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Wangaratta, VIC

Rural Cathedral City on the Ovens and King Rivers.

Wangaratta is a substantial rural service centre in north-east Victoria famed for its Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues which attracts artists of genuinely international stature and its proximity to some of Victoria's finest wine growing regions. The city is located on the Ovens and King Rivers which wind through the town and have dotted the local landscape with not only lagoons and billabongs but also riverine parklands and minor tributaries including Three Mile Creek which runs along the western side of the city and One Mile Creek which runs through the city centre. Being an important service centre the city is surrounded by vineyards and the local economy is driven by textiles plants, light engineering works and a substantial retail sector.


Wangaratta is located 252 km north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway (M31). It is 150 m above sea-level.


Origin of Name

An important early settler, George Faithfull, established the 'Wangaratta' cattle station on the Ovens River in 1837 or 1838. It is said that he took the name from a local Pangerang Aboriginal word which possibly meant a "nesting place for cormorants".


Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings in Town
There are a significant number of important buildings in Wangaratta. Most of them are concentrated on the city's main street and it is worthwhile just strolling from the Ovens River to St Patrick's along Murphy Street. The notable buildings include:

* St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, faced with white granite from the Warby Ranges, and designed by William Wardell (he designed St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne and St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney) in the Gothic Revival style. The initial construction was started 1865 and completed in 1869. The second section of brownstone from the Warby Ranges was added in 1905. It included the nave and the fine Gothic tower. A wing, which includes a piety stall and parish library, was added in 1961. It is located at the corner of Ryley St and Ford St. It features outstanding stained-glass windows.

* The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, sometimes called Holy Trinity Cathedral dates from 1908-09. Located at the corner of Ovens and Docker Streets it features a timber belfry with eight bells (the oldest ring of eight in Australia) which were brought to Australia from a church in Lancashire, England where they were cast in 1806 to celebrate the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

* Bishop's Lodge - Nearby, at 38 Ovens Street, is a grand two-storey Edwardian house in the Queen Anne style which was built in 1904 and known as Bishop's Lodge. It became the residence of Wangaratta's first bishop, Thomas Armstrong, when the church was declared a cathedral. It was placed on the National Estate in 1992. Their description invites those who view it to note: "Major features include half-timbered projecting gables, tall chimneys, a spire with louvred vents, several small finials and considerable filigree work to the double storey veranda. The residence is set in spacious grounds which encompass a mature garden."

* One of the city's oldest surviving buildings is the former London Chartered Bank (it was subsequently absorbed into the ES & A Bank and then the ANZ Bank) (1875) at 49-51 Reid St. Heritage Victoria has written that the building is "a two storey symmetrical free-standing rendered brick building in the Academic Classical style, which was common for banks at the time. It has a three bay facade and a Doric porch over the centrally located entrance. The facade is ornamented with prominent mouldings on string courses, ground floor window arches, upper floor window heads and eaves dentils. A low fence with iron pickets marks the street boundary. Two chimneys rendered and with simple mouldings, are placed symmetrically on the side walls, behind a low roof parapet."

* The Post and Telegraph office in Murphy St dates from 1873 and it still has an elegance which symbolises the prosperity of the city at the end of the nineteenth century. Over the years it has been altered considerably.

* There are a number of interesting and gracious private houses in the city including Warra (1908), Waldara (1883) and Bontharambo (1843). For more information check out http://www.wanghistsoc.org.au/historicalProperties.php

Wangaratta Cemetery
The cemetery, at the south-western end of town (drive away from the city centre on Wangaratta Road- Tone Road), contains the headless remains of the infamous local bushranger Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan. Morgan was buried outside the cemetery but subsequently the fence was moved and he has been incorporated. The story of his death is told on a plaque on his grave which, in part, reads: "On Saturday 8th April, 1885 Morgan arrive at Peechelba Station. He rounded up staff and occupants, and spent some hours dining with them and chatting. One servant slipped out and police in Wangaratta were notified. Morgan stayed on at Peechelba talking. The police surrounded the homestead with a force of regional volunteers at around 2am.

Morgan emerged at 8am and, unsuspecting, walked to the stables. One of the volunteers, a stationhand named John Wendian, became over anxious and fired. The shot struck Morgan down. It was the only shot of the encounter. Morgan died soon after.

The body was removed to Wangaratta where a photographer, in search of fame, propped it up with pillows and took its' photograph. The police skinned Morgan of his beard and the coroner had him decapitated sending his head to Professor Halford at Melbourne University for study. There was a public outcry at these actions, but Victoria Police had achieved what their NSW counterparts had failed to do for years ... they stopped the reign of terror of arguably Australia's most vicious outlaw, MAD DOG Morgan."

If you enter at the main Tone Road entrance there is a signpost (Dan Morgan's Grave) and Morgan's grave is located in the north-east corner.

Wangaratta Exhibitions Gallery
The Exhibitions Gallery is situated in the former Presbyterian Church (1899) at 56 Ovens Street. It has been a gallery since 1987 and is owned by the City of Wangaratta. It has over fourteen exhibitions each year as well as highlighting the best work of local artists particularly in textiles, small sculpture and wood. It is open from Noon to 5.00 pm on Monday and Tuesday, 10.00 am - 5.00 pm. Wednesday to Friday and from 1.00pm to 4.00p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free, tel: (03) 5722 0865.

Merriwa & Kaluna Park
Merriwa Park at one end of Murphy Street is a beautiful park with a fine sunken garden and handsome stands of River Red Gums. It was officially opened in 1905 and is an integral park of the city. Not surprisingly ducks and other aquatic birdlife can be seen in King River which meanders through the park.

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz
Now called the Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival, this annual event (always held on the weekend before the Melbourne Cup) is regarded as the finest jazz festival in Australia. Details and information about the program can be accessed at http://www.wangarattajazz.com/


Other Attractions in the Area

Tarrawingee, which is located 11 km south-east of Wangaratta, is named after a Pangerang term reputedly meaning 'plenty of water'. It was settled by Europeans in the 1860s. An early squatter was Sir Francis Murphy, the speaker of Victoria's first Legislative Assembly; a pub, the Plough Inn, was built in 1864 and became an important coach stop - it still operates today; and the Carinya store and homestead were built in 1860 for Thomas Ladson but was subsequently sold to Hopton Nolan (who built the Plough Inn) in 1880. Tarrawingee's brief moment of fame occurred when Ned Kelly worked in the area. Today it is still worth visiting. The historic Plough Inn offers good meals, there are important old buildings including the St Peter's Anglican Church (1866) and the Star Hotel (1860s).

Warby-Ovens National Park
The Warby-Ovens National Park (14,655 ha), located 10 km west of Wangaratta,  "is characterised by three distinct vegetation communities - the granitic hills and woodlands of the Warby Range, the Box-Ironbark of the Killawarra Forest and the Redgum forest and wetlands of the unregulated Ovens Heritage River."

In 1844 Ben Warby (after whom the park is named) settled in the area. By the 1870s the locals believed that Ned Kelly was hiding in the Warby Ranges and using Mount Glenrowan as a lookout point.

The park was established in 1978 and been growing in size with a number of acquisitions over the years. It is an area of exceptional bushland incorporating waterfalls (notably Briens Gorge Falls), springtime wildflowers, lookouts (notably Ryans Lookout) across to the Victorian Alps and wildlife including black wallabies, echidnas, wedge-tailed eagles, lorikeets, barking owls and sugar gliders. The park is popular for walking, mountain bike riding, prospecting and fishing.

The park has a number of walks. There is a track to the summit of Mount Glenrowan (9.4 km return from Taminick Gap), and the short walks to Briens Gorge Falls and Salisbury Falls (4.5 km). For more information check out http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/warby-ovens-national-park



* For thousands of years before European settlement the district was occupied by the Pangerang First Nation peoples.

* In 1824 the first Europeans in the area were the explorers Hume and Hovell who crossed the Ovens River 22 km downstream of the present townsite.

* Hume and Hovell were followed in 1836 by Surveyor Thomas Mitchell crossed the Ovens River near the townsite during his famous 'Australia Felix' expedition. Others followed Mitchell and the ford across the river became known, rather unimaginatively, as the Ovens Crossing Place.

* In 1837 George Faithfull established the 'Wangaratta' cattle station on the Ovens River. He was heading south but some of the men who were overlanding his cattle were killed by First Nation people and his progress was halted.

* In 1838 Thomas Rattray established a pub and punt service to take advantage of an increasing number of people wanting to cross the river. He sold the business in 1839 to William Clark who is now regarded as the 'Father of Wangaratta'. Clark was aware of the attacks by local Aborigines and built a slab-timber store with narrow slits instead of windows. He later built a more substantial dwelling and store which became known as the Hope Inn. By 1843 the settlement had a post office. It was still very temporary with all the structures being made from slab-and-bark. The first brick building wasn't built until 1848 and in 1849 the town was officially laid out on the banks of the river.

* The discovery of gold in the early 1850s saw settlement collapse as men rushed to the diggings. The town survived by providing fresh produce to the diggings on the Ovens River.

* In 1855 a bridge over the Ovens River replaced the punt service. There is a local legend that the bridge was located on Murphy Street because the surveyor was thrown out of Clark's Inn which was on Ovens Street and decided to relocate the bridge out of a sense of revenge.

* The bridge saw traffic through the town increase to such a point that by the end of the 1850s there were ten inns and a brewery. A courthouse was built in 1859 and work began on St Patrick's Catholic Church in 1865.

* The town achieved notoriety when the bushranger Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan was shot and killed at Peechelba Station 35 km to the north. Morgan had been rampaging through the area since 1860. On about April 2, 1885 he stole a racehorse at Tarrawingee, south-east of Wangaratta, and on April 8 he bailed up a property 13 km west of Wangaratta and forced the women to make him breakfast. Morgan then captured Robert Telford, the overseer of Peechelba Station, and  forced him to take him to Peechelba where he gathered the household together and assured them he only wanted a horse and a meal. Morgan stayed at Peechelba overnight. During the night servant girls escaped and word was sent to the police at Wangaratta. Overnight, troopers and civilians surrounded the homestead and waited until Morgan emerged at about 8.00 am. A station hand, John Wendlan fired the only shot. The bullet hit the bushranger's shoulder and then pierced his throat. He was dragged to a woolshed where he died nearly six hours later. The £1000 reward for Morgan's capture was split with Wendlan receiving half the money and the servant girls, volunteers and police sharing the other £500.

* Ned Kelly also worked in the Wangaratta district before turning to bushranging.

* In 1873 the railway arrived and a decade later the town had four churches, three flour mills, a tobacco factory, two breweries, several foundries, a tannery, a hospital and a town hall.

* A wool-processing mill was opened by local citizens in 1923. Wangaratta was declared a city in 1959.


Visitor Information

The Wangaratta Visitor Information Centre is located at 100 Murphy Road, tel: (03) 5721 5711, freecall 1800 801 065. It is open 9.00am - 5.00pm daily.


Useful Websites

The city has its own comprehensive website. Check out http://www.visitwangaratta.com.au/ and the recreation and leisure section of the city's website http://www.wangaratta.vic.gov.au/


Got something to add?

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

4 suggestions
  • Ned Kelly was dead years before the building of St Martin’s Boorhaman and St John’s (now St Stephen’s) Tarrawingee. He did work in Kristopherson’s sawmill at Killawarra. See ‘As the Spirit Leads’ 150 years of St Patrick’s Parish.

    Peter Murray
  • Two items of history and social value not included here:
    1. The monument to fire-fighters near Tarrawingee marking the place where 10 people lost their lives fighting a huge grass fire in 1943.
    2. The site of the old swimming pool – the centre of the world for those of us growing up in the 1940s & 50’s. The Wangaratta Merriwa Swimming Club was notable in the Ovens & Murray swimming competition.

    Douglas McLaughlin
  • I believe the first cemetery was the Pioneer cemetery located in Faithful Street close to the junction 1840s?
    Only very few records & headstones of those buried at the Pioneer cemetery still exist today. Those buried at the Tone Road cemetery prior to 1862 are thought to be just the headstones that have been moved from the Pioneer cemetery, not sure of the bodies themselves were shifted.

  • Your account “In 1837 George Faithfull established the ‘Wangaratta’ cattle station on the Ovens River. He was heading south but some of the men who were overlanding his cattle were killed by Aborigines and his progress was halted.” Your account is incomplete. Faithfull’s hunting parties, which by some contemporary accounts, involved the murder of hundreds of first nations people is the biggest mass murder in the history of the area. You mention only the very few white people as victims as the indigenous people were trying to defend themselves and their land. Not a good look and puts you firmly on the wrong side of history. You may be interested in Faithfull’s boastful letter to Governor La Trobe about the success of these hunting parties. A balanced account here seems to be not a priority. Possibly your particular account of history is leaving you exposed to conclusions about you that you may not welcome. Some research might be worthwhile.

    Leon Kildea