Buchan is located twenty-six kilometres north of Nowa Nowa on the Princes Highway and 330 kilometres east of Melbourne. The township lies in the valley of the Buchan River hedged by rounded limestone hills.
Pastoralists first entered the area in the late 1830s. Buchan station, taken up in the 1840s, had a succession of owners. To the north were the Galantipy and Black Mountain runs. The name Buchan is thought to be taken from an Aboriginal word Bukkan-mungie to which various meanings have been ascribed. One interpretation is place of grass bag. There were small groups of Aboriginals in the area but their numbers declined rapidly after European settlement. In 1861, Rev. John Bulmer inspected land south of Buchan as a possible site for a mission station. When he moved to Lake Tyers, the remaining Aboriginals accompanied him there. At Cloggs Cave near Buchan, evidence has been found of Aboriginal occupation in prehistoric times.
Land settlement began in 1870, with the best land along the river quickly taken up. A township was proclaimed in 1873, taking its name from the station. The Victorian Municipal Directory described the district in 1888.
BUCHAN.- A mining and postal village with telegraph station, 230 miles E. of Melbourne, situated on the Buchan river. The district is suitable for grazing and mining; it is famous for its scenery and extensive caves. Population, 85.
There was some interest in mining from the earliest days. Over the years, many companies were formed, mainly to mine silver, lead and gold. A few larger mines were profitable but most were shortlived. Marble had been quarried in the 1860s to build the Murrindale Park homestead. Commercial quarries operated from the early 1900s. Black marble from Buchan has been used at the Shrine and State Library in Melbourne as well as buildings in London, elsewhere in Victoria and other states. From the 1950s a quarry also produced crushed lime for agriculture, paper manufacture and other uses.
The existence of the limestone caves was well known. In the 1880s the journalist ‘Tanjil’ described them in his Guide to the Gippsland Lakes and Rivers. But it was not until 1889 that they were surveyed. Development was recommended but it was 1900 before a local man, Frank Moon, was appointed as caretaker of the caves reserve. Moon explored most of the caves in the district, discovering the Fairy Cave in 1907. this dry cave with fine formations was opened for public inspection the following year. Royal Cave was opened in 1912 and by 1917 there were six caves open. Buchan became popular with tourists, who generally stayed several nights at one of the local guesthouses or hotels. In the 1920s, camping facilities were developed near the caves and regular bus tours began to visit.
On the river flats, crops such as wheat, oats and barley were being grown, as well as some hops, maize, arrowroot and beans. Some dairying was carried on, at first for local consumptionm. Around the turn of the century, several cheese factories were established on larger farms and a butter factory operated for some years. In the 1970s milk was sent by tanker to Maffra. Sheep and cattle grazing increased as settlement spread. Cattle sales began in Buchan about 1901. Closer settlement of the farming land meant more demand for services, so that by 1938 the Victorian Municipal Directory described a settled township.
BUCHAN – Township on Buchan river with post, telegraph and money-order office. State school, police station, mechanics’ institute, hotel, boarding-houses, branch of bank, store and butter factory. Remarkable caves in district, notably – The Fairy, Kitson, Spring creek, Moon (with an ice-cold lake containing small blind fish), King’s Slocomb’s, Wilson’s and others. Lead mines on Back creek and Murrindal river. River flats cultivated. Rail to Nowa Nowa; motor at 5.35 p.m., 20 miles; fare, 12s. 6d. Population, 100. SOUTH – Motor, 16 miles from Nowa Nowa; fare, 10s 6d.
Wattle bark stripping was an important industry and small spot mills worked in the surrounding forest. Since the Second World War, two large sawmills have operated at Buchan, providing secure employment.
The caves were closed during the war years, reopening in 1946. In 1984 the Shades of Death Cave at nearby Murrindal was opened for public inspection and adventure cavers explore many of the wild caves in the area. Today over 100,000 people visit the caves annually. The spectacular scenery of the nearby Snowy River, whitewater rafting and trail riding also bring tourists to the area. Also there are three alternative lifestyle communities north of buchan. The Victorian Municipal Directory describes Buchan in 1994.
BUCHAN – Township of Buchan, with post, telegraph and money order office, State school, police station, mechanics’ institute, hotel, motel, store, three churches, kindergarten and infant welfare centre. Remarkable caves in district, notably the Fairy and the Royal. Lead mines on Bach Creek and Murrindal River. River flats cultivated. Population -250. 26 km from Nowa Nowa. 330 km from Melbourne. Postcode 3885.
Sawmilling, tourism and farming have supported a steady increase in population. Services have improved and social and sporting organisations flourished. Buchan’s dependence on the timber industry is reflected by the importance of its annual axemen’s carnival. Another popular event is the picnic race meeting at Canni Creek, south of Buchan where a racecourse has been carved out of the forest.
(Centre for Gippsland Studies, Monash University, Gippsland)
- Adams, J., “The Tambo Shire centenary history”. 1981.
- “Buchan School no. 1905”: a brief history of Buchan district and schools prepared for the Buchan School Centenary. 1977.
- Buchan Sesquicentenary Committee, “Bukan-Mungie: 150 years of settlement in the Buchan district – 1839-1989”. 1989.