About this blog

This blog is about the history of the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp and neighbouring areas, such as Pakenham, Cranbourne and Garfield, and any other historical subjects I feel like writing about. It's my own original research and writing and if you live in the area you may have read some of the stories before in the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society newsletter or the Koo-Wee-Rup township newsletter, The Blackfish, or the Garfield township newsletter, The Spectator.
Heather Arnold.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A short history of Bunyip

I wrote this for the 35th birthday of the Bunyip & District Community News, and it was published in the October 2017 edition.

The first European settlers in the Bunyip region were squatters who leased the two Connabul Creek runs, which were located between the Ararat Creek and the Bunyip River. In 1845, Connabul Creek 1 run of 8,960 acres was leased by Michael Ready (or Reedy) and James Hook and Connabul Creek 2 run was leased by Terence O’Connor and a Mr Hayes. The other squatting run in the area was the 30,000 acre Bunyeep Bunyeep Run, which was located between the Bunyip River and the Tarago River and taken up in 1849 by Henry Jennings. Around the same time as these squatting runs were taken up (1847) a road was surveyed from Dandenong to the Bunyip River (in the vicinity of were Ellis Road meets the river) and the township of Bunyeep developed there.

This town was surveyed in the 1850s - it had a High Street and a Barkly Street and eleven blocks - two owned by A. McKinnon, two by W.M.K Vale and the rest by David Connor, who built the Bunyeep Inn around 1854. In 1867, Connor built a new hotel called the New Bunyip Inn.  This was built on the Bunyip River on the Gippsland Road, as the Princes Highway was then called. It was on the south side of the Highway, just east of A'Beckett Road and the west side of the Bunyip River.  A small settlement developed around the Inn, William Snell built a bakery in 1878 and a dance hall was erected by Mr Hyne, opposite the Inn. The New Bunyip Inn was closed by the Licensing Reduction Board in 1917.  It is possible that this small township on the Bunyip River would have developed into a sizable town however the arrival of the railways in 1877 moved the settlement further south and the modern town of Bunyip developed around the railway station.


Bunnyip Hotel, North Gippsland.  [David Connor's New Bunyip Inn] Photographer: Fred Kruger
 State Library of Victoria Image H41138/11


The railway line from Oakleigh to Bunyip opened on (depending on what source you use) October 4 or October 8, 1877.  There is a description of Bunyip in The Argus of October 4 from a journalist who took a trip down the railway line before the official opening - There are no visible settlements at the Bunyip at present, save such as have been temporarily called into existence by the railway works, but the hills on the north are stated to have been all selected. Two red-wood cottages have been built at the back of the station, apparently for the purposes of trade. On the whole, the scene is very desolate, and the traveller tempted by railway time-tables to ran down into Gipps Land, will be strongly persuaded when he steps from the train into the open space which has been hewn out of the Bunyip forest to postpone his visit, and hasten back to Melbourne, unless he is of dauntless mind, and hardened to toilsome bush roads.

Another report that contains a description of Bunyip was in the South Bourke & Mornington Journal on August 3, 1887 -  it has two hotels, well conducted by Messrs. Hanson and Finch. These two hostelries, with Mr. Barrow's general store, amicably uniting themselves pretty well form the township. There are also one or two unpretentious dwelling houses about, and a State School.

As is usual in many country towns some of the first establishments were hotels and, according to Denise Nest’s book The Call of the Bunyip, two Hotels opened in 1876 - the Butcher's Arms and the Bunyip Hotel. John O'Brien had the licence for the Bunyip Hotel and in January 1877 he took up the licence for the Railway Family Hotel.  I don’t know if these hotels were the ‘red wood cottages set up for the purpose of trade’ as described by the journalist above.

John O'Brien's tenure at the Family Hotel didn't last very long as it was sold up by the Sherrifs Office in May 1881, according to an advertisement in The Argus. I am a bit hazy on the early details of these hotels - by 1884 there are various advertisements for Lawrence Finch's Gippsland Hotel at Bunyip - this Hotel is still in existence (it's known as the Top Pub); in 1897 Sarah Alice Finch was listed as the licensee and William Kraft took over, sometime between October 1898 and September 1899, according to the Shire of Berwick Rate Books.   I don't know when the original building was replaced by the existing two storey brick building. The other hotel in Bunyip today is the Railway Hotel - Thomas Stacey is listed as a publican in the Shire of Berwick Rate books in 1890 and he had it for many years, but I am unsure of the connection, if any, between the Railway Hotel and early hotels - was John O'Brien's Railway Family Hotel the same hotel as the Railway Hotel or was it the Butcher's Arms? The Railway Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1924 and the new building, which is the existing building, opened in October of the same year.

The settlement on the Koo Wee Rup Swamp from around 1893 helped the development of Bunyip and Garfield as they were service centres for the surrounding farm lands. The 1903 Electoral Roll shows that Bunyip had 355 adults enrolled of which just under half were female. The occupations listed in the Roll give us idea of the sort of services were available in the town. As you might expect, most of the men were farmers or labourers but there were also railway employees, a carpenter, draper, coach builder, store keepers, baker, gardener, butcher, Hotel keeper and even one sailor. The women overwhelmingly had their occupation listed as ‘home duties’ but there was a dressmaker, a music teacher, a teacher and a saleswoman.

The population of Bunyip increased at a steady rate - in 1921 it was 694; 1933 - 744 and 1961 - 959. It then remained almost static for 25 years as in 1986 it was still only 986. The largest increase has come in the last 20 years when from 1996 to the 2016 Census the population doubled from 1,011 to 2,468.

As the population grew all the necessary trappings of a 'civilised' life developed - the State School opened at the start of 1880; the hotel keeper William Kraft built a hall, which was replaced by the original Mechanics' Institute Hall in 1906 (this hall burnt down in 1940 and the existing hall was opened in1942). Church services had taken place in the hall and private homes until the Methodist Church was opened in 1899 and the Anglican Church in 1902. The Presbyterian Church (now Uniting) was not opened until 1954.

Community groups such as the Agricultural, Pastoral and Horticultural Society was established in 1899; a football club and a cricket club sometime in the 1890s and Bunyip even had ‘young ladies’ cricket team which started in 1909.  The ‘ladies basketball’ club (netball) began in the 1930s. The Fire Brigade started in October 1942. The First Bunyip Scout Troop commenced in 1910 and the Girl Guides in 1959. On the welfare front - the Country Women’s Association started in 1936 and the Baby Health Centre the same decade.  A private Hospital was built in 1912 and another in the 1930s. The Shelley Memorial Hospital at Bunyip was officially opened on March 19, 1966 and closed on May 1, 1991. The building is now part of Hillview Hostel.

There are, of course, many other Community groups or institutions which have played a role in the life of Bunyip residents but we don’t have the space to go into it here. The Call of the Bunyip by Denise Nest, which I mentioned before, has information on some of these groups. You can buy this book from the Bunyip Historical Society. However, we can’t finish this short history of Bunyip without mentioning this publication, the volunteer run Bunyip & District Community News, which has been recording the activities of the area for 35 years.  Congratulations to the News team and we look forward to the next 35 years!

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