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Macarthur, VIC

Small town known as the Gateway to Budj Bim National Park

Macarthur is a small rural centre west of Melbourne which, in recent times, has become a major contributor to Australia's renewable energy with a massive wind farm which is the largest in the southern hemisphere. The town lies on the edge of a vast lava flow which occurred 30,000 years ago and has ensured that the two major parks - the Mount Napier State Park and the Budj Bim National Park - are impressive examples of lava formations and lava caves.


Macarthur is located 301 km west of Melbourne via the Hamilton Highway and 36 km south of Hamilton.


Origin of Name

The town was named after Sir Edward Macarthur who was the Administrator of Victoria in 1856.


Things to See and Do

Macarthur Memorial Rose Garden
Located at the corner of High Street and Hecklefield Street, the Macarthur Memorial Rose Garden features 150 roses, each with an individual plaque commemorating a soldier who fought for Australia in a theatre of war. Each plant and corresponding plaque was donated by the family or friends of the individual soldier. 

Macarthur Museum
Located in the old Macarthur Court House building at 31 High Street, the Macarthur Museum is the home of the Macarthur and District Historical Society. It contains extensive collections of photographs and memorabilia about the district. See https://macarthurmuseum.org.au/our-collection for more details. It also has a downloadable map and information about 17 places of historic interest around the town. For more details check out https://macarthurmuseum.org.au.


Other Attractions in the Area

Macarthur Wind Farm
Located 16 km east of Macarthur between Hamilton and Warrnambool, the Macarthur Wind farm is currently the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. It is spread across 5,500 ha of land which is used for sheep and cattle grazing. It currently generates around 420MW which is enough to power 181,000 average Australian homes. Currrently operated and maintained by AGL it was built by Leighton Contractors and Vestas over a 2.5 year period and has been fully operational since late January 2013. "Vestas continues to play an important role in ongoing operations. As the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines, Vestas brings state-of-the-art technology, quality and reliability to the project – ensuring its long-term success.
"During development and construction, the total number of jobs (including flow-on employment) was estimated at 875 from the region, 2,490 from Victoria and 2,782 from the rest of Australia. A permanent site team – responsible for ongoing maintenance and operations – includes 18 local residents from south west Victoria." For more information check out https://www.agl.com.au/macarthur.

Budj Bim National Park (formerly Mt Eccles N.P.)
For over 20,000 years (from around 30,000 years ago to 6,500 years ago) the Budj Bim area was an active volcanic zone with vast amounts of molten lava forming lava caves, craters (now crater lakes) and volcanic plains. The vast lava flow formed wetlands and swamps by damming rivers and streams. Some lava flowed south to form Lady Julia Percy Island, and it was from there that the explorer, Matthew Flinders, became the first European to sight the mountain now known as Mount Eccles. In 1836 Major Mitchell named it Mount Eeles and it was a misprint which gave us the present name.
The area is often cited (see Bruce Pascoe's remarkable book Dark Emu) as evidence that Aborigines were not just hunter-gatherers. There is ample evidence that it was used for extensive aquaculture and that the Gunditjmara people established villages and developed sophisticated ways of harvesting the fish and eels that lived in the local rivers. The Budj Bim N.P. Visitor Guide explains: "The Gunditjmara people developed this landscape by excavating channels to bring water and young eels from Darlots Creek to low lying areas. They created ponds and wetlands linked by channels containing weirs. Woven baskets were placed in the weirs to harvest mature eels.
"Dating back thousands of years, the area shows evidence of large, settled communities systematically farming and smoking eels for food and trade. This area is considered one of Australia’s earliest and largest Indigenous aquaculture ventures. This complex, sustainable enterprise took place in a landscape carved by natural forces and full of meaning to the Gunditjmara people.
"These engineered wetlands provided the economic basis for the development of a settled society with villages of stone huts built using stones from the lava flow. Early European accounts of Gunditjmara describe how they were ruled by hereditary chiefs.
"With European settlement in the area in the 1830s came conflict. Gunditjmara fought for their land during the Eumeralla Wars, which lasted more than 20 years. In the 1860s, as this conflict drew to an end, many Aboriginal people were displaced and the Victorian government began to develop reserves to house them.
"Some Aboriginal people refused to move from their ancestral land and eventually the government agreed to build a mission at Lake Condah, close to some of the eel traps and within sight of Budj Bim.
"The Mission was closed in 1919 but the Gunditjmara continued to live in the area and protect their heritage. The mission lands were returned to the Gunditjmara in 1987."
A sealed road from Macarthur heads due west for 9 km to Budj Bim National Park (5,470 ha) which is centred on the extinct volcano. Today it is covered by tall manna gum and some blackwood within which can be found brown echidna, bush-tailed possums, yellow-bellied gliders, ring-tail possums, koalas, eastern grey kangaroos and 70 species of birds including wedge-tailed eagles.
The National Park provides opportunities for walking, picnicking, swimming, wildlife observation, lava-cave exploration and camping. The geological features include craters, lava canals, lava blisters, collapsed tunnels, scoria cones and stony rises.
The three main craters of the former volcano now contain Lake Surprise which is surrounded by 33-metre high natural basalt walls. 800 metres long, 183 metres wide and 13.4 metres at its deepest, it is an excellent swimming destination.
The entry road from Macarthur leads to a carpark and picnic area with a picnic shelter, water and a fireplace.
There are four major walking tracks. All start near the park entrance near the Lake Surprise Lookout.

* The Crater Rim Walk is 2.6 km (2 hour circuit) follows a series of numbered pegs around the rim of the crater. The tunnel cave, a remnant of a lava flow, is located 250 metres along the walk.
* The Lake Surprise Walk (1 hour circuit) is a 2 km walk which descends into the crater and follows the shoreline of the lake. There is a lava cave at the northern rim of the crater which was formed by a collapsed lava canal. A two-metre opening leads into a flat-bottomed cave with an arched roof that reaches as high as five metres. It is decorated with solidified lava stalactites.
* Lava Canal Walk (3 hour circuit) is a 6.5 km walk which starts at the lava cave and explores a lava canal which looks like a creek bed but which once conveyed enormous quantities of lava from the crater south-west to form today's fertile volcanic plains. It includes the Lava Blisters and the Natural Bridge.
* The Natural Bridge Walk (2 hour return) is a 3.2 km walk (or a 200 m walk from the car park) which follows a track to the Natural Bridge, a lava canal and a cavern.
There is an excellent, downloadable brochure which can be accessed at https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/728719/Budj-Bim-National-Park-Visitor-Guide.pdf.

Mount Napier State Park and Byaduk Caves
Located 28 km north of Macarthur is Mount Napier State Park. Mount Napier, which is thought to have been Victoria's last active volcano, became dormant around 7,000 years ago. At 447 metres it offers panoramic views south to the coast and north to the Grampians. The walking track to the summit passes through manna gum and Blackwood forests and passes some impressive volcanic formations including craters, scoria cones, lava tunnels, lava flows, sink-hole barriers, caves and 50 tonne boulders blasted from the cone.
Access to the Byaduk Caves is via Byaduk North (about 18 km north of Macarthur) and a further 6 km along Byaduk Caves Road. The caves, formed when the outer edge of a lava stream from Mount Napier cooled and solidified while the internal lava continued to flow, are some of the most accessible and extensive lava caves in Victoria. A torch and appropriate footwear and clothes are needed. One of the largest is Church Cave which has a chamber 50 metres long and 7 metres high. The Parks Victoria website notes that: "The caves contain wrinkles, stalactites and stalagmites, columns and ropy lava. They are the most extensive and accessible set of lava caves in Victoria. Only one cave, Harmans 1, is open to the public. Wear appropriate footwear and clothing and take a torch.
"Bentwing bats spend winter in some of the caves. To avoid winter food shortages the bats slow their body systems down in what is known as torpor where their body temperature matches that of their surroundings. Disturbance during this period can kill them. Do not shine lights on bats, avoid loud noises and retreat from the cave if bats are seen." Check out https://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/mount-napier-state-park for more information.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Gunditjamara First Nations people.

* Thomas Alexander Browne, who took up land to the south of town in 1844, later wrote what is often regarded as one of Australia's first novels of note, Robbery Under Arms, using the pseudonym Rolf Boldrewood.

* The Eumerella Inn was opened in the area around 1852.

* A Post Office was opened in 1862.

* A Presbyterian School was opened in 1865.

* The population of the town passed 100 during the late 1860s.

* A Mechanics Institute was opened in 1877.

* A Court House was opened in 1892.

* By the end of the 19th century economic activities in the area included wool-scouring and the extraction of lime from local limestone deposits. The main activities in the area were sheep grazing and potato farming.

* Dairying emerged late in the 19th century. A butter factory was opened in 1892.

* The butter factory won first prize on the London market for its produce in 1904.

* In 1911 the Eumeralla estate was subdivided.

* The population grew after World War II with the arrival of soldier settlers.

* In 2013 a huge wind farm, the Macarthur Wind Farm, with 140 turbines was installed outside the town.


Visitor Information

There is no visitor information in Macarthur. The nearest is Hamilton & Grampians Visitor Information Centre, Lonsdale Street, Hamilton, tel: 1800 807 056. Open 9.00 am - 5.00 pm seven days a week.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.macarthurvictoria.com.au.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

2 suggestions
  • Hi – Macarthur’s old courthouse has been converted / used but the historical society and is full of very interesting relics and local information from yesteryear and is a great place to track family history of people and local milestones. It has just released a new website so that people can access this information easily, I’m not sure of the website name Macarthur Museum but should not be to hard to track down. Lot of history in this unique small town.

    Darren Hodges
  • Low cost camping in the Macarthur Recreation Reserve. Hot showers, toilets and toilets available. Powered (currently $20 pvpn) and unpowered (currently $10 pvpn) sites. Plenty of shady options. Although it is next to the road, it is pretty quiet (except for the koalas at night). Walk across the bridge into town. The fee is collected each evening by a friendly member of the committee.

    Debra Barron