EARLY EXPLORATION & SETTLEMENT
Exploration by Angus McMillan and Count Paul Strzelecki
Drought. Graziers in southern New South Wales were suffering from the effects of a prolonged drought in the late 1830s. This motivated some of them [mostly Scots] to consider seeking land further south, with more reliable rainfall. This group included Lachlan Macalister and James Macarthur.
Exploration. Angus McMillan emigrated to New South Wales from Scotland, with a ‘letter of introduction’ to Macalister, who quickly appointed him as an Overseer. The wealthy Macalister soon gave McMillan the task of searching for new grazing land to the south and, hopefully, a location for a port suitable for shipping stock and receiving supplies.
McMillan made several trips from 1839 until 1841, each trip going further than the previous one. Over this period, McMillan named most of the rivers, and several locations, from east of the present town of Bairnsdale through to the Sale district. McMillan had discovered new grazing land, but in February 1841 he reached Corner Inlet, succeeding in the second objective of finding an area suitable as a likely port. He had first seen the sea from the top of ‘Tom’s Cap’ [south of Rosedale], the hill named because of its similar shape to the headgear of Tom Macalister, a member of McMillan’s party.
Strzelecki’s expedition in 1840 was commissioned by another New South Wales grazier named James Macarthur. The trail McMillan had marked well from the Omeo district, was followed by Strzelecki for part of the way. Somewhere near the Sale district, Strzelecki’s party [including James Macarthur] diverted further west than McMillan previously. They crossed a river, not realising that, due to the long distance between each crossing, it was the same river that McMillan had previously named Glengarry. Strzelecki consequently gave it the name of La Trobe River, after the Superintendent of the Port Phillip District [based at Melbourne]. C. J. La Trobe subsequently became the first Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria, when it officially separated from New South Wales in 1851. There is a monument erected on the side of the Princes Highway [approximately 5 km. east of Traralgon], at the point it is believed Strzelecki’s party travelled. They reached what is now Traralgon, and turned south to tackle the Ranges, that were subsequently named the ‘Strzelecki Ranges’. This proved to be a formidable task with horses and most of the provisions being left behind, before tackling the dense and highest parts of the Ranges. The difficulties his group encountered, slowly hacking their way through the thick rain forest, tree-ferns and sword grass. The group were lucky to escape starvation, with the assistance of their aboriginal member, Charlie Tarra, [Tarraville, Tarra River & Tarra Valley] who caught koalas for food. They reached Westernport after 22 days struggling through the Ranges, with their clothing torn to shreds by the sword grass, and close to complete exhaustion. Despite the hardships, Strzelecki was glowing in his reports of the flat land his party had crossed.