History + Heritage
Waves of Visitors
The area of the sub alpine valleys and the surrounding high plains has always experienced waves of visitors though they have not always come to the area to ‘holiday’. Having said this, the original aboriginal inhabitants of northeast Victoria journeyed on foot to their summer “vacation” on the high plains and enjoyed a feast of Bogong Moths, a traditional edible delicacy.
Settlers and Graziers
Sadly, aboriginals were killed and forced out of the area when settlers moved in after the exploration of Hume and Hovell in 1824. Much of the land was cleared to make way for stock grazing. Mutton and particularly beef became the local fare and horse and buggy were the means of transport.
High Country beef came into existence in the middle of the 19th century after much of the valley grazing land was incinerated by bushfire. Local cattlemen discovered the high plains plentiful with summer feed for their cattle.
Gold fever brought in the next wave of visitors from other Australian goldfields and also international seekers came from China, America and Europe. Alluvial gold washed out of the river gravel and was taken first from the Buckland Valley with many other finds along the Ovens River to Harrietville and its tributaries such as Morse’s Creek to Wandiligong. This was followed by reef mining where shafts were dug and tunnels followed the quartz rock underground.
Although much of the gold was won from the area it is often said that those who grew and produced the miners’ food and drink serviced their needs or governed their lives made more money out of the fertile valleys than did the miners themselves. The Chinese in particular brought with them their skills in growing fruit and vegetables and provided a much needed supplement to their own and others miner’s diets.
Amidst the miners, tourists, botanists, artists, mountaineers and field naturalists could be seen starting to explore the region.
The new railway line to Bright that was completed in 1890 opened up the area further for the movement of produce and people. Mt Buffalo, Bright and the High Plains were even more accessible.
Dredging for Gold
The turn of the century saw the coming of huge dredges with their numerous buckets descending into the holes created in and along the river courses. These dredges, using wood fired steam power engines, resulting in the denuding of many of the local forests and the degradation of the area for half a century. Topsoil from the dredged areas was swept down stream and huge gravel areas were left behind.
The first pine plantation came to the area during the First World War to utilize these dredge tailings and to combat the spread of the weed St John’s Wort. The degraded areas also later became the home of the forever spreading blackberry.
After both world wars immigrants, particularly the Italians, came to the Ovens Valley and brought with them their skills in many areas – particularly tobacco growing.
The industry flourished until 2006 but tobacco is no longer grown in the area. By 2006 many of the smaller farms, plus other fertile areas have been converted to growing a variety of horticultural produce including nuts, apples, wine grapes, berries, asparagus, peppermint, lavender, etc. The region now has a reputation for fine produce that takes advantage of the fantastic soil and ideal climate.
Changes and development
Recent developments have meant that cattle have been been prohibited from entering the High Country. The issue is political and still under debate. The railway line has been pulled up and the track converted to the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, which is sealed from Bright to Bowser, 5km north of Wangaratta, and also from Everton to Beechworth. Today forestry is still a significant industry in the area, together with the horticulture industry. However, tourism is now predominant in the Bright area. Fabulous scenery, easy access, loads of festivals and attractions mean lots of people just like you come to enjoy the beauty and entertainment that is Bright.
For details on publications relating to the History of Bright local author and historian, Diane Talbot, has written a book on the full history of the gold rush era in the area.
See the Bright Museum at the heritage listed Railway Station which has railway rolling stock and railway artefacts, items of local social history, gold mining artefacts, Chinese Joss House and artefacts from Chinese miners, local family histories and a photographic collection
Visit also the Bright Library to view photograph albums of Bright’s History.