Yan Yean 3755Yan Yean, best known for its domestic-water reservoir, is on the Plenty river 30 km. north of Melbourne. The name is thought to be of Aboriginal origin, possibly meaning young man (Yan Yean is recorded as an initiation place), or deriving from the name of one of the signatories to the Batman "land treaty". The location of the reservoir was a swamp, and Yan Yean was known as Ryder's Swamp until the 1850s.
Settlement of the Yan Yean district began in 1839, and most of the land was occupied by pastoralists by the mid 1840s. One of the best known pastoralists was John Bear, whose workmen erected a two-storey Gothic-inspired building of mud and masonry which came to be known as Bear's castle (1848). It is within the Yan Yean water catchment and is on the Register of the National Estate.
In 1850 the Melbourne City Council directed its surveyor, James Blackburn, to investigate an improved supply of water. He chose the Plenty River. Subsequently the colonial government took over Blackburn's proposal, and decided to use the natural basin, Ryder's Swamp, east of the river for a reservoir. It was fed by streams flowing off the impervious range south of Mt. Disappointment. Upwards of 1,000 people were at Yan Yean during the construction works, which were completed in 1857.
A primary school was opened in 1858, a short-lived post office began the following year and church services began. Yan Yean extended northwards to Barber's Creek and to South Yan Yean which in 1913 was re-named Mernda. The reservoir was a favourite destination for excursionists, stimulating the building of two hotels. One of them became Whittlesea shire's offices and council chamber (1875-98). The reservoir's picnic grounds were the site of an annual New Year's day Scottish festival and Rechabite procession (1873-1930s). The Melbourne to Whittlesea railway (1889-1960) had a station at Yan Yean. The township was mostly at South Yan Yean, the site of the mechanics' institute (also used for council offices).
Dairying occurred from the 1920s until the 1970s, alongside sheep and beef cattle. As metropolitan Melbourne has edged towards Yan Yean poultry, horse and dog breeding have developed, but cattle grazing is dominant. Many farmers depend on supplementary non-farm income. The township remains small with a general store and primary school.
Yan Yean's census population have been 403 (1911) and 184 (1961).
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