The History of Wangaratta
The history of Wangaratta began in the 19th century and has taken many turns since then. Today, the city has an estimated population of 29,197. Most employment opportunities are in health care and social assistance with agriculture, manufacturing, forestry and fishing also being significant industries.
The population of Wangaratta continues growing and is expected to reach around 32,200 by 2036. This is a far cry from the city’s origins as a town in the mid 1800s.
- The pangerang peoples were the original inhabitants of the area around what is now Wangaratta.
- It was 1848 when Robert Hoddle, a Port Phillip surveyor, ordered a survey of Ovens Crossing. It was at this point that the area was named as the town of Wangaratta.
- The growth of Wangaratta was promoted after gold was discovered in the Ovens Valley, in 1852.
- Today, the city of Wangaratta is unrecognisable from the town that was created in the 19th century. The population has grown from 612 at the time of the 1861 census to an estimated 29,197.
The early history of Wangaratta
The pangerang peoples were the original inhabitants of the area around what is now the rural city of Wangaratta in north east Victoria. During the early 19th century, the area was visited by several non-natives. Hume and Hovell travelled through the area in 1824 and named the Oxley Plains that lie to the south of the place that was later to become Wangaratta.
Other visitors and settlers came to the area in the following years. Major Thomas Mitchell is said to have stopped by during his Australia Felix expedition, in 1836. In 1837, George and William Faithfull came to the area and settled at Bontharambo pastoral station which was taken over by Joseph Docker the following year.
That same year, a person called Rattray started a punt which crossed the Ovens River and two years later The Hope Inn opened. This was later to become the Sydney Hotel. This early settlement at Ovens Crossing was the foundation for the town of Wangaratta.
It was 1848 when Robert Hoddle, a Port Phillip surveyor, ordered a survey of Ovens Crossing. At the time, it had 11 streets and around 200 blocks. It was at this point that the area was named as the town of Wangaratta. The name is said to be derived from an Aboriginal term meaning “cormorant’s resting place.”
From this point onwards the town began to grow. Property was sold and a primary school was opened in 1850.
Gold discovery promotes growth in the area
The growth of Wangaratta was promoted following the discovery of gold in the Ovens Valley, in 1852. The miners used the punt across the river. In 1855, a bridge replaced the punt making life easier for those who were mining in the area.
The expansion of Wangaratta led to it being created a borough, on 19 June 1863. It’s interesting to note that the town now had a petty sessions court, banks, a racecourse, breweries, a flour mill, and churches representing Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist religions.
This amount of development in a little over a decade is impressive and indicates how many people were arriving in the area at the time.
The arrival of the railway
The railway line from Melbourne to the state border opened in 1873 and it called in to Wangaratta opening up the area further. By the turn of the century, Wangaratta was well established and looking towards a bright future.
The Anglican Diocese was created in the area, and it had become a recognised retailing area in north-eastern Victoria.
In 1909, the first high school was opened in the borough.
Manufacturing was becoming a growth industry in the area at this point with butter and cordial factories at its centre.
As the history of Wangaratta continued, its focus changed due to the outbreak of World War II. The situation led to the creation of an aluminium factory in the area. After the war ended, in 1947, Bruck Mills took over the factory for rayon production. At one time, the company had a workforce of around 1,000.
The post war years in Wangaratta
In the years following World War II, the population of Wangaratta doubled to more than 13,000 people. This was partly due to more people arriving from rural areas, but the growth of the manufacturing industry and tertiary employment was a major factor.
The ongoing development of Wangaratta led to it becoming a city in 1959. In the following years, textile and clothing factories became major employers in the city. In 1988, estimates suggested that the three large textile and clothing factories in the area were responsible for around 70% of manufacturing jobs in Wangaratta.
The situation began to change as textile tariffs were reduced and there were cutbacks in community service employment. This led to the closure of the Yakka factory in 2000. The Bruck factory became a producer of specialist fabrics and survives to this day.
Another major development in the area between the war years and today came on 18 November 1994 when Wangaratta city joined with Wangaratta shire as well as parts of Oxley, Beechworth, Benalla and Yarrawonga shires to create Milawa shire. The area was later renamed Wangaratta Rural City.
Today, the city of Wangaratta is unrecognisable from the town that was created in the 19th century. The population has grown from 612 at the time of the 1861 census to an estimated 29,197.
The city is popular with tourists. This is not surprising given its surroundings which present great opportunities for hiking, fishing, and cycling in stunning areas of natural beauty such as Mount Buffalo National Park. Mount Hotham and Falls Creek are also close to the city, giving visitors the opportunity to ski during the winter months.
Wangaratta is also a popular destination for Australian jazz fans. The Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival takes place in the area each year. The next festival is scheduled for week commencing 28 October 2022.
From an employment point of view, manufacturing is still a significant employer in the area. Although it has been overtaken by health care and social assistance as the major source of employment in Wangaratta. This industry is also the best performing financially. In 2020, it generated $203 million.
In recent years there has also been strong employment growth in construction, agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
The city has come a long way from its humble origins. Although the growth in its population has slowed in recent years, it remains a thriving city that is also a popular tourist destination.