Major wheatbelt town in the Wimmera area of
Situated around Lake Marma, Murtoa is a small
town of some 1000 people on the Wimmera Highway,
31 km north-east of Horsham, 282 km north-west
of Melbourne and 140 m above sea-level. A
massive grain complex bears witness to the fact
that this is very much a wheat town in a wheat
It is speculated that the Jaadwa Aborigines
occupied the district prior to white settlement.
The area was known as Marma Gully until the
township started to develop in the early 1870s.
The present name derives from a local Aboriginal
word thought to mean 'home of the lizard'.
The first European in the area was Major
Mitchell on his excursion to 'Australia Felix'
in 1836. Squatters established the 'Ashens' and
'Longerenong' runs in 1844. The latter property
was acquired, in 1862, by politician,
philanthropist and pastoralist Sir Samuel Wilson
who was elected to the British House of Commons
in 1886. His 1862 homestead is still standing to
the west of town. It has been authoritatively
described as 'the finest Gothic villa in western
Wilson owned all of the land around Lake
Marma by 1871. That year a station hand at 'Longerenong'
pegged out the first freehold block on the
eastern side of the lake. As was the case
throughout western Victoria, closer settlement
began with German wheat-farmers from Mt Gambier
investigating the land across the border and
taking up selections. Thus a party of Germans
arrived at the lake in 1871. Finding the soil
fertile they pegged out claims, finished up
their business at Mt Gambier and returned to
Marma Gully in 1872.
After delays caused by Wilson's objections
the township was finally surveyed around 1876.
An emphasis on religion and education was
manifest in the early establishment of a
building in 1873 which served as a school, a
site for Lutheran services and a public hall
until the Board of Education took over the
facility in 1875. Indicative of conditions in
colonial country settlements, this one-room
structure (the teacher slept at one end) was
made of saplings plugged with mud. The floor was
earthen and the roof was thatched with reeds
from Lake Marma. It was replaced by a proper
school building in 1877.
A post office was opened in 1874, a flour
mill and Presbyterian Church were established in
1876 and the police set up shop in 1877, the
same year the Lutherans built St John's. A
Catholic church followed in 1880, an Anglican
establishment in 1887 and a Methodist church in
1892. Local newspaper, The Dunmunkle Standard,
was first published in 1878 and, in 1881, a
mechanics' institute was built and an
agricultural society was formed. The railway
arrived in 1879 and the town was, for a short
time, the railhead for wheat shipment in the
Wimmera. Consequently the district and township
expanded and prospered.
A freezing works was established in 1909 to
export lamb to London although it closed in
1939. The bulk wheat storage facilities at
Marmalake were built in 1942 as wheat could not
be exported during World War II.
The major social event in the local calender
is the Big Weekend held in October when there is
a general celebration which coincides with the
local show. Events include an arts show, poetry
readings and a race meeting. There are about a
half-dozen race meetings each year and these are
very well attended events. The town also has an
attractive golf course in a bush setting
surrounded by flora and birdlife.
Things to see:
Tourist Information and Marma Street
Marma Gully Antiques at the corner of Marma St
(the Wimmera Highway) and Duncan St is the best
place to enquire about local tourist
information. It is situated in the old CBA bank
building (1877-82), tel: (03) 5385 2422.
Over the road is the Marma Gully Hotel, a
fine red-brick pub with wrought-iron lacework
built in 1913 when it opened as the Commercial
Walk along Marma St to Lake St. At this
intersection, to the left, is the original Holy
Trinity Anglican Church (1887). Opposite is the
fine two-storey house of Dr Rabl, the town's
first resident doctor. It was built between 1896
Lake Marma Reserve
Over Lake St are the Memorial Gates (1920) which
mark the entrance to Lake Marma Reserve. The
lagoon covers 20 ha and lies at the centre of
Murtoa, both historically and geographically. As
a water source the original settlers all staked
their land claims around the lagoon which is
noted for its birdlife, splendid colourful
sunsets and a walking track around the lake.
Other features include Sprott Fountain (1895)
and the band rotunda (1907). There are also
At the northern end of the lake, by the corner
of Lake St and Breen St, is Rabl Park which
features an artificial lake system, a playground
and barbecue facilities.
Walk along Breen St to Duncan St and turn left
into the latter. To the right is the old
Oddfellows Lodge (1892), now a private
residence. Further along the road is the primary
school (1875). At Breen and Degenhardt St is the
old Lutheran manse (1913) and diagonally
opposite is the original St Mary's Catholic
Church (1880), albeit much altered and extended.
At the next intersection (Duncan and Comyn Sts)
is Thomas House (1891). Turn right into Comyn
St. To the left is 'Degenhardt', an attractive
one-storey building erected in 1880. Gustav
Degenhardt was a member of the original party of
four Germans from Mt Gambier to peg out claims
around the lake in 1871.
At the end of Comyn St there is an intersection
with Soldiers Ave where there is a Water Tower
Museum which is literally housed in an old and
attractive four-storey, thirteen-metre water
storage tower built in 1886 by the railways for
the supply of steam engines. Without is a fine
brick exterior and within is a collection of 500
birds and animals from James Hill's taxidermy
collection gathered from 1885 to 1930. There is
also material relating to the shire's history.
It is open from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. Sundays.
A private Lutheran school opened at Murtoa in
1887. In 1890 the idea emerged to turn it into a
training college for pastors and teachers at
private Lutheran schools. A new building was
erected in 1892 and the name 'Concordia College'
was adopted in 1894. The enterprise was moved to
Adelaide in 1905. Part of this old and
attractive building has been moved to a spot
adjacent the water tower. Some Lutheran
artefacts are being accumulated therein and it
is possible to peruse the interior at certain
Also at this intersection are the railway
station (1878) and the Railway Hotel (1891)
although the latter has been much altered.
Deer Farm and Pioneer Hut
At the corner of Soldiers Parade and the
highway, at the eastern end of town, is the
Pioneer Project which features a replica pioneer
hut (a project of Murtoa Secondary College).
Adjacent is a deer farm which is also part of
Just over the railway line Thomas Rd heads north
off the highway, parallel to Soldiers Ave. Along
here, beside the railway track, is the Solomit
Strawboard Factory which welcomes visitors for a
tour through the operations, tel: (03) 5385
2260. The strawboard manufacture occurs in a
section of the four-storey structure. The rest
is unused. Part of the complex contains the
six-cylinder diesel engines that drove the flour
mill. They are in working order.
Stick Shed and Grain Complex
Just east of the town boundary, adjacent the
Wimmera Highway, is one of the most unmistakable
sights in town - the Stick Shed. Built in 1941
from 640 unmilled tree trunks, it was used to
store grain which could not be exported during
the war years. It is 260 metres long, 60 metres
wide and 20 metres high. It can, of course, be
closely inspected from the exterior but it is
not currently open to the public.
Another similar structure, about half the
size, was originally adjacent. Instead the Grain
Elevators Board receival centre stands beside
the shed. It consists of numerous massive wheat
silos grouped together. They hold 300 000 to 400
Opposite the shed are the Wimmera Inland
Freezing Works steam engines which were
constructed in 1911. Each engine weighs from 20
to 30 tons and is driven by an huge fly wheel.
Restored and in working order they can be seen
at different times of the year, tel: (03) 5385
The shopping centre in McDonald St dates from
the turn of the century. At the corner of
McDonald St and Degenhardt St is the police
Barrabool Forest Reserve
Barrabool Forest Reserve is located 7 km south
of town along the road to Stawell. It has a fine
display of wildflowers in spring, although it is
inaccessible in winter due to the dry-weather