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Goroke, VIC

Tiny town surrounded by lakes and the Little Desert National Park

In 2018 the tiny town of Goroke (population 200), a small pastoral and agricultural centre - mainly wool and wheat - in the heart of the Wimmera-Mallee, achieved international attention when the New Yorker, in a long article, revealed that Gerald Murnane, a little known but widely acclaimed Australian novelist, called it his home. It is a town with a wide main street, on the Natimuk-Frances Road, and it was laid out in a grid pattern which is only two blocks across and five blocks deep. Most of the attractions of the district lie outside the town.


Goroke is located 368 km north-west of Melbourne and 68 km west of Horsham.


Origin of Name

Goroke was laid out in 1882 and named after a local Wotjobaluk First Nations word which probably means "magpie". 


Things to See and Do

Gerald Murnane - The Town's Most Famous Inhabitant
Gerald Murnane's publisher, Text Publishing, records his biography as "Gerald Murnane was born in Melbourne in 1939. He has been a primary teacher, an editor and a university lecturer. His debut novel, Tamarisk Row (1974), was followed by nine other works of fiction, including The Plains now available as a Text Classic, and most recently A Million Windows. In 1999 Murnane won the Patrick White Award and in 2009 he won the Melbourne Prize for Literature. He lives in western Victoria."
An article in The Australian explained his connection with Goroke: "Murnane moved to Goroke in 2009, after the death of his wife of 43 years, Catherine. Their ­eldest son, Giles, whom Murnane repeatedly described as a hermit, had come to Goroke years earlier, having chosen the town off the map for its cheap housing. Murnane had always been attracted to the country, and the first time he ­visited Giles, driving past the town graveyard, he had a premonition, “calmly and wordlessly,” he later wrote, “as one understands things in dreams”: That’s where my ashes will lie."
The articles which caused all the excitement about his importance, and suggested that he was a possible Nobel Prize contender, can be read at https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-strange-australian-masterpiece and https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/magazine/gerald-murnane-next-nobel-laureate-literature-australia.html.

Goroke Memorial Hall Walls of Honour
In 2018, after extensive research, the town managed to put up photographs, and brief biographies of all the local people who went off to fight in the Great War. The information is on the walls of the Memorial Hall. It can be accessed by asking at the Post Office. Tel: (03) 5386 1100.


Other Attractions in the Area

Lake Charlegrark
Located 26 km west of Goroke, along the Natimuk-Frances Road, there is an intersection with the Kaniva-Edenhope Road which runs south to Lake Charlegrark which has boating, water skiing and picnicking facilities as well as accommodation at the Lake Charlegrark Caravan Park and Cottages. This is a popular destination for anglers hoping to catch Murray cod, red fin, yellow fin and yabbies. For more information check out http://www.kaniva.info/lake-charlegrark.

Minimay Swamp
Located 25 km west of Goroke - head north on the Kaniva-Edenhope Road - Minimay Swam, along with Bens Swamp Wildlife Reserve and Yarrackigarra Swamp Wildlife Reserve, are all excellent places to view birdlife - note: there no facilities. Bird watchers should check out https://ebird.org/australia/hotspot/L6725751?yr=all&m=&rank=mrec which lists 41 birds which were sighted at Yarrackigarra Swamp Wildlife Reserve in 2018.

Lake Bringalbert
Located 37 km south-west of Goroke, Lake Bringalbert is a quiet lake which has boating facilities and is populat with water skiers. It has new toilet facilities. It is known for yabbying and it has fine displays of wildflowers in spring. Check out http://caravanersforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=54750 for excellent information from people who have camped on the shores.

Lake Ratzcastle Reserve
Located 12 km south of Goroke on the Edenhope-Goroke Road, Lake Ratzcastle is a noted fishing spot (when there is water in the lake), particularly for yellowbelly, and it has a campground which is suitable for tents and caravans. There is no power at the site but there are toilets and a solar-heated shower. Check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/lake-ratzcastle-l.r.

Lake Karnak Wildlife Reserve
Located 17 km south of Goroke off the Edenhope-Goroke Road (turn east at Church Lane), Lake Karnak covers roughly 160 ha and is fairly described as a freshwater marsh with about 75% covered with thick weed and dead trees. It is popular, if there is water, with hunters. For more information check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/lake-karnak-w.r. and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-Karnak-Wildlife-Reserve/1719586891661522.

Little Desert National Park
To the north of Goroke is Little Desert National Park, covering 132,000 ha and stretching across to the South Australian border, it is the second-largest national park in Victoria. The first reserve was created in 1955 to protect the mallee fowl and the park was declared in 1968. There is a useful brochure with detailed maps which can be downloaded at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/315772/Visitor-Guide-Little-Desert-National-Park.pdf.
Despite its name, the dry hot summers and sandy soil, this is not a true desert. The park receives 400 mm of rainfall per annum (mostly in winter) and supports a range of fauna including over 220 bird species, and 670 plant species. 
It has extensive heathlands with tea-trees, banksia and she oak and many spring wildflowers. Wildlife includes possums, the black-faced kangaroo, the silky desert mouse, reptiles such as the bearded dragon and the short-tailed snake. Perhaps most famous of the fauna is the mallee fowl which is indigenous to this area. Its presence is signified by a mound up to five metres in diameter and one metre high. It lays its eggs inside the mound which it adjusts each day to maintain its temperature at 33° Celsius.
The eastern section, lying south of the Western Highway between Dimboola and Nhill, is the most interesting and accessible. There are five campgrounds - Horseshoe Bend, Ackle Bend, Mallee Walkers Camp, Kiata Campground, Yellow Gums Walkers Camp - and a 7 km gravel road from Dimboola along the Wimmera River The route is signposted. There is a network of walking tracks with heavy concentrations of waterbirds and kangaroos by the river and adjacent woodlands. A short distance from Horseshoe Bend is the start of the short Pomponderoo Hill Nature Walk. 

Little Desert Discovery Walk
Located east of the Nhill-Harrow Road, some 30 km north-east of Goroke, is the Desert Discovery Walk (marked with signposts and track markers). The total distance is 74 km but the circular track which heads east from the Kiata Campground (66 km from Goroke) loops around to Ackle Bend and Horseshoe Bend Camp grounds. It is possible to take a single day walk or to do the entire walk (it is estimated to take a total of 25.5 hours) over a period of two to four days. The Parkweb website describes the pleasures of the walk as including: "This walk is ... especially colourful in spring. The park has 670 species of native plants and over 220 bird species recorded ...  find beauty in the small things.
From the myriad of insects such as the Jewel Beetle, one of the deserts pollinators, to the nocturnal inhabitants like the bats and pygmy possums ... Keep an eye out for shingle-back lizards, skinks and brown snakes ... and don’t forget to look up ... for Wedge-tailed eagles." 
There are detailed track notes and a map on ParkWeb. Check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/694757/LittleDesert-DiscoveryWalkTrackNotes.pdf. The notes also provide detailed information on camping and staying overnight in the park.

Little Desert Lodge
The Little Desert Lodge, located 44 km north-east of Goroke at 1457 Nhill-Harrow Road, offers a range of accommodation options and is devoted to "nature tourism experiences". It offers a Malleefowl discovery experience at the property's Malleefowl Aviary; nocturnal wildlife experiences where sugar gliders, brush-tailed bettongs and bushstone curlews can be sighted; excellent bird watching and a number of trails for bushwalking. In season the wildflowers are superb with over 670 species of native daisies, rare orchids and flowering tea trees. For more information check out http://littledesertlodge.com.au/experiences.

Jane Duff Reserve
Located 24 km east of Goroke is the Jane Duff Reserve, a 26 ha roadside reserve with stands of native vegetation. It is the southernmost limit of the mallee. There are picnic facilities and a monument to Jane Duff, one of the three Duff children who got lost in the bush for nine days in 1864. The monument reads: "In memory of Jane Duff who, in August 1864, succoured her brothers Isaac and Frank for 9 days when lost in the bush near this spot." The monument was erected by school children and citizens of Victoria in March, 1935. When they were located by an Aboriginal tracker only Frank Duff (aged four) was conscious but all three were nursed back to health. Their story was immortalised in a popular story which was called 'The Lost Children'.

The Jane Duff Story
Here is an abridged version from the excellent Australian Heroines by Susan Geason.
"Jane Duff was born in a hut on the banks of Wimmera River in Victoria on 7 January 1857. In the late 1850s her father, Joseph Cooper, died and her mother, Hannah, remarried a shepherd named John Duff. They moved to Spring Hill Station where their home was a slab hut with and a bark roof, behind the shearing shed. Jane already had an older brother, Isaac, and in 1860 her younger brother, Frank, was born at Spring Hill.
Besides fetching water, the Duff children's only chore was gathering twigs from the broom bushes which their mother used as a makeshift broom to sweep the clay floor of the hut. 
On Friday 12 August 1864, at about 9 a.m. Hannah sent her three children—Isaac 9, Jane seven and a half, and Frank, almost four—to gather broom. The bush beyond the hut was a maze of twisted vegetation and stunted mallee trees extending from the Little Desert along the boundary between Mount Arapiles and Kowree Shire.

The children gathered a bunch of broom each and set off for home. But instead of thinning out, the bush was becoming thicker and more impenetrable. They were lost. 
As the day drew to a close, Hannah became worried about the children, and went out looking for them. By the time her husband got home, she was frantic. They searched together, but found no sign of the children. After a sleepless night, Hannah and John called in their neighbours to help. By Saturday all the local station hands were covering the area on foot and horseback. 
There were 30 men still searching on Sunday. The first clue was found on Tuesday, when Angus Wilson, a squatter who had ridden across from Vectis station, found the children's tracks. By Thursday night they’d followed the children for almost 20 kilometres, but lost the trail when a rainstorm washed it out.

The men began to give up hope but Peter McCartney of Nurcoung realised they hadn't asked the Aboriginal trackers for their help. McCartney rode 50 kilometres across Little Desert to Mount Elgin station west of Nhill. It was there that an Aborigine called Dicky or Dick-a-Dick, lived. Dicky's Aboriginal name was Woororal and he was sub-chief of the tribe who were the traditional owners of the Bill's Gully-McKenzie Springs hunting grounds south of Mt Elgin. 
When McCartney and Woororal returned from Nhill, they brought two other Aboriginal trackers, Jerry and Fred. By the time they reached the search area, Alexander Wilson, who had resumed the search with John Duff and his step-son (and Janes half-brother) Kenna, had rediscovered the children's tracks.

When they found a bundle of twigs in a clump of saplings, they knew they were closing in on the children. From the tracks, the Aborigines deduced that Isaac or Jane had piggy-backed Frank for a time then dropped him as they became too tired. 
Alarmed, John Duff rode ahead and picked up the trail about a kilometre on. Then Alexander Wilson rode ahead and found more footprints. Then, an hour before sundown, John Duff rode up over a rise and saw something white in the distance. It was the children, lying huddled together under Jane's lilac dress, under a small clump of trees. 
The children were in a sorry state. Their socks had disappeared on the first night, probably taken by wildcats, and Frank's trousers were missing. He'd torn them badly in the scrub and Jane had carried them for a time before dropping them. The children were starving, but the search party had only a piece of bread and some ginger root to give them—they hadn’t expected to find them alive.

A squatter, perhaps Alexander Wilson, rewarded the blacktrackers with five pounds and John Duff gave them ten pounds.
The news that three children had been found alive after being lost in the Victorian bush for nine days and eight nights reached Melbourne and their miraculous survival became the talk of Victoria. It was several weeks before the Duff children had fully recovered from their ordeal.
Many years later Jane said that they'd eaten wild quandong berries at first. 'But Ike (Isaac) said they might be poisonous, so after that we had nothing. We used to suck the dew off the leaves at night to ease our thirst and dry throats. Forget it I never can.'
It turned out that Jane had helped her older brother, Isaac, carry little Frank when he could no longer walk. And when it grew cold at night, she'd taken off her dress to cover the three of them. When details of Jane’s heroism reached the public a fund was set up and raised £150 for her. Tasmanian school children bought her an illustrated family bible inscribed: 'To Jane Cooper. Presented by the children of Tasmania in appreciation of her heroic and sisterly love displayed towards her brothers when lost for eight days and nine nights in the bush of Victoria, A.D. 1864.’
Alexander Wilson, who'd worked so hard to save Jane and her brothers, believed Jane deserved a decent education, and put up the money to send her to Mrs Bowden's Private School for Young Ladies as a boarder.
In June 1876, at the age of 19, Jane Cooper Duff married George Turnbull, a bootmaker, and settled in Horsham. The street where the Turnbulls made their home was later renamed Duff Street in Jane's honour. She reared 11 children here. Isaac became a station hand and then got a job in Nhill. He and Jane lost touch with Frank, who drifted away to Queensland.
Jane's husband died in 1904, leaving Jane destitute. When her plight came to the attention of Beaumont T Pearse, the headmaster of her children's school, he wrote 'The Lost Children' to remind people of her heroism. This account of the Duff children's ordeal and Jane's courage appeared in the Victorian Education Department's School Paper for Grade III in 1908. The story aroused a great deal of public interest, and Pearse set up an appeal for Jane. Victorian school children alone donated £150 to this fund. From the 1920s 'The Lost Children' appeared every year in the Department's Fourth (Reading) Book. This meant that Jane Duff's heroism was imprinted on the imagination of generations of Victorian school children. Jane Cooper Duff Turnbull died on 20 January 1932." 



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the district was occupied by the Wotjobaluk First Nations people. 

* Pastoral runs were taken up in the district in the 1840s.

* In 1864 Jane Duff and her two brothers were lost for nine days in the area.

* Farm allotments were taken up in the 1870s.

* Poet John Shaw Nielson (aged 8) and his family settled at Lake Minimay, 30 km north-west of Goroke, in 1880. 

* The town was surveyed and laid out in 1882 and named after the Aboriginal term for the district which apparently meant 'magpie'. 

* In 1884 the population was recorded as about 50. It served as a supply centre for local selectors. 

* In 1885 a school was opened in the town.

* The Neilson family left for Nhill owing to drought in 1885.

* By 1887 there was a flour mill, two stores, a school, a mechanics' hall, an hotel and a blacksmith's. The only linkage to Nhill and Kaniva was by a desert track. 

* By 1891 the population had increased to 91. 

* A railway line to Natimuk was completed in 1894.

* By 1927 the railway line was extended to Carpolac.

* The railway line closed in the 1980s.

* The novelist Gerard Murnane moved to the town in 2009.

* The town currently has a population of around 200.


Visitor Information

For information about Goroke the closest information centre is Edenhope Visitor Centre, 96 Elizabeth Street, tel: (03) 5585 1509. There is also a brochure available at the local Post Office, tel: (03) 5386 1100.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.westwimmera.vic.gov.au/Discover/Goroke.

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