Halls Gap is located on the floor of the picturesque Fyans Valley, 250 metres above sea-level. By road it is 251 km north-west of Melbourne via Ararat.
It is essentially a tourist village at the eastern edge of Grampians National Park – one of the state’s most outstanding natural features and a major destination for holidaymakers and bushwalkers. The main approaches are from the south (throught the heart of the Grampians from Dunkeld on the Glenelg Highway), from the south-east (i.e., Ararat), from the east (via Stawell) and from the north (access is along a clearly signposted road which heads west off the Western Highway south of Horsham).
Aborigines have been living on the land hereabouts for at least 5000 years. The first Europeans to traverse the area were the exploratory party of Thomas Mitchell. They camped atop the highest peak in 1836 and Mitchell named it Mt William after William IV, then King of England. He named the range after the Grampians in his native Scotland.
Edward Eyre and Robert Briggs followed in Mitchell’s footsteps in the late 1830s but the first settler was Charles Browning Hall who set out in search of a suitable grazing run when he found the cattle market at Port Phillip Bay overstocked in 1841. He followed Mitchell’s route northwards, establishing a station just east of the Grampians in a spot known as ‘Mokepilli’ to the indigenous inhabitants (probably the Tjapwurong tribe) with whom he shared cordial relations. They acted as his stockmen and showed him their bush skills.
By following Aboriginal tracks he came upon the gap which now bears his name and there met members of either the Jardwa or Buandik tribe. Both occupied the Grampians (which they knew as ‘Cowa’), using the rock shelters for sacred ceremonies and as a canvas for paintings and etchings.
Hall also explored Roses Gap which is named after Philip Rose who took over the run in 1842. The Halls Gap area was later used by cattle duffers until being converted into a sheep run.
People began to frequent the area more regularly in the 1860s with the discovery of gold at Stawell, the commencement of saw-milling and the opening of the Heatherlie Quarry. A timber and bark hut known as Delley’s Inn was established in 1870.
In the 1870s the growing population at Stawell led to the demand for a reliable water supply. John D’Alton devised a system to bring water from the Grampians via a tunnel hewn through the Mt Williams range. The project (completed in 1881) bought workers into the area and a small township developed at Borough Huts. Halls Gap’s first store was built nearby in 1876. Holiday homes and a mill were also built, along with the workers’ cottages and a school operated in the 1890s.
A tramline to Stawell was established in 1881-82 to aid shipment of the Grampians sandstone which was used in Stawell for the courthouse and St Patrick’s Church and, in Melbourne, for the new Government House, the Melbourne Town Hall, the law courts, the public library, the museum and a number of banks and churches. The opening of the tramline also enabled the transportation of timber and of passengers who began to frequent the Grampians for recreational purposes. In 1890 the growing tourist trade was recognised and encouraged when the first facilities were provided for a recreational camping reserve. The Grampians were declared a reserved forest in 1907.
In 1887 alluvial gold was found in Stony Creek. Despite the appearance of 300 prospectors, little gold was uncovered. Somewhat more substantial was the Mafeking goldrush which took place at Mt William between 1900 and 1912. At the foot of the mountain, businesses, hotels and tents quickly appeared although returns proved disappointing. Today there is a memorial stone, a picnic area and some abandoned mineshafts.
In 1923 naturalist and beekeeper Walter Zumstein opened a tourist park. That same year, Mt Victory Rd from Halls Gap to Zumstein’s was opened and the road south to Dunkeld was commenced.
School lessons commenced in 1921 at Halls Gap Public Hall (built in 1899) and a school building was erected in 1928. In the ensuing years tourism has gradually increased, particularly with the development of the highways. Today Halls Gap consists largely of accommodation possibilities, a pub, restaurants, cafes, a supermarket and a number of stores. There are caravan parks at Halls Gap, Wartook and Dunkeld. Jazz is regularly played at the Mountain Grand Guest House on the Main Rd.