River in Little Desert National Park
Small Wimmera service centre.
Natimuk is a small Wimmera town of some 500
people, located 324 km north-west of Melbourne
and 25 km west of Horsham. Although it is
essentially a small and sleepy settlement,
nearby Mt Arapiles draws a variety of visitors
to the area which has given the town a slightly
Natimuk's name derives from an Aboriginal
word thought to mean 'little lake' - clearly a
reference to Lake Natimuk located just to the
north of town.
The first European settlers here were the
Wilson brothers who established vast sheep
properties in this area in 1844. The following
year a Major Firebrace took over the lease for
the Vectis station. Explorers Robert O'Hara
Burke and William Wills agisted their camels on
this station for 18 months during their fatal
expedition across Australia.
It was an Aboriginal tracker from the Vectis
station, King Richard, who found the three lost
Duff children in 1864. The family lived in a
bark-roofed log hut west of Natimuk. The trio,
Jane (aged 7), Isaac (9) and Frank (4) were lost
in the bush for nine days. When they were
located only Frank was conscious but they were
carefully nursed back to health. Their story was
immortalised in a popular tale of the era called
'Babes in the Woods'.
The Wilsons had bought back the lease to the
Vectis station in 1860. Enthusiastic horse
breeders, they built their own racecourse on the
property and were instrumental to the founding
of the Victoria Amateur Turf Club in 1875.
Closer settlement proceeded when land in the
area was taken up by Lutheran selectors from
Germany in the 1870s. In flight from religious
persecution in their homeland they moved to the
Wimmera after initially settling at Mount
Gambier and Penola.
Indicatively, half of the students at the
town's first state school (1875) were of German
parentage. The town's current Lutheran church is
a testimony to the solid roots laid down by
Natimuk was an important centre before the
emergence of Horsham caused the decline of the
Things to see:
Desert National Park
Enquiries should be directed to the Natimuk
Hotel in Main St, tel: (03) 5387 1300.
Situated in Main St, the 1890 courthouse is now
operating as a local history museum. It is open
on the second Sunday of the month or by
appointment, tel: (03) 5387 1482.
Nearly 3 km north of town is Lake Natimuk which
is an ideal spot for fishing, waterskiing and
other water sports when it is full. The lake is
noted for its plentiful yabbies, redfin and
trout. However, it can dry up during a drought.
Ironically, the accumulation of dry vegetation
on the lake bed in the 1967 drought actually
presented a fire risk and prompted a major
burnoff which presented the spectacle of a lake
aflame. There is a caravan park with amenities
block, camping and picnicking facilities and
several boat ramps.
To the west of town is Mt Arapiles (pronounced
'a-rap-i-leez'). It is referred to as the 'Ayers
Rock of the Wimmera'. It is considered by
abseiling enthusiasts to be the country's
premier abseiling venue because it has a
sandstone rock face which rises 356 metres. This
has made it something of an international
drawcard, thereby explaining the town's slightly
cosmopolitan sheen. The surface of the mountain
is reliable and there are nearly 2000 routes of
varying difficulty. Abseiling courses are run
from the summit.
The Djurite Balug clan occupied the area
around the mountain (which they called 'Djurite')
until forced out by white settlement and there
is a good deal of archaeological material to
testify to their presence. The first European to
climb Mt Arapiles was surveyor Major Mitchell in
1836. He named it after the hills in Spain which
were the site of the Battle of Salamanca during
the Napoleonic Wars. Some sources claim his
brother was killed in that conflict.
At the western end of Natimuk there is a fork
in the road. The one on the left heads
south-west along the Wimmera Highway and the one
on the right veers west along the Goroke Rd. 9
km from town along the Wimmera Highway there is
a signposted turnoff on the right which leads
into the Mt Arapiles State Park.
As you enter the park there are two roads.
The road on the left is Lookout Rd and the sharp
right is Centenary Park Rd. The former winds its
way up to a carpark and a short track will then
take you to the summit of the monolith where
there is a scenic lookout, a telecommunications
relay station and a firewatching tower. The
tower is sometimes manned in summer and, if it
is, you may be invited to climb up and partake
of the view over the wheat plains and the
numerous local lakes. You can also watch the
abseilers do their thing.
The area around the monolith has been subject
to the incursions of prospectors searching, not
for gold, but for the booty of bushranger
Captain Melville which is supposed to be stashed
hereabouts. Melville used the mountain to watch
for potential contributors to his well-being on
the Adelaide-Melbourne coach road below.
Melville Cave lies along a short side-road which
leads off to the right from Lookout Rd.
Just before this turnoff, a track on the left
leads to a short nature walk. Near the top of
Lookout Rd another side road on the right leads
to the Bluff picnic area from whence there are
Centenary Park Rd leads past the foot of the
mountain where you will see the camping and
picnic area known as Centenary Park which has
basic camping facilities and plenty of plant and
animal life. The park was created and named in
1936 to celebrate the centenary of Major
Mitchell's ascent of the mountain. The shady
pines were planted at that time. Two walking
trails lead to the summit. The area has plenty
of plant and animal life, including fine
wildflower displays in spring.
Centenary Park Rd continues on past the campsite
and reaches a T-intersection at the
Natimuk-Goroke Rd. If you turn left it will lead
you right by an isolated outcrop on the
right-hand side of the road known as Mitre Rock,
a sacred Aboriginal site which is surrounded by
a small reserve and situated just one kilometre
north of Mt Arapiles. The European name refers
to the shape of the rock which was thought to
resemble a bishop's mitre.
Jane Duff Reserve
Further west on the Goroke Rd (about 20 km west
of Natimuk) is the Jane Duff Reserve, a 26-ha
roadside reserve with remnant native vegetation.
It represents the southernmost occurrence of the
mallee. There are picnic facilities and a
monument to Jane Duff, one of the three Duff
children who got lost in the bush for nine days
in 1864. When they were located by an Aboriginal
tracker only Frank Duff (aged four) was
conscious but all three were carefully nursed
back to health. Their story was immortalised in
a popular tale of the era called 'Babes in the
Nearby are Duffholme Cabins and a museum
display relating to the children's story, tel:
(03) 5387 4246.
Mott's Dummy Hut
4 km west of town, on the Goroke Rd, is Mott's
dummy hut, which is nothing more than a timber
room sitting on top of some logs. Built in 1872
it is a memento a moment in Australian land
reform. In 1872, in an attempt to open up more
land for settlement, the Victorian government
introduced the Victorian Selection Act. Under
this act settlers had to take up residence on
land or they could lose it. This meant that the
owners of very large tracts of land (ie the rich
landowners) were in danger of losing some of
their lands. To get around the new legislation
the old landowners provided part of their huge
holdings to various family members. Those family
members, in order to prove their credentials,
built 'dummy' houses which appeared to be
residences. In this case the 'residence' was
erected by David Mott to extend his father's
Gold Escort Route
About 7 km west of Natimuk along the Goroke Rd,
just before the Mt Arapiles turnoff, there is a
signposted right-hand turn onto Grass Flat Rd.
Near its end is a cairn which marks the site of
the gold escort which operated in 1852 and 1853.
It was intended to reverse the currency drain
from South Australia during the Victorian
goldrushes by bringing some of the gold back to
Adelaide, a town which had been virtually
deserted by hopeful prospectors. In this it was
a successful venture as around one million
pounds worth of the precious metal passed
through this spot during 18 excursions in the
years 1852 and 1853.