Bairnsdale 3875Bairnsdale is a large provincial town situated on the Mitchell River in Gippsland, 285 kilometres east of Melbourne. The Bairnsdale run, on the west bank of the river, was occupied by Archibald McLeod from 1844. It was named after his birthplace, Bernisdale in Scotland. On the eastern bank was the Lucknow run, taken up in 1842. The Aboriginal word for the area, Wy Yung meaning duck, now names a locality north of Bairnsdale.
Gold discoveries in the surrounding area spurred the growth of a township at Lucknow. However the government township was surveyed on the west bank of the river, the first land being sold in 1860. McLeod also sold blocks in a township called Mitchelltown, laid out on his land south of the present Main Street and adjoining the government township.
The township of Bairnsdale progressed rapidly. Soon there were hotels, stores, banks, postal service, court house, school, tradesmen and stock sales. The punt over the Mitchell River was replaced by a bridge. By 1865 there were about 300 people living in the town. Bairnsdale became a Road District in 1867 and a Shire in 1868.
From the 1860s, Bairnsdale developed as a port. The Mitchell River was navigable for several kilometres upstream of Bairnsdale. Steamers and boats plied the Gippsland Lakes and could reach the sea through the natural entrance at Lakes Entrance for communication with Melbourne. Livestock, timber, wattle bark, wool, skins and hides were transported to market.
By 1870 there was extensive settlement around Bairnsdale. Grazing of cattle and breeding of horses were carried on. Wheat was the main crop, but maize and hops soon became very important.
The town steadily prospered, becoming the commercial and administrative centre for a large pastoral and agricultural area. The port was thriving, with new wharves constructed in the early 1870s.
Excursion trips on the rivers and lakes became popular, as described by the journalist "Tanjil"in his Guide to the Gippsland and Rivers. But the extension of the railway to Bairnsdale in 1888 caused a decline in the shipping trade. A School of Mines was opened in 1893 but development was slowed during the 1890s depression.
By 1920 the town was again expanding. Beans and peas, vegetables and fruit were being grown. Dairying became an important activity and timber mills were operating in the northern part of the Shire. The Victorian Municipal Directory described the town in 1933.
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