Home » Towns » VIC » Mallee » Swan Hill, VIC

Swan Hill, VIC

Historic port on the Victorian side of the Murray River.

Swan Hill is a substantial service centre located where the Murray River meets the Little Murray River at the eastern edge of the Mallee district in north-western Victoria. Historically it was an important port on the Murray but today it is a pleasant holiday destination and a service centre for the Riverina district with irrigation ensuring reliable crops of wheat, citrus fruits, grapes, fodder crops and maize. It is a pretty town which is an ideal centre for people wanting to explore this area of the Murray Valley.


Swan Hill is located 70 m above sea level on the Victoria-New South Wales border 338 km north-west of Melbourne via the Murray Valley Highway.


Origin of Name

The town was named by the surveyor and explorer, Major Thomas Mitchell, who camped near the Murray River in 1836 and wrote in his journal of a "shallow lagoon, where swans and other wild fowl so abounded that, although half a mile from our camp, their noise disturbed us through the night. I, therefore, named this somewhat remarkable and isolated feature, Swan-hill". The local First Nation people called it “Matakupaat” or “Place of the Platypus”.


Things to See and Do

City Tour
The downloadable Touring and Walking Guide to the Swan Hill Region (check out http://issuu.com/swanhillinc/docs/shtouringguide?e=3344073/2858431) has a drive around the centre of Swan Hill (complete with a map) which lists 16 places of historic interest including the Water Tower (built near the river in 1883) and Lift Bridge; the Riverside Park; the Pioneer Settlement Museum; the Swan Hill Art Gallery and the Swan Hill Racecourse; Swan Hill Secondary College; Memorial and Horse Trough; Flour Mill and Railway.

Now and Then: Historical Walk
The downloadable Touring and Walking Guide to the Swan Hill Region (check out http://issuu.com/swanhillinc/docs/shtouringguide?e=3344073/2858431) lists a total of 35 places of historic interest which are all located in the three blocks from the Murray River to Splatt Street.
Of particular interest are:
1. Railway Station
The first railway station in the town was opened in 1890 by the Governor of Victoria. This railway station was opened in 1898 and, sadly, heralded the demise of the river trade. It was renovated in 2007.
2. Giant Murray Cod
The town's "iconic" Big Thing is the 15 m long and 5.2 m wide Giant Murray Cod in Curlewis Street. It  is affectionately known as Arnold. The first Big Cod was built in 1991 in Melbourne and transported to Speewa to be used in a movie, Eight Ball. When the filming was completed the producers donated the Big Cod to Swan Hill. It had cost $35,000 to build and had been made with a combination of a timber frame and a fibreglass covering. It was officially unveiled in 1992 and updated/repaired in 1999. It is said that the people of Tocumwal dismiss it as a Murray trout and claim that their Big Cod, dating from 1967, is the real thing.
5 & 6. The Lift Span Bridge and First Water Tower
The bridge across the Murray River was built in 1896. It was the first lift-span bridge on the Murray with the central span being lifted to allow paddle steamers to pass. There were customs houses on both sides of the bridge until 1901. There is an historic water tower on the town side of the bridge which was built in 1883 as the town's first water supply.
11. National Bank
On the corner of Curlewis and McCallum Streets, is the charming, single storey National Bank (1888) now a firm of local solicitors, Garden and Green.
12. Burke and Wills Tree
The Burke and Wills Tree is an enormous Moreton Bay fig (reputedly one of the largest in the country). It was supposedly planted from a seed by a Dr Gummow who hosted Burke and Wills when they passed through the town in 1860 on their journey to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The tree is located in Curlewis Street. The trunk is 4 metres in diameter and it is believed that the root system reaches all the way to the river.
22. Town Hall
Built in 1935 it was officially opened in 1936 to celebrate the centenary of Major Mitchell's discovery and camp at Swan Hill. At the time it replaced the shire offices.
26. McCallum Street Water Tower
Demand for fresh water was such that this second water tower was built in 1902 to meet the needs of the town's rapidly increasing population.

Pioneer Settlement
Located on Monash Drive past the railway station, at Horseshoe Bend, is the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement, an open-air historical museum which covers 3 ha on the banks of the Little Murray. Australia's first such display, it is a reconstruction of a 19th-century river port. Employees are dressed in period attire. Kangaroos and peacocks wander around the complex while sheep and goats are tethered. There are several picnic areas, including one at Pental Island.
The website explains: "The Pioneer Settlement lets you experience Australian history first hand. You will find real-life Mallee cottages, a hotel, schools and shops, plus our enormous collection of working tractors and machinery – sourced mostly from the local area. You can feel the heat in the blacksmith shop, listen to the sounds of the old Pianola or take a ride through our Mallee township on a horse and cart. As you wander the site, you can also chat to our staff and volunteers, all looking the part in costumes of the period. The Pioneer Settlement opened in 1966 after a joint community and government effort to recognise the unique history of our Murray Mallee region. By the 1970s, the Pioneer Settlement was one of the most popular tourism destinations in Victoria, if not Australia, and the concept has been emulated around the country ... The Heartbeat of the Murray Experience includes a laser light show that, in a world-first, combines modern laser technology with the natural river environment. It tells the story of the Murray region from prehistoric times until today. Authentic streets and buildings have been recreated in the 'Horseshoe Bend Township'."
The attractions in this remarkable pioneer settlement include Black Bess (a steam engine dating from 1920 and weighing 28 tonnes); Jimmy Long's Bakery (it ran in Swan Hill from 1874-1913); the old fashioned Lolly Shop; the Paragon Cafe where lunch, drinks and light meals are served; the Echo Print Shop which still uses a treadle press printer; the Music Shop with its collection of old pianos and pianolas; the working blacksmith which dates to 1896; the woodturners who put on a display most weekends; an old photo parlour where visitors can dress up in period costume and be photographed in historic settings; the Kaiser Stereoscopic Theatre (1895) an entertainment venue in the late 19th century. It creates a three-dimensional impression when pictures within the large cylindrical chamber are viewed through special binoculars; an extensive collection of agriculture machinery with tractors, vintage cars, an old locomotive, carriages, trucks and buggies and there are free horse-drawn wagon rides and car rides in a 1920s Dodge (also free); the paddlesteamer PS Gem (1876) which, when operational, covered 1100 km a week from Morgan in South Australia to Mildura.
There is a one-hour Murray River cruises depart daily at 2.30 pm from Horseshoe Bend on board the PS Pyap (1896). Participants are provided with a river map pointing out physical and historic features such as the 1836 campsite of Thomas Mitchell. For prices check out http://www.pioneersettlement.com.au/experiences/rides-cruises. There is also the Heartbeat of the Murray spectacular, a laser light show, which screen every night at 9.30 pm. tel: (03) 5036 2410 or check out http://www.pioneersettlement.com.au/heartbeat. The Pioneer Settlement is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m., tel: (03) 5032 1093. For detailed information check out http://www.pioneersettlement.com.au.

Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery
Located at Horseshoe Bend and open 10.00 am - 5.00 pm Tuesday to Friday and 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Saturday and Sunday, the gallery is noted for its extensive collection of naive art. It also has regular travelling exhibitions. Check out https://www.swanhillregionalartgallery.com.au/ for details.

Riverside Park
The narrow, but pleasant, park beside the Murray (adjacent to Monash Drive) has a cairn which marks the site where the surveyor and explorer Major Mitchell, the first European in the area, camped on 21 June 1836. It was here, while unable to sleep, that he recorded in Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia: "Among the reeds on the point of ground between the two rivers was a shallow lagoon where swans and other wild fowl so abounded that, although half a mile from our camp, their noise disturbed us through the night. I therefore named this somewhat remarkable and isolated feature Swan Hill, a point which may probably be found to mark the junction of two fine streams."

Swan Hill River Walk
There is a downloadable Touring and Walking Guide to the Swan Hill Region (check out http://issuu.com/swanhillinc/docs/shtouringguide?e=3344073/2858431) which includes (page 24-29) a walk along the Murray which is described as "The walk can be started from anywhere along its length, and completed as a whole or in sections. Interpretative signs are marked with dots on the map. Other stories are simply to provide insight into the people and events that shaped our history, reminding us what a vital role the river plays in our past and future." It looks specifically at the native birds along the trail; the Murray cod; the red river gums; the naming of the town; the lift bridge and wharf; the Customs House and Power House; the PS Gem; the Pioneer Settlement and Regional Art Gallery and the local Aboriginal occupation of the area beside the river.


Other Attractions in the Area

Murray Downs
Located 2 km east of town, on the Moulamein Road, is the historic property and homestead of Murray Downs which was established in the 1840s after the property was settled in 1839. Suetonius Officer, a well-read philanthropist, pioneer irrigator and prominent figure in the development of the area, bought the station and built the current homestead in 1866. He introduced pumps, initially operated by horses and windmills and later by steam, and established fields of lucerne, maize and oranges. The property was so large it had its own bakery, blacksmith and up to 50 employees. In 1884 the property was bought by businessman and philanthropist Alfred Felton. The homestead is built largely of Murray Pine, the sap of which repels termites. It is surrounded by large formal gardens and the fort-like design was to protect against attacks from the local Aborigines. It is a private property and not open to the general public but it can be seen from the river. All those who take a Murray River cruise can admire this huge and impressive historic house.

Lake Boga
Located 17 km south of Swan Hill is Lake Boga which was used as a flying boat repair base during World War II. Today it is a popular spot for swimming, fishing, picnicking and sailing. On the highway beside the lake is the restored Cannie Ridge Steam Pump which was used to pump water into surrounding irrigation channels from 1904-1952.

Lake Boga District Drive
Covering a total of 35 km and focussed on a total of eight places of interest, this drive is included in the downloadable Touring and Walking Guide to the Swan Hill Region (check out http://issuu.com/swanhillinc/docs/shtouringguide?e=3344073/2858431). The highlights include the Little Murray Weir; the Lakeside Drive; the Flying Boat Museum and Bunker; the site of the Lake Boga Butter Factory; the Commercial Hotel; the Steam Engine; the Stone Fruit Packing Shed and the local cemetery.

Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum and Bunker
Located on Jacaranda Crescent in Lake Boga is a Catalina flying boat which is part of the museum which is located in an old bunker built in World War II. It recalls the time during World War II when a Flying Boat Repair Depot operated at Lake Boga. The museum has an interactive map display, memorabilia and photographs. It is open from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm daily, tel: (03) 5037 2850. Other attractions are the Imperial Egg Gallery at the Catalina Motel which has over 100 jewelled, carved and painted eggs (03 5037 2790), and the Von Glass and Craft Shop in Kerang St which specialises in stained glasswork and decorative boxes, tel: (03) 5037 2580.

Drives in the Area
There is an excellent booklet (it can be downloaded at http://issuu.com/swanhillinc/docs/shtouringguide?e=3344073/2858431) which provides detailed information on a pleasant "Rural District Drive" of 44 km (it comes with a map) which starts in McCallum Street and passes the Filtration Plant and Tower, the almond, olive and pistachio Sonre Farm, the Woorinen Drainage Lakes, the Woorinen RSL Hall, a Pheasant Farm, the channel system of the Woorinen Irrigation Channels, the Nyah State Forest, Tyntynder Homestead and Buller Wines. Of particular interest are:

Tyntynder Homestead
'Tyntyndyer' (Aboriginal for 'song of birds') was one of the district's first European properties. The homestead, set beside the river, was the first brick veneer homestead in the country. The original log cabin (1846) was covered by a veneer of bricks in 1850. The building is classified by the National Trust and is now owned by the local Aboriginal community who conduct guided tours explaining their perspective of the property and its landscape. There is a museum display of colonial-era items and Aboriginal artefacts. The gates of Tyntynder are located 17 km north of town on the Murray Valley Highway, just north of Beverford. It is open by appointment, tel: (03) 5037 6506.

Olson Game Birds - The Pheasant Farm
This game bird farm has been operating since 1968 and specialising in pheasants and guinea fowl which it sells to the city markets. It is open to visitors from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm Monday to Saturday and serves devonshire teas to coach groups. The farm is 33 km north-west of Swan Hill. Head north on the Murray Valley Highway for 10 km then turn left onto the Chillingollah Rd and it is another 17 km. Tel: (03) 5030 2648. For more information check out http://www.gamebirds.com.au.



* Prior to European settlement the area is thought to have been occupied by the Wemba-Wemba and Wati-Wati First Nations people.

* Surveyor and explorer, Thomas Mitchell, camped on the Murray River near Swan Hill in 1836 and gave the site its current European name.

* In 1839 Murray Downs station was established.

* The Beveridge brothers established 'Tyntynder', the first European property in the district, around 1846.

* A punt began operating at Swan Hill in 1847. It was the only point at which the Murray could be crossed within 160 km.

* A post office was opened in 1849.

* When the first punt sank the wood was salvaged and used to build the town's first hotel.

* In 1853 Swan Hill Captain Francis Cadell travelled by paddle steamer from the mouth of the Murray to Swan Hill. He reached the site of the town on 17 September, 1853.

* The Burke and Wills expedition reached Swan Hill on 6 September, 1860.

* Swan Hill became a municipality in 1871.

* By 1883 the town had a number of water towers.

* The railway from Bendigo reached the town in May, 1890.

* The town's steel lift bridge was completed in 1896.

* In 1914 a Japanese farmer, Isaburo Takasuka, grew the first commercial rice crop in the area.

* The town became a borough in 1939.

* Swan Hill became a city in 1965.


Visitor Information

Swan Hill Region Information Centre, cnr McCrae and Curlewis Streets, open 9.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, tel: (03) 5032 3033, or, toll-free, 1800 625 373.


Useful Websites

The council website - https://www.visitswanhill.com.au - has lots of useful information about the town.

Got something to add?

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