Benambra 3900

Benambra, on the plains about 24 kilometres north of Omeo in East Gippsland, is predominantly a grazing district. The land was first taken up in the mid 1830s by squatters from the Monaro searching for new pastures. In the 1850s, gold was discovered on the Livingstone Creek to the south, and later on the Gibbo River to the north. Land was opened up for settlement in the 1870s and the farmers were able to supply meat and other produce to the miners.

The township took its name from the Benambra run, a word thought to be Aboriginal in origin meaning hills with big trees or men spearing eels.

Mining had declined by 1900 but the town was little affected. In 1911, there were 211 people in the district. In 1933, there were 148 inhabitants in the town and 101 in the surrounding area. Organisations such as a Progress Association, a Bush Nursing Association and a fire brigade were formed. There were several other small schools on the Omeo Plains, although most closed by the 1960s.

The limestone caves at nearby Limestone Creek had been discovered many years before by James Pendergast. Pink marble was also found there. George Summers, a well known sculptor, inspected the marble and in 1905 four tons were brought out to Benambra by bullock team. Although judged superior to Italian marble, transportation costs made it impractical to mine commercially.

A cheese and butter factory had opened in the 1890s. Several factories under several owners operated for some years, but with improvements in wool prices, most farmers ceased dairying. A flour mill also operated for a while, but could not get enough wheat from the local area.

Grazing is still the most important industry, the Hereford breed having been found to be best suited to the cold conditions. There were saleyards at Benambra from the 1920s, and in 1946 the first calf sale in Victoria was held here. Previously, cattle were sold only as grown bullocks. Successful sales are also held at Omeo and Ensay and most cattle are now sold under twelve months old.

In the present day, Benambra is an agricultural and beef-cattle district with a local timber mill. Its lake attracts tourists for sight-seeing, trout fishing and duck shooting. The town has a posty office, store, school, three churches and a hotel.

Benambra's census populations have been 211 in 1911, 106 in 1966 and its estimated population in 1994 was 150.


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