Nathalia is a rural township on the Broken Creek, about 30 km. east of where the creek joins the Murray River in northern Victoria. It is 40 km. north-west of Shepparton.

The origin of the name is unclear. In the mid 1870s news was reportedly received from a passer-by in the Nathalia district that a titled European lady had given birth to a daughter named Nathalia. The story was probably inaccurate. The Queen of Serbia, formerly Natalya Keshko (and alternatively spelt Natalie and Nathalia), was married in 1875 and gave birth to a son in 1876. No better explanation has emerged as to the source of the name Nathalia.

The Nathalia township was surveyed in 1879, a period when pastoral runs in north Victoria were being subdivided for farm selections. Additional surveys in 1886 and 1889 enlarged the township site.

Before the name Nathalia gained the formality of gazettal in 1880, the name Barwo was more widely used. The Barwo school (1877) became the Nathalia school in 1882. The town also gained a hotel in 1880, a newspaper in 1884, a flour mill in 1885 and a mechanics’ institute in 1887. In 1889 the Victorian Municipal Directory described Nathalia as a rising township with two bank branches, a school, a mechanics’ institute, a large private hall, three churches, flour mills, two cordial factories, a printing office, four hotels, a number of shops and a railway line from Numurkah (1888).

The Nathalia and Lower Moira Agricultural Pastoral and Horticultural Association held its first agricultural show in 1888, after a prolonged drought in the district. In better years the flat ground near watercourses held enough moisture for orcharding and dairying. A butter factory was opened in 1892. Stock were grazed on the Barmah Common during years of poor rainfall. In 1903 The Australian Handbook described Nathalia –

In 1914 an Irrigation League was formed, inspired by a recent drought and the benefits on the other side of the Goulburn River with the Western Channel from the Goulburn Weir. Unfortunately the waters would not stretch to Nathalia, even when the Sugarloaf (Eildon) and the Yarrawonga Weirs were completed in the 1930s. Farmers continued with adverse dry seasons and occasional years when floods inundated paddocks and threatened the township. Wheat was the mainstay, silos replacing the grainstore at the Nathalia railhead in 1942.

In 1945 the State Government began the acquisition of dry-farm properties in anticipation of settling returned servicemen on irrigated orchards and dairy farms. By 1951 a work camp was in the Nathalia district to construct irrigation and drainage channels. Nathalia-and-district’s population increased by 70% between the 1947 and 1961 censuses. Housing Commission houses and an extension to the shopping area were completed during the 1950s and a hospital was opened in 1955. On 26 April, 1957, the municipality which was named Nathalia shire (30 May, 1957), was severed from Numurkah shire, after a period of acrimony between the two towns.

Since 1919 the Nathalia school had been a Higher Elementary one, taking local children and boarders to Leaving standard. In 1959 a separate high school was opened. In 1961 a Catholic school was opened, extending to secondary education in 1974. The mechanics’ institute building, after periods of neglect, was acquired by the Nathalia historical society in 1972. Registered historic buildings in the township comprise the post office (1887) and Butler’s Store (1888), a good example of a large general store.

Nathalia township is situated on a horseshoe bend of Broken Creek from where flooding is held back by a levee bank. Behind the bank is a large reserve with ovals, tennis courts and a swimming pool. There are a caravan park, three hotels and a golf course. The former butter factory is a milk receiving depot for the Murray Valley factory in Cobram. The hospital, schools and four churches serve a town of about 1,500 people. The railway line from Numurkah closed in 1987.

Nathalia shire was amalgamated with Cobram and Numurkah shires and most of Tungamah and Yarrawonga shires to form Moira shire on 18 November, 1994. Nathalia shire had an area of 1,239 square kilometres, including Barmah and the Barmah State Forest along the Murray River, Picola and Waaia. In 1994 739 square kilometres of the shire was farmed, carrying 17,700 meat cattle, 26,500 dairy cattle and 64,000 sheep and lambs. Wheat and cereals were also grown.

The median house price in Nathalia in 1987 was $49,500 and in 1996 it was $93,000.

Nathalia’s census populations have been 689 (1891), 954 (1947), 1,859 (1961) and 1,455 (1996). The shire’s census populations were 3,225 (1966) and 3,406 (1991).

Nathalia from Broken Creek.
Postcard dated 1928. (Valentine postcard)

Further Reading:

  • Hibbins, Gillian, “A History of the Nathalia Shire: The Good Helmsmen”, Hawthorn Press, 1978.


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.


Yarrawonga is a town on the Murray River, 215 km. north-north-east of Melbourne. It is linked to Mulwala, on the opposite side of the river in New South Wales, by road and railway, and the Mulwala munitions factory is a source of employment for residents of Yarrawonga. Lake Mulwala (1939) on the Murray River has recreational frontages to Mulwala and Yarrawonga.

Yarrawonga was named after a pastoral station taken up by Elizabeth Hume (sister-in-law of the explorer, Hamilton Hume), in1842. The name is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning place where the wonga pigeon rested, or water running over rock. Elizabeth Hume’s homestead, Byramine, was built in 1842 and is on the Australian and Victorian historic buildings registers. It is in the locality of Burramine,which is about 14 km. west of Yarrawonga.

A police camp was established at Yarrawonga in about 1850.

In 1868 a town was surveyed at Yarrawonga, occupying the four blocks bounded by Witt, Hume, Orr, and Hovell Streets near the river. Town blocks further south were surveyed in 1875 and 1886. The railway from Melbourne reached Yarrawonga in 1886. A bridge across the river to Mulwala was built in 1891.

With the opening of the railway wheat and livestock were easily transported to Melbourne markets and the township rapidly grew from a few hundred persons to over one thousand.

In 1878 the Yarrawonga shire was created, extending from Cobramin the west to the Ovens River in the east and southwards to the boundary of Benalla shire. The shire’s area of 813 sq. miles was trimmed down to 220 sq. miles by 1891, which remained its area until amalgamation in 1994.

Even before the coming of the railway in 1886, Yarrawonga township had two banks, four hotels, three churches, several stores, a school (1876),a newspaper and two flour mills. The district boasted that it grew some of the best wheat in Australia. In 1891 a second newspaper was published, hotels numbered six and town water was reticulated. Yarrawonga was described in The Australian Handbook, 1903 –


In 1925 an unusual community organisation was formed in Yarrawonga. Anon-profit cinema company was formed to raise funds for community projects.Its first project was the riverside Alexandra Park. During the next forty years about $120,000 was raised. In 1938 the Yarrawonga weir was built, forming Lake Mulwala. The lake became the town’s prime tourism asset, as well as leading to a foreshore improvement committee (1944) and swimming and yacht clubs. The shire was described in The Australian Blue Book, 1949-


In 1957 the first of Yarrawonga’s aquatic festivals was held. Lakeside camping and activities increased, quadrupling the local population during holiday times. Lake Mulwala has an area of 6,000 hectares and 43 kilometres of shoreline. There are seven boat ramps and two swimming pools. Alexandra Park has an oval, tennis courts and 500 caravan sites. There are bowling greens, a golf course bordered by State forest and facilities for fishing and shooting. The area attracts retirees: in 1996 nearly 19% of the population were over 65 years compared with a regional average of 14.1%.

The town has State and Catholic primary and secondary schools, a hospital, several local industries, an aerodrome and a livestock sale yard. Within the shire as a whole there were 777 bed spaces in camping areas and 410 bed spaces in hotels and motels (1995). Yarrawonga annually has more hours of sunshine than Brisbane.

In 1994 the shire had 23,000 head of cattle, 78,000 sheep and lambs and harvested over 16,000 tonnes of wheat. Farms occupied over 51,000 hectares or 81% of the shire’s area.

The median house price in Yarrawonga n 1987 was $71,100 and in 1996 it was $97,000.

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

Yarrawonga’s census populations have been 366 (1881), 1,278 (1891), 1,908 (1933), 2,953 (1954), 3,603 (1991) and 3,435(1996). The shire’s census populations were 3,109 (1911), 3,724 (1961) and5,521 (1991).

Further Reading:

  • Dunlop, Alan J., Wide Horizons: The story of Yarrawonga, Tungamahand Cobram Shires, the author, 1978.
  • Loughnan, A. Noel (ed.), From Ballanda to 1968: The Story of Yarrawonga, Yarrawonga Apex Club, 1968.