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Orbost, VIC

Medium sized service centre which describes itself as the "Heart of the Snowy River Country".

Orbost is a pleasant rural town on the river flats of the Snowy River. The town is a primarily a service centre for a district dominated by beef and dairy cattle, the grow beans and maize, and the timber industry. Orbost is essentially a one-street town with most of the town's hotels, historic buildings and businesses located on Nicholson Street which is attractive and quiet. The historic slab hut, now the visitor centre, is a reminder of the harshness of early life for European settlers in the area. There are a number of pleasant walks and cycleways which allow visitors to experience the tranquility of this rich and fertile valley.


Orbost is located just off the Princes Highway, 45 metres above sea level and 371 km east of Melbourne and 669 km from Sydney.


Origin of Name

In 1845 the land in the Snowy River valley was sold to Norman McLeod, a Scot who named the area Orbost after a place on the Isle of Skye, where he was born, in Scotland. No one is sure why he named the town Orbost. There a number of possible explanations. Some suggest it was the name of a town on the Isle of Skye. Others claim it was the McLeod seat on the island. Other sources claim it is a Gaelic word meaning 'winged island'. And still others that it was the birthplace of McLeod. None of these are incompatible. It could have elements of all four explanations.


Things to See and Do

The Slab Hut and Forest Park
The Slab Hut, now the Visitor Information Centre, was built as a family home in 1872. It was located 3 km upstream from the junction of the Buchan and Snowy Rivers. It was built by John Moore, a Scottish settler, with the help of his neighbours - Harry Dargan and the McCole brothers. No nails were used in the structure. It was wired together. The building was dedicated to the Orbost Historical Society in 1966 and by 1969 the Historical Society were asking the Shire Council to help provide land and rebuild it closer to town. It was removed and stored in 1970 and in 1984 the current site on the corner of Nicholson Street and Clarke Street was made available and it was rebuilt. Today it combines a Visitor Centre with a "living museum". It is a rare opportunity to see how people lived in the 1870s. Just below the Slab Hut is the Forest Park which is an ideal place for a picnic. It is also the beginning of the Orbost to Bairnsdale Rail Trail cycleway and has interesting signage which explains local Aboriginal legends and defines the tribal boundaries of the Krowathunkoolooong Country. The story it tells of "Borun the Pelican and Tuk the Musk Duck" is the Dreamtime account of how the people arrived in the area.

Orbost Town Walk
The Slab Hut has copies of a simple brochure titled Orbost Town Walk, a circular walk which includes most of the town's historic buildings including the Butter Factory (1916) which once housed the town's electricity generator and was used to make butter and cheese from the local milk; the Old Pump Station which records the record levels the Snowy River had flooded to; the Sensory Garden (see below); the Memorial Clock (built in the 1950s) and the Commonwealth Hotel (1901) which stand at the top of the town's main street; the Post Office (built in 1898 and rebuilt in 2008); the Club Hotel which dates from 1884 and is the oldest hotel in town; and the timber Presbyterian Church which dates from 1898. The walk finishes in Forest Park which lies just below the Slab Hut. There are interesting and informative signs around town with text and photographs recalling moments in the town's history.

Sensory Garden
Located on Forest Road, the Sensory Garden is an ideal place for a quiet walk or a picnic. The Sensory Garden was created in 1993 as a project for local, unemployed youth. The idea was to introduce the unemployed to the twin skills of construction and horticulture and create an unusual garden for the community. "The flower beds were planted for colour, scent, touch and sound. The pathway was constructed from different materials to enable people from the Noweyung centre to sense the different surfaces from their wheelchairs. The garden contains the silhouette of the local poet Grace Jennings Carmichael. The metal silhouette was donated by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch.

Snowy Riverside Walking Track
There is a delightful 5 km walk that starts at the Sensory Garden and heads down to the banks of the Snowy River, past Forest Park and on to the start of the East Gippsland Rail Trail. It has extensive signage with detailed information about the river and the floodplain. The East Gippsland Bird Observers Club has a brochure which lists the 93 species of bird which have been sighted along the trail. It includes ducks, goshawks, thornbills, honeyeaters as well as lorikeets, parrots, kingfishers, corellas and cockatoos.


Other Attractions in the Area

East Gippsland Rail Track
The East Gippsland Rail Track runs from Orbost via Nowa Nowa to Bairnsdale. It is 94 km and at various points is coarse gravel, fine gravel and sealed. The final section from Nowa Nowa to Orbost is 38 km. Unfortunately, although there is a spectacular viaduct over the Snowy River floodplain, it is not open to cyclists. "The trail ends at Burns Road and there is a shared pathway which follows minor roads, crosses the Snowy River and leads visitors to Forest Park and the centre of Orbost via the highway bridge." Check out https://www.railtrails.org.au/trail?view=trail&id=143 for details. There is a downloadable map at http://www.eastgippslandrailtrail.com.au/pdf/Rail%20Trail%20MAP%202009.pdf.

The Bataluk Cultural Trail - Forest Park and Salmon Rock
The Bataluk Cultural Trail runs from Sale in the east through Bairnsdale, Metung, Lake Tyers, Buchan and Orbost to Cape Conran in the west. It follows the trails and trading routes of the local Aborigines and focuses on elements of Kurnai history and culture, including Dreamtime stories, traditional lifestyles, the Den of Nargun, Legend Rock, Aboriginal Keeping Places, archaeological sites such as canoe trees and shell middens, cultural centres of the region, and aspects of European invasion, colonial settlement and present-day existence.

At Orbost the focus is on Moogji Aboriginal Council. Go to Forest Park where interesting signage explains local Aboriginal legends and defines the tribal boundaries of the Krowathunkoolooong Country. The story it tells of "Borun the Pelican and Tuk the Musk Duck" is the Dreamtime account of how the people arrived in the area. For more detailed information and the full range of sites in East Gippsland check out http://www.batalukculturaltrail.com.au. Check out information below on Cape Conran Coastal Park where you can inspect the Salmon Rock and Gunai Boardwalk.

The Bataluk Cultural Trail website (http://www.batalukculturaltrail.com.au/cape_conran.php) explains: "Turn south off the Princes Highway at Orbost to Marlo. From there take the Conron Road east to the Cape. The viewing platform at Salmon Rock is built above an Aboriginal shell midden; the top layer is visible. A shell midden denotes a special site or meeting place where people have gathered regularly for many generations to feast, celebrate and perform ceremonies. Middens in East Gippsland have been dated at over 10,000 years old ... Shell Middens are mounds or ‘rubbish tips’ where the Gunaikurnai have sat in one area for a constant period of time and left or thrown away their rubbish. Eventually this rubbish tip builds up with many different tools and species of marine life remains such as the shells of oysters, mussels, crayfish, fish bones and pippies.

East Cape
"This part of the coast is near the traditional border of the lands of the Gunnaikurnai people and the Bidawal and Monero people. The picturesque nature of the cape here, along with an abundance of food and the availability of ochre for ceremonies have made it an ideal meeting place for these groups. The people of Moogji Aboriginal community invite you to discover more about Aboriginal culture as you make your way along the boardwalk. The boardwalk protects important Aboriginal sites, while giving good access to the coast."

Stony Creek Trestle Bridge
Located 38.5 km west of Orbost, off the Princes Highway (follow the signs for 3 km on a gravel road), this remarkable structure was once part of the Bairnsdale to Orbost railway line. It is 276 metres long and 19 metres high and was completed 1900. Although it is part of the East Gippsland Rail Track it is not possible to cycle over the bridge. It can be admired from the car park which has a fascinating sign which records that when the rail line was completed: "Pioneers would come to Bairnsdale on market day and leave groceries and bread, meat, tools and newspaper orders with the local traders to be sent out to Hillside, Lindenow or Fernbank rail sidings. Later this service was extended onto the Orbost line, Bairnsdale soon became recognised as the service centre for a East Gippsland. Trains brought new markets to Bairnsdale. Special iced vans built by Vic Rail to transport our butter to Melbourne. Later fish from Lakes Entrance was packed in ice and sent to the fish market. New dairy farms were developed further out in the countryside because now the farmers could take their milk or cream to the nearest siding and have it sent to Bairnsdale. On the rich river flats market gardeners also used the services provided by the railways. For the first time they could grow peas, beans and other commercial perishable crops." The bridge is made mainly from red ironbark and grey box.

Cape Conran Coastal Park
Lying to the west of Bemm River and 33 km from Orbost, the Cape Conran Coastal Park covers 11,000 ha from Point Ricardo in the west to Sydenham Inlet in the east. It is accessed from the Princes Highway at Cabbage Tree Creek or via Orbost and Marlo. The main appeal of the park is that it has a large number of excellent bushwalking tracks and the unspoilt beaches are ideal for quiet, peaceful rambling.
There is an excellent, downloadable brochure http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/314528/Park-note-Cape-Conran-Coastal-Park.pdf which provides details of some of the best walks in the park including

* Pearl Point (25 km return) which goes from East Cape to Pearl Point and includes spectacular sedimentary rock formations, huge sand dunes and a diversity of seabirds and seals, dolphins and whales.

* Dock Inlet (14 km) a landlocked expanse of fresh water protected from the Tasman Sea by high sand dunes. The water is coloured by tannin from the surrounding tea trees and it is the home of White-bellied Sea Eagles.

* Yeerung River and Estuary - Estuary View Trail (1.5 km) - a track along the lower reaches of the Yeerung River where there is a rich diversity of fauna and flora.

* Yeerung Gorge (600 metres) - characterised by deep pools and unusual landforms.

* Heathland Walk (1 km, 1 - 1.5 hours return) - The Heathland Walk starts near the Activities Centre opposite the office on the west side of the camp road and passes through the heathland where it is possible to see the threatened Ground Parrot and where Grass Trees provide attract rosellas. Lizards and large Lace Monitors are common around Cape Conran.

* East Cape Boardwalk (600 metres - 1 - 1.5 hours return) - "The East Cape Boardwalk was a joint project of the then National Parks Service and the Moogji Aboriginal Council which have provided interpretative signs to explain how the Kurnai people used the many resources around the Cape. The boardwalk joins the Nature Trail and a loop can be made back to the East Cape Day Visitor Area, or continue on to the West Cape and Salmon Rocks Beach. The Salmon Rocks lookout is part of the Batuluk Cultural Trail and has information on Indigenous midden sites."

* Cape Conran Nature Trail (1.5 kms, 1.5 - 2 hours return via boardwalk) begins in the East Cape Day Visitor Area and continues across the Cape to the western side.
The Coastal Park has good camping facilities including self-contained cabins. It is also ideal for whale watching between May and October. 



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Orbost was inhabited by the Krowuntunkoolong group of the Kurnai Aborigines.

* The district was first settled by Europeans in 1842 when Peter Imlay took up grazing land which he called the Snowy River Station.

* In 1845 Imlay sold his land to Norman McLeod, a Scot who named the area Orbost. * By 1851 another Scot, Archibald Macleod, and his son John held a run of 24,322 acres in the fertile country of the Snowy River valley.

* Around 1851 a major massacre took place at Milly Creek when a worker on John McLeod's property killed 15-20 Kurnai Aborigines.

* The slab hut which is now the Visitor Centre in Orbost was built in 1872 upstream from the town. It was transferred to the town in 1987.

* Certainly a township didn’t emerge until the late 1870s.

* However by 1880 the Snowy River Shipping Company was shipping produce (mainly vegetables) from the area to Melbourne.

* In 1889 Herman Wehner established a blacksmith's business in Orbost.

* The newspaper, the Snowy River Mail, was first published in 1890.

* The arrival of the railway in 1915-16 stopped this trade.

* In 1927 the impressive Commonwealth Hotel opened for business.

* Today the town is a major service centre for the surrounding rural area.


Visitor Information

Orbost Visitor Information Centre, Slab Hut, Nicholson Street, Orbost, tel: (03) 5154 2424.


Useful Websites

There is no dedicated website for the town but http://www.discovereastgippsland.com.au/places/orbost is useful.

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