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Stratford, VIC

Charming historic village with enthusiastic affiliations with Stratford-on-Avon.

Stratford is a charming Gippsland village which came into existence as a result of dairying, sheep, cattle and horse breeding in the district. Today it is characterised by pleasant rail cycleways, an Arts Trail, the excellent Apex park beside the river and a Shakespeare on the River festival which celebrates its links with Stratford in Warwickshire, England.


Stratford is located at a ford on the Avon River, 229 km east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway. It is 17 km north of Sale.


Origin of Name

Given that it is the location of a ford across the Avon River, and the Avon River runs through Stratford in England, it is accepted that the name Stratford was simply borrowed from the famous Shakespearian town in Warwickshire. There is an alternative theory that it is a contraction of "straight ford" which was the benefit of the river crossing.


Things to See and Do

Arts Trail & Sculpture Walk
The Stratford Arts Trail was opened in April, 2012. It comprises nine interactive "Thought Spaces" which are linked over a 3 km trail. The Arts Trail is an unusual mix of story, song, history and sculpture depicting various images associated with Shakespeare - thus No.5 is a sinking ship and is titled "Tempest" and No.9 is a sculpture of a desk and is titled "Shakespeare's Desk". It should be started at the Segue Cafe, next to the Courthouse Theatre, in Tyers Street where it is possible to get an MP3 guided tour and maps & MP3 players. Walking the trail is free, although a modest fee applies to hire an MP3 player. The trail is open daily all year round and is a very pleasant and relaxing walk around the town. For more detailed information check out http://www.gippslandplainsrailtrail.com.au/stay-explore/trail-highlights/item/stratford-arts-trail.

Stratford Railway Bridge
This very distinctive and substantial bridge can be accessed by walking through the Apex Park on the Art Trail. The first train crossed the bridge, which at the time was 110 metres long, in May, 1888. By 1940 the bridge had been expanded to 274 metres to accommodate the increasing width of the Avon River. A total of seven spans had to be added. It is easy to see the extensions as a section of the bridge is made from timber and the more recent sections are made from steel.

Stratford Historical Society and Museum
Located in the Methodist Church (1873), the Museum is open every Tuesday from 10.00 am - 3.00 pm and the fourth Sunday of the month from 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm. The collection covers the towns and villages of Stratford, Munro, Stockdale, Clydebank, Bundalaguah, Nuntin, Marlay Point, Invermichie, Castleburn, Dargo, Grant, Crooked River and the other nearby alpine goldfields, including Black Snake Creek. It collects artefacts, documents and photographs from this area. For more information check out http://stratfordhs.blogspot.com.au.


Other Attractions in the Area

Bataluk Cultural Trail
The Bataluk Cultural Trail runs from Sale in the west, through Stratford, Mitchell River National Park, Bairnsdale, Metung, LakeTyers, Buchan and Orbost to Cape Conran in the east. It follows the trails and trading routes of the Gunaikurnai people and focuses on elements of their 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 (some dating back 10,000 years), cultural centres of the region, and aspects of European invasion, colonial settlement and present-day existence. At Stratford the focus is on Knob Reserve (see http://www.batalukculturaltrail.com.au/knob_reserve.php for details) with its canoe trees and sandstone outcrops where axes were sharpened.

Knob Reserve
Located 3 km south east of Stratford (via Redbank Road) is a 56 ha park called Knob Reserve which is now a vital part of the Bataluk Cultural Trail with evidence of canoe trees and sandstone outcrops that were used to sharpen axe heads. At the crest of the hill, an easy walk from the car park, is a lookout platform where visitors can enjoy a panoramic view across the local farmlands, the foothills and the Avon River. The bluff, on a bend of the Avon, was a major campsite for the Guniakurnai people. It was a well sheltered campsite, close to the river and the fertile river flats. It would have allowed large gathering to meet for feasting, corroborees and other ceremonies. By 1886 all "full blood" Aborigines in Victoria were forced to live on missions. "In secret and in fear, Aboriginal people would walk the 15 km from Ramahyuck mission, at the mouth of the Avon River, to meet with relatives at this traditional gathering place." The reserve is suitable for a picnics and recreation. Check out http://www.tourismwellington.com.au/stratford/attractions/item/knob-reserve for more details.

Howitt Bicycle Trail
The Sale and District Sunday Afternoon Cyclists website (explains https://sadsacs.wordpress.com/howitt-bicycle-trail) : "The Howitt Bicycle Trail was designed as a 13-day round trip, starting and finishing in Sale, with options for cyclists to either complete the entire journey or to only undertake parts of the Trail depending on their level of expertise or time available." Day 1 and 2 are on either side of Stratford with Day 1 being from Sale – Maffra – Stratford : 41 kms of flat terrain with a degree of difficulty of 1 and Day 2 – Stratford – Briagolong – Lindenow – Bairnsdale : 84 kms of flat/undulating terrain with a degree of difficulty of 2. For more information check out https://sadsacs.wordpress.com.

Gippsland Plains Rail Trail
This new trail runs from Stratford to Traralgon, a distance of 67 km. It follows the rail line that was opened in 1883 and which, historically, carried timber and sugar beet from the area. It started to be closed in 1986 and the Rail Trail was officially opened in 2005. The most popular section from Stratford is Stratford to Tinamba, a distance of 18 km. There are three sections - Stratford to Powerscourt (5 km) which starts at Apex Park in Stratford which crosses the Avon River and has views of two railway bridges and a long, flat, easy to ride, section; Powerscourt to Maffra (5 km) which passes Avon Ridge winery (which has a beautiful garden and an opportunity to do a little wine tasting) and Powerscourt, now a private home which can be seen from the Maffra-Stratford Road. Powerscourt Homestead dates from the 1850s with, as local legend has it, a huge ballroom which was added in 1894 by a farm labourer who had stuck gold the same year and purchased the property. He added the ballroom to accommodate his daughter's 21st birthday party; and Maffra to Tinamba (8 km) which is flat and easy. Near Maffra the trail is known as The Billabong Trail. It is characterised by dense, green vegetation and a billabong which has a tropical rainforest feel about it. The bridge crossing the Macalister River offers a wonderful view of the river and sweeping views across to Macalister Park.

Located 22 km from Stratford and beyond Perry Bridge, "Strathfieldsaye" was the homestead of squatter, William Odell Raymond, who established a run in the area in 1842 and built the house in 1848-54 from hand-made bricks and pit sawn timber. It is located on Strathfieldsaye Road on a ridge overlooking Lake Wellington. Apart from some extensions in the 1870s it remains almost untouched, structurally. Along with its furnishings and some ancestral memorabilia, "Strathfieldsaye" was entrusted to the University of Melbourne in 1976. The Heritage Council of Victoria notes of the buildings: "This single storey building, located about 130 metres from the north shore of Lake Wellington, is now encircled by a verandah and has views over the lake. Later additions to the house date to the 1890s and 1920s.
"William Henderson Disher, with no apparent previous experience of farming, acquired the run in 1869. It had been reduced to 20,000 acres of land stocking 4,000 wethers and 1,100 superior bred Durham cattle. Disher developed the station into a diversified agricultural and pastoral property. It remained in the hands of the Disher family until bequeathed to the University of Melbourne in 1976 by Dr Clive Disher. Dr Disher was Deputy Director of Medical Services during the Second World War. The contents and furnishings of the house were bequeathed to the National Trust and remain in situ. In addition to the homestead there is a large complex of nineteenth century station and farm buildings. There is a shearing shed, mustering shed, several storage sheds, a dairy, meat house, shearer's quarters and toilets. These buildings display a variety of construction techniques, including adzed vertical and horizontal slabs, bark ceilings, and stud frames clad with weatherboards. The manager's house and gardener's house were built in a consistent style in c.1917. The outbuildings house a substantial collection of farm machinery, dating from early horse-drawn implements to later mechanised equipment. The homestead garden is laid out primarily on the sloping land between the house and lake, with a simple kitchen service garden at the rear of the house. The garden was developed in two stages. The first was before 1892 (probably by 1870) and the second by further planting in the mid-1930s. Some of the layout has been attributed to the stonemason Ellis Stones. Vegetation in areas adjacent to the homestead includes mixed conifer plantings along the driveway, some shoreline specimens to the east of the homestead and isolated trees and groups of trees in paddocks to the west of the homestead. Species along the driveway include Bunya Bunya Pine, Canary Island Pine, Silky Oak and Monterey Cypress. Close to the garden fence is a notable White Cypress Pine. In the paddocks the mature nineteenth century plantings include five Plane trees, eight Monterey Cypress, a Pepper tree, Cottonwood, Elm and two Pears. Next to the shearers quarters is a rare Populus candicans. A large remnant Forest Red Gum near the garden entrance, and referred to as the Navigation Tree due to the assistance it provided to boats on Lake Wellington, is an important landscape feature and of historic value." For more details check out http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/1128/download-report.

Ramahyuck Moravian Mission
In 1863, the Ramahyuck Moravian Mission was established several kilometres downstream from Stratford, on the north bank, by Reverend August Hagenauer. The name combines "Ramah", the home of Samuel in the First Book of Kings, with "yuck", an Aboriginal term reputedly meaning "our place". Its intention was to remove the local Aborigines from their tribal culture and accustom them to Christianity and white mores. To this end they were taught to play cricket. Though it was never self-sufficient, the mission cultivated fruit, vegetables, sheep, cattle and bees. A church, school and orphanage were built and the 931 hectares were fenced in. At its peak, eighty Aborigines were permanent residents. 
Financial difficulties caused a slow decline from 1888 until the mission's closure twenty years later. The Aborigines were taken to another mission, the buildings were destroyed and the land was sold off. Today, all that remains are three headstones and some lacerations around the trees where the bark was torn off to make domestic implements, shields and canoes, and where toeholds provided access to the trees' possums. One of the gravestones belongs to Hagenauer's first Aboriginal convert, Nathaniel Pepper. About ninety other tombs, eighty of them belonging to Aborigines, were only marked by perishable wooden crosses.

Briagolong, which is 18 km north of Stratford, has a number of historic buildings. They all have signs outside explaining their history and importance. The most impressive include the primary school (1873), the Mechanics Institute (1874), the Briagolong Hotel (1880), and an attractive private residence, 'Mount View', with its veranda valances, bay windows, flagstone paving and decorated timber gable boards. This house was built near Freestone Creek in 1872 for Irish immigrant and former police sergeant of the Walhalla goldfields, Michael Feely, who developed methods to increase the proficiency of local dairying. The floor of Australia House in the UK was made of yellow stringybark from the region around Briagolong and local sawmills were used to cut the red-gum paving blocks which once adorned Melbourne's streets.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was home to the Brayakooloong people of the Gurnaikurnai First Nations language group.

* The first European into the area was Angus McMillan, who named the Avon River after a body of water in his native Scotland.

* McMillan established a pastoral run in 1840 at Bushy Creek, to the north-west of the township.

* It has been claimed that "the first house in Gippsland was built on the site of Stratford, and it was, after Sale, the first surveyed township in the north". Certainly "Strathfieldsaye", the homestead of squatter, William Odell Raymond, was built around 1848, although Hartwich's Hut, on the same property, is thought to have been built before the house.

* Between 1840-1850 McMillan, who would go on to become Protector of Aborigines, was responsible for a large number of massacres of Gurnaikurnai First Nations people.

* Stratford prospered in the 1860s as a supply centre for diggers at the Omeo and Dargo goldfields.

* In 1863 Ramahyuck Moravian Mission to local Aborigines was established downstream from Stratford.

* Other early buildings which are still standing include what is now the R.S.L. Hall (built 1866),

* The Church of Holy Trinity was consecrated in 1868.

* The Methodist Church, including its bell tower, was erected in 1873.

* A post office was opened in 1884.

* In 1908 the Ramahyuck Moravian Mission closed down.

* The first Shakespeare on the River Festival was held in 1989.

* In 1998 the town became a member of the Stratford Sister Cities program.


Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information in Stratford. The closest is Wellington Visitor Information Centre, 8 Foster Street, Sale tel: (03) 5144 1108, or 1800 677 520.


Useful Websites

There is a useful local website. Check out http://www.tourismwellington.com.au/stratford/about-the-town and there is a downloadable brochure http://www.tourismwellington.com.au/images/brochures/pdf/Discover%20Stratford.pdf.

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