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Nhill, VIC

Important regional service centre in the heart of the Wimmera

Nhill is an important rural service centre surrounded by merino grazing and the Wimmera wheatbelt. There was a time when the town's grain silo was reputedly the largest single-bin silo in the Southern Hemisphere. The town is characterised by an attractive main street with a huge median strip which is so wide it contains Goldsworthy Park, a delightful spot with seats, neat lawns, trees and bushes, electric barbecues, a playground and a memorial statue to the Draught horse which was vital to the development of the Wimmera.  

Location

Nhill is located 376 km north-west of Melbourne - halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide - on the Western Highway. It is 352 km south-east of Adelaide.

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Origin of Name

Squatters Dugald Macpherson and George Belcher reached the area in 1845. They encountered a group of Wotjobaluk Aboriginal people camped by a swamp which was their spirit place and corroboree ground. The squatters understood the place to be called 'nhill' or 'nyell'. There are a number of interpretations of the word. Some suggest it meant "mist" or "spirits on the waters". Others argue that it reflected an identification between the swamp and the people - the sub-group Nyill of the Tyatyalla tribe. Macpherson named his run 'Nhill'.

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Things to See and Do

Welcome to Nhill
The Welcome to Nhill brochure can be downloaded at http://www.visithindmarsh.com.au/content/images/brochures%20forms/Nhill%20Visitor%20Guide.pdf. It provides a good map of the town as well as information about the history, activities, walks and reserves in the district.

John Shaw Neilson Cottage
The John Shaw Neilson National Memorial Cottage is located in Shaw Neilson Park on Victoria Street. The cottage was brought from Penola in South Australia where Nielson was born in 1872. It contains documents connected to the life of one of Australia's most admired lyric poets. Due to serious drought, Shaw Neilson moved with his family from Minimay to a spot just west of Nhill in 1889. He and his father worked at various jobs in the area and both published their poetry in local papers. Nielson left town in 1895. Near the cottage is an old wheat wagon, formerly common throughout the area. A couple of kilometres out of Nhill, on the way to Kaniva, there is a roadside memorial indicating where the original Neilson cottage stood. 

Jaypex Park and the Canoe Tree
Located less than 100 metres from the John Shaw Neilson Cottage and just off Victoria Street is the Canoe Tree. The tree has interesting signage which tells of how "This tree was removed from the Western Highway at the Jeparit Road junction. The bark was removed from the trunk around the year 1800 for use as a canoe. This was prior to the earliest exploration of the area by a European, Major Mitchell. The Nyill Balug people removed bark from tree to make items such as canoes, containers and shields and to make temporary shelters. They also cut 'toe holds' in trees to gain access to lookout points, possums, bees' nests and bark higher up in the tree. Some of these practices are continued by Wotjobaluk people to this day." The area around Nhill Lake and the Nhill Swamp was a popular meeting place where corroborees were held and tribes gathered.

Nhill Lake or Nhill Swamp
Located off Victoria Street, just south of the centre of town with easy access from Jaypex Park, Nhill Lake was originally part of Nhill Swamp. When full of water there is boating, water skiing, a boardwalk, a bird hide and plenty of birdlife to observe. However, a porous lake bed and unpredictable rains mean that it is often dry. There is a boardwalk which starts near the Canoe Tree and crosses to swamp. It leads to a bird hide and a walking track which goes around the shore of Nhill Lake.

Nhill Historical Society Museum
Located at 104-106 MacPherson Street, the museum has displays relating to local history. It has cemetery records for the Nhill and surrounding district cemeteries, a photographic collection, rare books and displays. The museum also has copies of The Nhill Free Press dating back to 1882 and a collection of poet, John Shaw Neilson, memorabilia. There are also crockery, glassware, kitchenware, household items, wedding dresses dating from 1860-1980, embroidery, Lowan Shire honour boards, and photographs. It is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm, tel: (03) 5391 2185. For more details check https://cv.vic.gov.au/organisations/nhill-district-historical-society-inc.

Post Office
One of the town's few remaining pre-1897 tornado survivors is the fine two-storey brick post office (1887) which features window arches and decorative woodwork within the gables. Look carefully at the foundation stone which has corn as a symbol of plenty, wine as a symbol of joy and oil as a symbol of gladness.

Draught Horse Sculpture
This sculpture is located in the park in Victoria Street.  The plaque on the statue points out that it was "erected by Horse Lovers of Australia" in 1968, cast by Joseph Oscar Swift at Mitcham in Victoria, and it was designed for the Nhill Draught Horse Memorial Committee. The memorial was modelled on a Clydesdale and modified to look like the draught horses which arrived in the district in 1844 and were responsible, among other duties, for hauling the local wheat harvest 160 km to the railhead at Stawell.

Mallee Fowl Sculpture
Located on the corner of Davis Avenue and Nelson Street, the Mallee Fowl Sculpture is a reminder of the importance of this unique bird in both the Little Desert National Park and Big Desert Wilderness Park. The sign reads: "The Lowan or Mallee Fowl builds a mound of sand and debris in which its eggs are incubated. This cutaway shows the position of the eggs in the mound."

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Other Attractions in the Area

Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre
Early in aviation history the editor of the Nhill Free Press, Fred McKenzie, successfully argued that Nhill should become an important refuelling location on the flight from Melbourne to Adelaide. As a result the Nhill aerodrome was visited by such famous aviators as Bert Hinkler, Charles Butler, Charles Kingsford Smith, Amy Johnson and Nancy Bird. Nhill hosted the first East-West Air Race from Sydney to Perth in 1929 and the Brisbane-Adelaide centenary race in 1936. During World War II it was the site of a Royal Australian Air Force Base which resulted in approximately 10,000 Air Force personnel being trained at the base between 1941-1946. Today the Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre tells the story of the local aviation history with displays and memorabilia, including the restoration of an Avro Anson and a very early example of a flight simulator. In 2018 it added to its collection when a very rare restored Wirraway - the plane was used to train pilots during World War II, was added to the collection. It was constructed from literally dozens of old, broken Wirraways by Aircraft Engineer, Ben Sorenson. It is open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm weekends. For more information check out http//www.nhillaviationheritagecentre.com.au.

Hermans Hill Nature Walk
Hermans Hill Nature Walk is located to the north-east of town on the edge of Wyperfield National Park. Take the Nhill-Rainbow Road. It offers a stroll through mallee scrub and heathland to a hill overlooking the surrounding district. There is a bird-hide and an information bay. The track is sandy and passes through stands of paperbarks. There is information on fauna and flora which is provided on notices along the route. 

Mallee Dam Bushland Reserve
Located off the Western Highway on Murray Dam Road, the Murray Dam Bushland Reserve is located 13 km west of town. It has a bird hide which is ideal for watching the birds in the district. For more information on the birdlife check out http://www.birdlife.org.au/locations/birdlife-nhill.

Little Desert National Park
To the south of Nhill 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. From Nhill the three most accessible points are  Kiata Campground, Kiata Sanctuary Picnic Ground and Stringybark Walk - 14 km east of Nhill on the Western Highway is Kiata. Turn right onto the Kiata South Road. After 7 or 8 km there is a signposted turnoff onto a gravel road on the left which leads to Kiata Campground where there are shelter sheds, picnic areas, toilets, fireplaces, caravan sites, drinking water and bushwalks. 

Little Desert Discovery Walk
For bushwalkers the Kiata Campground is a suitable starting place for the Little Desert Discovery Walk (marked with signposts and track markers). The total distance is 74 km. The circular track which starts at Kiata Campground and eventually returns via Ackle Bend and Horseshoe Bend Camp grounds to the Kiata Campground. 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 16 km south of Nhill 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.

Stringybark Walk
Just west of Nhill there is a turnoff to the left onto the Nhill-Harrow Road which heads south to the Little Desert Lodge. Beyond the Lodge, on the left-hand side of the road, is the starting point for the short Stringybark Walk (1 km, 30 minutes circuit) which is an excellent spot to see wildflowers (notably the Mallee Honey-myrtle), particularly in spring and early summer. There are also impressive stands of Desert Stringybark, Silver Banksia and Yellow Gums.

Big Desert Wilderness Park
Big Desert Wilderness Park is an arid area of sandstone ridges, sand dunes, mallee scrub and heath located to the north of Nhill. The infertility of the terrain has ensured that it has not been substantially altered by Europeans. The native fauna includes lizards, snakes, birds, the pygmy possum, the hopping mouse and other small mammal species. 
Access from Nhill is via the Nhill-Murrayville Rd which runs parallel to, but 5 km east of, the park's eastern boundary. It is suitable for two-wheel drives in dry weather and, as there is no vehicular access within the park, this is as close as you get. Parks Victoria advise people interested in exploring the park to walk 5 km from the road through a strip of public land into Big Desert. 
There are no facilities within the park. There are two basic camping areas on the Nhill-Murrayville Road. The Broken Bucket Tank Reserve is 55 km north of Nhill and the Big Billy Bore is 107 km north. The former has toilets, an information shelter, picnic and barbecue facilities. There is a Parks Victoria website - check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/big-desert-wilderness-park and a downloadable and excellent Birds of the Mallee Parks for birdwatching enthusiasts - http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/515877/Park-note-birds-of-the-Mallee-parks.pdf. It suggests that the birds to be seen in the park are the emu, Malleefowl, Stubble Quail, Black-Shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Spotted Harrier, Brown Goshawk, Collared Sparrowhawk, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Falcon, Nankeen Kestrel, Australian Bustard, Little Button-quail and Painted Button-quail, Common Bronzewing, Crested Pigeon, Galah, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Purple-crowned Lorikeet and many more.

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History

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

* In 1852 it was estimated that there were some 1200 Aborigines living in the area.

* Squatters Dugald Macpherson and George Belcher were the first white men to venture into the area in 1845. They encountered a group of indigenous people camped by a swamp. The squatters understood the place to be called 'nhill'. Macpherson subsequently established the 'Nhill' run.

* The first station in the district was established in 1846 by Horatio Ellerman and George Shaw. 

* In the 1850s the gold escort route between Victoria and South Australia passed within 6 km of the Nhill homestead.

* The transformation from grazing to wheat-growing occurred when selectors began to take up land from 1874.

* Nhill developed at the intersection of a number of squatters' tracks and beside the swamp which was commonly used by travellers as a camping ground and rest area. 

* A mill was established in 1879 and a survey was conducted. 

* The first hotel, a general store and drapery were constructed in 1880. 

* There were 80-100 people in the town in July 1880 with another 450-600 people within a radius of 7 km.

* 1881 saw the construction of a school, a police station, post office, Wesleyan Church, some shops, two more hotels and a town well. 

* A hospital was built in 1882. The Nhill Free Press published its first issue that year.

* A racing club was established in 1883. The shire's headquarters moved to Nhill this year.

* The Anglican Church was consecrated in 1884.

*  Rabbit plagues and wild dogs followed by wheat rust presented huge problems in the 1880s.

* Nhill benefited from the arrival of the railway in 1886. That year saw the Nhill and Tatiara Mail and West Wimmera Advertiser first published in the town.

* A flour mill was opened in 1889.

* Poet John Shaw Nielson and his family moved west of Nhill in 1889. 

* An 1891 census recorded the town population at 1102. That year saw the establishment of the Nhill Water Trust to supply town water. 

* In 1892 Nhill became one of the first Victorian country towns to acquire electric street lighting. 

* Vineyards, a butter factory and related creameries were established as a response to the economic depression and low wheat prices of the early 1890s. 

* Drought hit the town in 1896-1987. 

* A major tornado destroyed much of Nhill in 1897. 

* Noted Australian test cricketers J.W. Trumble and Hugh Trumble were raised in Nhill. 

* In 1912 the local primary school became a higher elementary school.

* In 1919 a De Havilland DH6 was the first plane to land at Nhill.

* A High School was opened in 1945.

* In 1946 the Wimmera Aero Club was established in the town.

* A plastic goods factory was established in the town in 1947.

* A duck processing factory was opened in the 1960s.

* New Council Offices were opened in 2014.

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Visitor Information

Hindmarsh Visitor Information Centre, centre of the median strip in Victoria Street, tel: (03) 5391 3086.

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Useful Websites

There is a very useful, downloadable brochure. Check out http://www.visithindmarsh.com.au/content/images/brochures%20forms/Nhill%20Visitor%20Guide.pdf.

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