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History of Birchip

Birchip has a history going back 125 years. Birchip is at the centre of some of the best wheat growing country in Victoria and is positioned on the southern border of the Mallee region.

It is situated on the Sunraysia Highway 330km from Melbourne and is halfway between Ballarat and Mildura.

One of the last regions of Victoria to be settled, Birchip was established in 1882, at the junction of the Wycheproof, Beulah and Donald tracks.

The original settlers didn’t seem to know how to spell the town’s name. At various times they wrote ‘Wirrumbirchip’, ‘Wurmburcheep’, ‘Wirmbirchep’, all approximations of an Aboriginal word, most commonly thought to mean ‘one way’, as it was the one thoroughfare which allowed Aborigines, travelling north-east to the Swan Hill area, to avoid the Mallee scrub. The abbreviated pronunciation, Birchip, which was favoured by the early settlers became the official name in 1896.

Initially a camp for surveyors and those clearing the scrub to the north, the settlement quickly became a nucleus for the region’s farmers. In order to encourage former goldminers to colonise the heartland of Victoria, the Lands Act of 1869 had limited the size of allotments to 320 acres. The local farmers from the surrounding area circumvented this restriction by using family and friends to purchase individual blocks of land, which were then joined to form larger holdings.

The arrival of the railway in 1893 meant that the town functioned briefly as a railhead for wheat farmers, until the line was extended. However, it was the construction of the Wimmera-Mallee open channel stock and domestic water system in the early twentieth century which established the region as a major source of wheat. Carrying water hundreds of kilometres from the Grampians, the open channel system (which can still be seen around the town) is reputedly the largest water distribution system in the southern hemisphere.

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