History of Wycheproof
Wycheproof has a settlement history of over 160 years. The pre-settlement history of the area is quite unkown.
There was limited aboriginal presence in this area, as there was not enough permanent water, and tribal presence was only in good rainfall years, there is quite a lot of evidence to support this.The only area where there was activity was out along the Avoca and along Tyrell Creek. The middens along the Avoca were very small say compared to along the Murray where they are 5 or 6 feet high.
The squatters were in the area by the 1840s and Wycheproof was a favoured site as it was very well watered, the Avoca River, Lalbert Channel and Cooroopajerrup Creek. The run off the mount filled 3 dams, 2 of which are still there. Robert Moffat took up the lease in 1867. Moffat and his manager Edmund Margetts was a truly amazing man, and a magnificent citizen to this town and area. The squatters were quite highly thought of in the area.
In 1883 the railways came to this town- this was the best day at Wycheproof as it ended isolation. You could go to Melbourne in a day where as it normally took 2 days to get to Bridgewater with a load of 12 bags of wheat.
The land here was opened up for closer settlement by the McPherson Land Act, and first selectors the Dempseys and Dobbins selected land in March 1873. Then the flood came, all the land was taken up by the late 1870s but the barrier was the Mallee lands to the north of here. This land was regarded useless by the selectors, until they were able to find a way to clear it. When the Mallee roller was invented the once useless land was regarded as good productive land.
By our standards, the selectors did it tough, but they knew no different and so treated the conditions as normal, this has always gone on. My contention is that the Governments treated them badly. They had to pay £1 an acre for free land, they had to fence it, build sheds and houses, and cultivate it by sowing crops. For this land the selectors had to pay cash, 4 payments every year over 10 years; this burden was too much and later was extended over 20 years. Just think of all the land in Victoria that was selected and how much money went into the coffers of the Victorian Treasury. All the expansion in Victoria during the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s was paid for mostly on the back of selectors.
The 1890s spilled out the small selectors and during this period with poor years there was an exodus from the area. Many people went to higher rainfall areas in Queensland and NSW, to the WA Goldfields where they stayed on and selected ground there. Land was bought as people consolidated their holdings and battled through. The Wyche station went from 1200 acres in 1874 to 22000 acres until it was broken up after WWI.
The cottage hospital was built in the early 1890s, 1892 I think, but they could not get enough money to open. When finances were raised it ran it until the late 1890s.
The new century arrived and the 1902 drought was the ‘straw the broke the camels back’, this drought was the worst time for the area but once it broke things did improve.
The first commercial building in the town was the Mount Wycheproof Hotel built by James O’Connor in 1874. This is now the site of the Mt Wycheproof Motel. The second building in built in the town was in 1876 when Tippings General Store was built (where Brocky Dixon lives) and the third was also in 1876 when Robertsons Blacksmiths (Johns Family) was built on the site where Margaret Currie now lives.
The town has ebbed and flowed but its still here. James O’Connor who built the first Hotel – the Mount Wycheproof – was another wonderful citizen and would go very close to being the town’s founder. I cannot speak highly enough of his achievement to this town.
This time it is a terrible time as reported in the local papers. WWI started in a blaze of patriotism and duty to the Empire. The first Wycheproof person killed was George McPherson who died on Anzac day 1915 at the Anzac landing ( many years later I found out he is a distant relation to me). By 1917-1918 the news in the local papers is dreadful, hardly a week went by when there was not somebody killed from here, or a relation of somebody. In total 60,000 Australians died from a population of 4 million, more than a generation lost. It must have set this town back in a way we cannot imagine and the other tragedies, with men returning wounded, “shell shocked”, or other trauma. Terrible.
1920 boom years
I was told of a farmer who, after a good year, first built a house, second bought a car, paid his taxes and lived, put that in modern day terms. The downside was high land prices which always come in a boom followed by a bust.
As my father told me there was nothing good about the 1930s, they must have been terrible times. No work, no hope. Groups of people walking to try and find work to support families – got together in groups to pool resources (sustenance work in this town stone gutters). People who wanted to work and couldn’t. When the Mutual Store went broke it had debts of £80,000. The Debt Adjustment Act was a failure, designed to help struggling farmers but was abused. The farmers started to organise just before WWII establishing the Wheat Board and the Grain Elevators Board, to break the power of the multi-nationals.
Compounding the he worst effects of the war on our local community during this 1939-1945 period were 4 droughts in 7 years. WWII, this was total war, people leaving to work, join services, called up for serviced and lack of man power in rural areas. At the surrender at Singapore a lot of locals were captured and a lot never returned. The desert and islands, desperate times.
Late 1940s and 1950s
Following WWII the first good year was 1948 after the droughts of the early 1940s wheat reached $1.40 a bushel and the boom years started. Most farmers took until the wool boom during the Korean War to pay off their debts from the depression and drought. Wool in 1951-52 reached a £1 ($2) for a pound of wool. These were prosperous times.