Numurkah, a rural township in north Victoria, is about mid-way between Shepparton and the Murray River. It is situated on Broken Creek, in the Murray Valley irrigation area.

The area was occupied by the Yota-Yota people prior to European settlement. Squatters moved into the area from NSW in the late 1830s. After the pastoral runs were made available for farm selection, the township of Numurkah was surveyed in 1875. The name is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning war shield, although a recent authority thinks that this is mistaken.

Six years after the Numurkah township was surveyed it was connected by railway to Shepparton. That same year the Chaffey Brothers were asked to look into the area’s prospects for irrigation development but they considered it unsuitable.

By then Numurkah had four hotels, a primary school (1879), a Bible Christian church (1879), a newsagent, the Numurkah Leader newspaper, a general store, a butcher and a baker. The coming of the railway, however, led to rapid growth during the 1880s, particularly while Numurkah was a terminus until 1888. Presbyterian, Catholic, Anglican and Wesleyan churches, a mechanics’ institute, numerous community and recreational societies and an agricultural implements factory were established. In 1903 The Australian Handbook described Numurkah –

There was also a cordial factory until 1902, when it moved to Bendigo and became Tarax Drinks.

Having grown from fewer than 100 people to over 1,000 during the 1880s, Numurkah remained at about 1,400 until the outbreak of the Second World War. The Numurkah district was just beyond the reach of inter-war irrigation schemes from the Goulburn Weir (1905) and the Hume/Yarrawonga Weirs (1936), although a small private irrigation scheme from the Broken Creek watered a five hectare orchard which was a local showpiece. Farmers relied on dry-farming techniques in a variable rainfall environment of between nine and thirty-eight inches a year.

In 1939 the Yarrawonga Main channel began carrying irrigation waters towards Numurkah, but work was delayed by the war until 1944. Resumption of irrigation works coincided with the settlement of demobilized soldiers in the Murray Valley irrigation area. In 1946 as land holdings were acquired for subdivision into orchards 16 ha. and dairy farms 49 ha., irrigation and drainage channels were built. By 1956 the works were ending at northern-most Ulupna at the Murray River. Some immigrants who laboured on the works settled on the new farms.

Numurkah is a service township for a rural community. Its secondary and tertiary industries are mostly limited to the town’s service function. There are a high school (1951) and State and Catholic primary schools, three hotels, three motels, five churches, a saleyards and a showground. Local sports and recreation are provided for by a golf course, two ovals, a rifle range, a bowling green, tennis courts, a swimming pool and a caravan park. There are a hospital and elderly persons’ facilities. In 1962 the annual Numurkah Rose Festival began and there is a rose garden where the main street crosses Broken Creek. A museum houses the local historical society and the courthouse (1889) is a registered historic building. Court operations ceased in 1986 and the building became a community learning centre.

The Numurkah hinterland was placed under local government in 1871 as part of the Echuca shire. It was later part of Shepparton shire, which was severed from Echuca shire in 1879. Numurkah shire was formed in April, 1884, but oddly called Shepparton until named Numurkah on 11 September, 1885. The shire also contained Nathalia and the two towns had periods of an uneasy relationship until separation into two shires occurred on 31 May, 1957. Numurkah shire’s area was reduced by about 63% to 820 sq. km. The shire contained the towns of Katunga, Strathmerton and Wunghu and the localities of Baulkanaugh, Dranmure and Ulupna on the Murray River.

In 1994 Numurkah shire had 613 sq. km., or 75% of its area, as farmland. There were 52,800 dairy cattle, 11,300 meat cattle and 35,000 head of sheep and lambs.

The shire has sufficient retail floor space for its local needs. In 1985 there were 8,100 sq. metres, much larger than Tungamah (700 sq. m.), but less than Shepparton city (100,000 sq. m.).

On 18 November, 1994, Numurkah, Nathalia and most of Yarrawonga and Tungamah shires were united to form Moira shire.

In 1987 the median house price in Numurkah was $55,000 and in 1995 it was $78,550.

Numurkah’s census populations have been 96 (1881), 1,011 (1891), 1,519 (1947), 2,658 (1976) and 3,128 (1991). The shire’s census populations were 6,111 (1961), 5,507 (1976) and 6,813 (1991).

Further Reading:

  • Bossence, W.H., “Numurkah”, Hawthorn Press, 1979.
  • Morieson, Hilda, “Shaping a Shire: The Story of Numurkah”, Apex Back To Numurkah Committee, 1970.

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