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Natimuk, VIC

Tiny rural service town once known as 'The Garden of the Wimmera'

Natimuk is a small town which is little more than the single main street - the Wimmera Highway. It has an impressive local court house, an interesting collection of mosaic sculptures called 'Climbing Blind', a number of interesting historic buildings, a pleasant lake (Lake Natimuk) which is often dry during droughts, and it is near to Mount Arapiles which has become a popular destination for rock climbers and abseilers. 


Natimuk is located 324 km north-west of Melbourne via Ararat and Stawell. It is 25 km west of Horsham.


Origin of Name

It is believed that Natimuk's name comes from a local First Nations word meaning "little lake", a reference to Lake Natimuk which is located just to the north of town. Some sources say it means "little creek".


Things to See and Do

Natimuk Heritage Walk
There is a small brochure titled  Natimuk's Heritage Trail which can be obtained at the general store in the main street. It lists a total of 37 places of historic interest (some are nothing more than a sign indicating where a building once stood) around the town. Of particular interest are:

Court House Museum
Located on Main Street, the 1891 courthouse is now the local history museum. The sign outside explains: "This building, listed on the Register of the National Estate, was built in polychrome relief brickwork and banding by C. Crowle of Melbourne and furnished by R & J Sisson in Natimuk for £1,372/1/7. All types of cases were dealt with in this court and licences were granted to hotels and traders. The building was used as a hospital during the influenza epidemic after World War I. Nurses Nellie and Kate Bilston were aided by Dr Harbison, only one patient was lost. It ceased to function in 1965 and reopened in 1968 as the Arapiles Historical Museum."

Climbing Blind Sculptures
In 2011 the sculptor, Steve Monk, was commissioned by the Natimuk Community Centre Committee to create a mosaic sculpture for the walled garden area opposite the Court House. The mosaics are of a Jester (with what looks like dreadlocks); a gypsy woman; an Elvis and a geisha. Monk, who was living in Murtoa at the time, explained that he was commissioned by a panel of 12 people including three Horsham Rural City Council representatives to create a sculpture portraying Natimuk's vibrant arts community and rock climbing culture. He titled the work 'Climbing Blind' to capture the local arts community and the rock climbing. "The Frinj Festival is a performance-based festival and that's why the way-out characters were chosen. They are all masked and climbing blind-folded, hence the title."

Colonial Bank
Located on Main Street this elegant two storey building is now a private residence. It was built by the Colonial Bank in 1888, became the ES&A Bank in 1918 and closed in 1930 as a result of the Depression. For a time it was the home of Dr Clyde Fenton who was a famous flying doctor pilot. He started the Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service in 1928.

Lake Natimuk
Located 5 km north of town via Lake Road is Lake Natimuk which, when it has water, is an ideal spot for fishing, water skiing and other water sports. The lake is known for its yabbies, redfin and trout. The accumulation of dry vegetation on the lake bed in the 1967 drought actually presented a fire risk and resulted in a major burnoff. There is a caravan park with amenities block, camping and picnicking facilities and number of boat ramps. At the entrance to the caravan park is a monument to the Germans who arrived in the area in the 1870s.

History of the Germans at Natimuk
At Lake Natimuk there is a memorial to the Germans who arrived in the area. It includes an article by Jack Cannon from the Melbourne Herald in 1960: "Speher and Haustorfer recruited a number of German migrant families - Schmidts, Meyers, Hannas, Nitschekes, Klowses and Schumanns - and formed a bullock wagon train for the trip from Mount Gambier, SA into the wilds of Victoria.
"For weeks the dust covered wagon train moved slowly across the plains, stopping each night for rest and repairs at creeks and waterholes along the 120 mile route.
"Henry Speher usually acted as advance scout for the wagon train watching for the jet black members of the Duanborap tribe who resented the movement of white men into their hunting land.
"Each night sentries kept watch over the sleeping families and stock they had taken with them. They fought off attacks from spear throwing Aboriginals who terrorised the camps with their weird night calls.
"Intense heat and swarms of flies brought sickness to the women and children and most members of the party suffered from sandy blight.
"When eventually the wagon train rumbled past Mount Arapiles, the sight of Natimuk Lake with its willow and wattle trees must have been inspiring to the German adventurers.
"The families set up a German settlement on the northern side of the lake and built rough log shanties until they had the time and money to erect real houses.
"The men went to work as shepherds, timber cutters and bullock wagon drivers for the Wilson Brothers who in 1844 had taken possession of 115,200 acres and established Vectis Station. 
"In off duty hours they established wheat and sheep farms beside the lake and used their guns to protect their properties against the hordes of resentful natives who stole and crippled sheep.
"Henry Speher was acknowledged leader of the German settlement and his 320 acre farm was one of the local show places."


Other Attractions in the Area

Mount Arapiles - Tooan State Park
Located to the west of town, and impossible to ignore as it rises from the flat plains of the Wimmera, is Mount Arapiles. It is sometimes affectionately referred to as the 'Ayers Rock of the Wimmera'. It is considered by abseiling enthusiasts to be the country's premier abseiling locations because it has a sandstone rock face which rises 356 metres. This has given the district an international appeal. The surface of the mountain is reliable and there are more than 3,000 abseiling routes of varying difficulty. Abseiling courses are run from the summit. 
The Djurite Balug clan occupied the area around the mountain (which they called 'Djurite') and there is archaeological material to testify to their presence. The first European to climb Mount Arapiles was surveyor Major Mitchell in 1836. He named it after the hills in Spain which were the site of the Battle of Salamanca during the Napoleonic Wars. 
Located 9 km from town along the Wimmera Highway is a turnoff which leads into the Mount Arapiles State Park. There are two main roads in the park - Mount Arapiles Summit Road and Centenary Park Road. Mount Arapiles Summit Road terminates at a car park and there is a short track to the summit where there is a scenic lookout, a telecommunications relay station and a fire watching tower. 
Historically the area around Mount Arapiles has been subject to the incursions of prospectors searching, not for gold, but for the riches reputedly left by bushranger Captain Melville. Melville used the mountain to watch the Adelaide-Melbourne coach road below. Melville Cave lies along a short side-road which leads off to the right from Mount Arapiles Summit Road. Also near the top of Mount Arapiles Summit Road is a side road on the right which leads to the Bluff picnic area which offers panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.
The other road in the park is Centenary Park Road which leads past the foot of the mountain to the Centenary Park Campground & Picnic Area. The park was created and named in 1936 to celebrate the centenary of Major Mitchell's ascent of the mountain. The shady pines were planted at that time. Two walking trails lead to the summit. The most popular one is a 15 km, 3 hours one way, Circuit Walk which leaves from the Campground and traverses the slope and circumnavigates the rock. The area is noted for its plant and animal life, including fine wildflower displays in spring.
There is a useful, downloadable brochure which can be obtained at http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/315606/Visitor-Guide-Mount-Arapiles-Tooan-SP.pdf.

Mitre Rock
Located, and clearly visible, on the Natimuk-Goroke Road to the north of Mount Arapiles is Mitre Rock. It is an isolated outcrop on the right-hand side of the road, a sacred Aboriginal site which is surrounded by a small reserve. The European name refers to the shape of the rock which was thought to resemble a bishop's mitre. 

Arapiles Big Sky Bicycle Trail
This is a pleasant, easy and flat 33 km bike ride which passes along the edges of Lake Natimuk, Mitre Lake, Mount Arapiles and starts and finishes in Natimuk. It has directional markers and interpretation signs along the way which invite riders to look out for grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies, ground-dwelling short-beaked echidnas, shingleback lizards, tree and sand goannas, eastern brown snakes, ringtail and brushtail possums and 111 species of birds including weebills, thornbills, honeyeaters, lorikeets, parrots, kookaburras, galahs, magpies, rosellas, robins, blue wrens and wedgetail eagles.

Jane Duff Reserve
Located 21 km west of Natimuk on the road to 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'. There is a very detailed account of the entire Jane Duff story at http://www.susangeason.com/nonfiction.html#b.

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." 

Mott's Dummy Hut
Located 4 km west of the town, on the north side of Goroke Road, is Mott's dummy hut, which is nothing more than a timber room sitting on top of some logs. Built in 1872 it is a memento to a strange moment in Australian land reform. As the Victorian Heritage Database points out: "The hut is of great historical significance as a rare, if not unique, manifestation of the vagaries of the Land Selection Acts of the 1860's in Victoria. These acts, including the notorious Duffy Act, were intended to make possession of land universally possible, but were subject to widespread abuse, including the use of dummy selectors by squatters to protect their holdings and by land agents to gain advantage. David Mott's hut was erected as a dummy to increase his father's adjacent selection." See http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/68624 for more details.

Gold Escort Route
About 7 km west of Natimuk along the Goroke Road, just before the Mount Arapiles turnoff, there is a signposted right-hand turn onto Grass Flat Road. Near its end is a cairn which marks the site where the gold escort passed through the district in 1852 and 1853. The Gold Escort was intended to reverse the currency drain from South Australia during the Victorian goldrushes by bringing some of the gold back to Adelaide. About £1 million worth of gold passed this spot during 18 trips to Adelaide in the years 1852 and 1853.



* There is evidence from carbon dating near Mount Talbot that First Nations peoples were in the area 5,170 years ago.

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Djurite Balug clan, part of the Jardwadjali First Nations language group.

* The first Europeans in the area were Major Thomas Mitchell and his party in 1836. Mitchell climbed Mount Arapiles on 23 July, 1836. It was named after a hill in Spain.

* The explorer, Edward John Eyre, passed through the area in 1838.

* The first European settlers were the Wilson brothers who established vast sheep properties in this area in 1844. 

* The following year Major William Firebrace took over the lease for the Vectis station. 

* Explorers Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills agisted 26 camels on this station for 18 months during their expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria.`

* It was a First Nations tracker from the Vectis station, King Richard, who found the three lost Duff children in 1864. 

* The Wilson family bought back the lease to the Vectis station in 1860. 

* Closer settlement proceeded when land in the area was taken up by Lutheran selectors from Germany in the 1870s.

* The local post office was opened in 1874 as Natimuk Creek.

* The first state school opened in the town in 1875. Half the students were of German parentage. 

* By 1878 the German settlers had established a flour mill in the town.

* The first edition of the West Wimmera Mail and Natimuk Advertiser was published in 1887.

* In 1888 Arapiles Shire was formed.

* In 1952 the Shire Offices were moved to Natimuk.

* In 1997 Brigitte Muir from Natimuk became the first Australian woman to reach the top of Mount Everest.

* In 2010 the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline brought treated drinking water to the town.


Visitor Information

Enquiries should be directed to the General Store and the Natimuk Hotel in Main St, tel: (03) 5387 1300.


Useful Websites

There is a useful official site. Check out http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Grampians/Destinations/Natimuk.

Got something to add?

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

6 suggestions
  • Perhaps a mention of the Wileman family and the salt works they operated in the area for many years would be nice.

    David Bishop
  • Mount Arapiles is all about the rock climbing not abseiling.

    Luke Weatherstone
  • I have a photo of my Great Grandfather Ernest Sutherland Miles driving a steam locomotive. He was a train driver in Natimuk

    Gayle Rigby
  • The Levitzke/Lewitzka family took up lot number one in Natimuk . There is a plaque on the side of the road to commemorate this event . The family was known as pioneers of the Wimmera . A number of the family are buried in the Natimuk cemetery .Christian and Christine Levitzke are my great grandparents . I have a photo of their farm house in Natimuk .

    John levitzke
  • “resentful natives”
    Shocking reference to the Traditional Owners of Natimuk and region.
    Also the Jane Duff story had conflicting information with your following overview on who is being credited with the rescue of the Duff children.

    Mars Drum