west side of Creek Road (Portland to Hamilton Road) just north of the Brown Street corner - this land is now owned by Darryl McPherson. John Duncan died in 1895 aged 58 years. His son Bill Duncan took over and later moved his shop up closer to the Railway Station.

Isaac Koster & Sons started up as Stonemasons in the 1870’s. Koster Bros. were also the resident Undertakers in Branxholme.

The railway also came to town in the 1877. Unfortunately it was more cost efficient and expedient to lay the railway along the ridge between Hamilton and Branxholme, this determined that the rail line passed on the West side of the Arrandoovong Creek. A lot of the commercial, retail and most residential properties however were located on Creek Road or to the East side of the Arrandoovong Creek. Most now relocated up the hill to the West side to be nearer to the new Railway Station.

A new State School was built on the west side in 1877, streetscape trees planted and a variety of new shops built. The first Post Office was built at the corner of Cox and Best Streets. Across from the Railway Station the Kookaburra Café was built - on the corner of Brown and McKellar Street. Passengers would refresh there as they waited for Casterton branch line train to arrive. The Branxholme – Casterton railway spur line was opened for business in February 1884.

The Junction Hotel - owned by William & Agnes Gough - was picked up and moved to the corner of Brown & McNicol Streets - nearer to the Railway Station. This is the original and only Hotel left in Branxholme. William was the eldest son of the William Gough Senior. William Senior leased the first Hotel – the ‘Travellers Rest’ from Thomas Best in 1853 – 56. The Gough family became a tradition of Hotel licenses and owner’s which finished with Marion Gough who passed away at the age of 100 years in 2007.

Interestingly, Thomas Best also left his mark in Branxholme. He owned, leased and built Hotels and businesses. Thomas built a home to the north of town which he called ‘The Folly’. At one time he owned the pastoral Station ‘Arrandoovong’. Well before he passed away he designed and commissioned a large and very elaborate coffin, a well known song and comedy sketch routine developed around the district on this unusual theme. His daughter – Mary Ann Best had her own shop. She was born in 1845 and was most probably the first person born in Branxholme. Plans were commenced in 1884 for the building of the Mechanics Hall. By the 1880’s Branxholme had five different denominational Churches, three Banks (State Savings, Colonial and Commonwealth), three Hotels, three Doctors, a Police Station, a Post Office, a Bakery, a Boarding House and various shops.

As the town population grew, social pastimes started to become prevalent, leading too - a Tennis Club, Brass Band, Floral Society, Horse Racing Club with Track, Rifle Club, Cricket Club and Football Club.

The Branxholme Show was held from this era annually on the Branxholme Recreational Reserve. This continued right up until the 1970’s.

There was also a Stock and Station Agent in Lynch Street. He supplied Superphosphate, farm machinery, etc. During the 1880’s and 1890’s a number of epidemics ravaged the District. Diseases such as scarlet fever, typhoid fever, measles, diphtheria, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis - a lot becoming fatal.

This lead in 1904 to a sanitation pan service being introduced in Branxholme.

By 1913 Branxholme had a population of 350. Matt Atkinson was the Ranger and Pound Keeper for the East Shire of Portland during this period. Matt was the father of local identity Joe Atkinson – an excerpt of Joe’s recollections is addenda to this précis.

In 1914 there were six Kerosene (or Gas?) street lights in the town. Possibly one or two remnants of these may still be found to this day?

The mechanical age finally arrived on 1928. In that year Horac Day built a Petrol Retail and motor car Service Station on the corner of Creek Road and Lynch Street.

In 1929 a weir type swimming pool was built on the Arrandoovong Creek.

REFERENCES:

This information has been sourced in no particular order from:

Branxholme 1843-1973 - By Mrs Agnes V. Walter

Verbal recollection from varies Branxholme locals - Gathered by Mrs Jessie McPherson (nee Atkinson).

Hamilton, a Western District History – By Don Garden.

Article supplied by Alan Atkinson