Category Archives: history

Ararat Lunatic Asylum

Tours are conducted by a volunteer group of this now closed institution given the friendlier name of Aradale. Bookings are made at the Ararat Information Centre and I was just in time for the 2.00 tour on my way back from Natimuk.

You enter at the rear, so the support buildings are seen first. The asylum was established in 1867 along similar lines to those built in Kew and Beechworth. It was self sufficient with farm, market gardens, orchard, vineyard and piggery. Just about anyone who did not conform to social norms could be admitted to an asylum, from people with intellectual disabilities and the insane, to prostitutes, alcoholics, men struck with ‘gold fever’, and the depressed, the abandoned and the aged.

In front of the hospital building is an ancient peppercorn tree.

A rotunda still has its original shingles under the tin roof. The fever ward was designed for lots of fresh air.

This is how it looked in 1896. The administration building is connected to the wards to the left and right by arched walkways over the gates that lead to the many courtyards.

Inside the complex the dormitory wings connect via verandahs. Running beneath these and throughout the buildings are steam pipes that powered and heated everything. Large boiler houses kept it all running. Beneath the lawns are water tanks and the towers are really tanks as well.

Outside the gate the public area had beautiful landscaped gardens. The low wall on this side has a deep brick faced ditch on the other, presenting an unclimbable obstacle to those  inside.

It is a very interesting and challenging place to visit.



Horsham-Noradjuha spur line

I mentioned in my post about Natimuk and Noradjuha that the train went west from Horsham in 1887. This was just a small line, just under 20 miles long,  to enable the wheat harvest to get to Horsham and beyond when the rough roads were impassable.

The first obstacle was the Wimmera River and flood plains. A long trestle bridge was built to cross the river with further spans over the low lying land at Quantong.

Nearby are what I think are the remains of the original road bridge.

The line was expanded west though Natimuk to Goroke in 1894. After much lobbying to keep the Noradjuha spur open, it was extended to Toolando and beyond starting in 1909. These lines were essential to the opening up of the Wimmera to intensive agriculture.

The bridge was deemed unsafe and the lines closed in 1986. I found this photo of an excursion train that ran in 1983 on a blog about the history of the Wimmera.

The bridge was heritage listed in 1998.

An impressive station and associated buildings were constructed at Noradjuha. There was a turntable, station master’s house, engineer’s house and cleaner’s house plus sheds and silos. But they did not stay for long and much of the infrastructure was moved to Goroke.

There is a photo in the Arapiles Historical Society calendar. Unfortunately the building was sold in 1946 and demolished and all that remains are some silos.

And in Society’s collection of items I saw this photo of the Flour Mill by the station at Natimuk, taken around 1910.


Natimuk and Noradjuha

Sometime in the late 1880’s my Great Grandparents and their two sons moved from Balranald on the Murrumbidgee River in NSW to the rapidly growing town of Noradjuha on the Wimmera plains  – by 1891 the population was 182. They stayed until 1896, adding a daughter to the family in the meantime.

Last week I travelled to nearby Natimuk to try and find any trace of them and any clue as to why they would come to this place. A lot of information can be discovered in government records and from digitised newspapers, but there is nothing quite like being in the place.

One clue is that a spur line was built from Horsham, through East Natimuk to Noradjuha in 1887. It was literally the end of the line. Charles Warn quickly made a name for himself, usually as secretary to many committees including the Severance Committee which successfully lobbied for a separation of the West Riding of Wimmera Shire. In 1888 it became the Shire of Arapiles and he the Shire Secretary.

There is not much at Noradjuha now. Somewhere on the left side of this road was the house where Charles Warn and family lived. The name Noradjuha is a local word that describes the wind and it lived up to it. Lots of hairy panic was tumbling along the road as I drove the 10km from Natimuk.

My grandfather went to the school; it is now private property and none of the original buildings remain. The Methodist Church was built in 1882 but reclad in sheet metal when the weatherboards rotted, and then moved to the school site.

At one time the town had a railway station, at least two banks, post office, general store and other stores, hotel, temperance hotel, butcher, saddler, confectioner, mechanics institute, blacksmith and the Arapiles Shire Hall. All supported the cereal growing farms that prospered when the seasons were good. All are now gone.

Back in Natimuk I was able to get a sense of the town in the 1890s thanks to the very active Arapiles Historical Society. Each building or site has a very informative plaque.

The Society does not have a museum but are building a collection in the Court House and Masonic Lodge. I was interested in the lodge building because Charles Warn was present at the laying of the foundation stone, he was the secretary. Unfortunately an extension was later put on the front so the stone is not visible.

As I was passing a member was about to go in and do some research. Gianna kindly looked for material and came up with two artefacts.

There he is on the honour board above the worshipful master’s seat. He was master in 1889. And the actual foundation stone was lying on the floor. I suspect they were masons in name only, not much stone carving skill here.

A calendar of old photos is produced by the Arapiles Historical Society each year and the 2018 edition has this street view of Natimuk in 1910.

It gives me a pretty good idea of what the town was like when my family was there.


A shiny new facility has been installed since I last visited this end of the reserve near my house. For both man and beast, it is a slick design with a quirky twist. I like the bone shaped support for the dog bowl.

I did a taste test. The water is not from the dam below.

My walk was stopped by a flooded path. There has been a lot of rain, in sudden downpours, since mid December and up until now it has drained away reasonably quickly. But the 20mm from last weekend is lingering. The drain in this small retarding dam must be blocked. You can see from the silt marks on the trees how high the water has been.IMG_7560

Fortunately there is an alternate path home, on the other side of the creek. Up a very steep path, half way up turning onto  a narrow track.

This goes across the hill, past a revegetation zone. You can see the main path below. A   clamber down to a stone crossing of the creek and I am back on the main track.

In the early 1980s this watercourse was to be barrel drained and grassed. Local residents objected, not only because we didn’t want to pay for the works, we mainly wanted this bushland to be preserved as it is a significant wildlife corridor. After a long battle we won and a plan was made for the future of this area.

I remember a delegation of young pony riders came to the Council meeting putting a case for horse riding to be permitted on some paths. At that time the former Warranwood Store still had a hitching rail out the front and this was a popular riding track. Everyone agreed that as long as their routes avoided the steep slopes, horses could stay. In all those years the riders have kept to their designated tracks, so there is little in the way of erosion.

Mulberry Tales

This is the first year that my mulberry tree has produced an abundant crop. I have picked well over 4 kg of fruit in the past month and a half, and it could have been more if I had been more diligent.

Eating freshly picked berries is very pleasant, but they do not keep so I froze the majority and started on a search for recipes. Nothing really in my collection of books other than to treat like blackberries, and I found out they are not very high in pectin. Online mulberry jam recipes varied greatly as to sugar quantity and cooking method. I thought that old newspapers may have some useful information and turned to Trove, that brilliant source of digitised papers provided by National Library of Australia. So many recipes, dating from the mid 1800s to the 1940s, nearly all in answer to queries of what to do with a bumper mulberry harvest.

Even better where the news stories. Not unexpectedly there were lots of falls from trees and ladders, mainly the very young and the elderly, and many with fatal consequences. The most lyrical in this category was published in the Hobart Mercury in 1921.

Hobart Mercury 1921

Mulberries lured young George Shepherd to his fall yesterday afternoon, when he was precipitated out of a tree loaded with the luscious fruit, and, besides sustaining a dislocated arm, came out of the adventure with a nasty cut on the back of the head. Resident at 347 Macquarie street, the youth was visiting the garden of Mr Seymour, across the road, and , beginning the afternoon with a nourishing climb, ended it in the Public Hospital, to which he was conveyed by his relations.

A couple of tales of poisoning from over indulging, eating unripe fruit or even uncooked fruit. This letter to a South Australian paper  was quite scientific. Millicent Times 1893

There was also a remarkable story from the Daily Mercury, Mackay Queensland, 1929 and a lucky escape reported in the Daily Advertiser, Wagga Wagga  in 1942.

Daily Mercury 1929

On Wednesday afternoon when picking mulberries, Hilda McFadden, a Homebush schoolgirl, was bitten by a snake. She was attended by the Ambulance. This is the third time this year that the girl has suffered from snake-bite.

Daily Advertiser 1942Fell Down Well
Mulberry Picker’s Predicament
While engaged in picking mulberries on Mr Bowbrick’s farm at Leeton a man fell down a well and had to swim vigorously with all his clothes and boots on until, his eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness he could see a wooden beam up which he was able to clamber to safety, dripping wet but none the worse for his immersion.
The visitor to the farm was walking around the mulberry bush with his gaze directed upwards when he trod on some boards covering the well. With a crash the boards gave way and with a splash he disappeared into the dark depths.

People were not as generous with their mulberries in early colonial times. The South Australian Advertiser Police Court report of 10 Feb 1864:

South Australian Advertiser 1864GARDEN ROBBING – Thomas Lewis was charged with stealing a quantity of mulberries from the garden of John Acraman, South-terrace. The prisoner, who admitted the offence, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment.

However the best story of all is from Port Lincoln, South Australia in 1928.Port Lincoln Times 1928

I did find some recipes to use my mulberries. And a terrific tip from a recent experimenter with this tricky fruit. The stems are edible, but spoil the look of the jam, as do the seeds. One method is to cook then sieve the fruit, making it more like a jelly, or to blitz everything. The other is to remove the stems one by one, a tedious and messy task as they do not pull away. The terrific tip is to use nail clippers to snip them off, which is what I did. Then I skimmed most of the seeds out with the foam that forms during cooking. Half a dozen pots of summer deliciousness are now sitting in the pantry.

My other experiment has been with Mulberry Gin. The little test batch had only one week of brewing in the dark instead of two to three months. But is nevertheless very promising.

Here’s hoping my bumper crop is the norm, not the exception.



Ringwood North garden

The Open Garden Scheme provided the opportunity to view a garden that I have been curious about for a long time. I knew that a lot of effort had gone into its redevelopment  but as it is at the top of a cutting in the road, it was impossible to see what was happening.

Banool is a 1.6 acre property; a much larger estate was developed over 100 years ago and the current house built in 1936. It has many large trees and the recent landscaping was done under the direction of Paul Bangay, engaged by the current owners after they purchased in 2004.

The driveway curves up hill toward the house, passing beneath a very shady Port Jackson Fig.

The ancient front hedge and tree studded lawns  give way to deep beds closer to the house. These are filled with gorgeous plants including roses, iris, sweet pea, foxgloves and a stunning rhododendron. The form and planting is perfectly in keeping with the era of the stone built house.

The garden structures are mainly new, but the stone pillars are part of the 1930s garden. Beside the old driveway is an old grafted ash and the remains of the Hills Hoist that was the original support.

Round the back is the fruit and vegetable garden and more lawns and trees.

It is pleasantly surprising to find a garden of this type in Ringwood North, usually associated with Australian native gardens and 1980s subdivisions.


Cherry blossom time

A Sakura picnic day was held at Banksia Park, Bulleen on Sunday, but I was busy elsewhere. So today, despite the heat I went on my own cherry blossom viewing.

Banksia Park is an enormous open space with a hidden entrance next to the Heide Museum in Templestowe Road. The 23 ha parkland is in two large loops of the Yarra River. Most of this land was cleared for farming in the 1800’s and it now has lots of rolling lawns and exotic shade trees. The cherry trees are not hard to find once the correct loop is chosen, they are right beside the fenced dog off-leash area.


A grove of 100 cherry trees Prunus serrulata “Shirofugen” was presented to Victoria by the Prime Minister of Japan in 1980. After a bit of a disaster at Jells Park the remaining 65 trees were moved to this location around 1988 and while conditions were more suitable, the ten year drought and only routine park maintenance meant it was still a bit of a struggle for these imported trees. Two years ago a group of Japanese seniors formed the Cherry Friends. They tend the trees, watering in summer and feeding fortnightly in autumn and spring. The friends have have also donated several specimens of a weeping variety of this gorgeous plant.


While it is not the same as the feted trees of Osaka, this grove now puts on a glorious show, without the crowds.


Getting down under the branches is the best way to enjoy the blossoms. The ladies in the picture on the left are Cherry Friends having discovered the trees about ten years ago, they come each blossom time. They said this year was the best yet.


Beautiful Japanese Horse Chestnuts Aesculus turbinata are also in flower and provide a most suitable backdrop.

The park has interesting walks with history markers. Even the resident wombats are well accommodated with gates in the fence.






I’ll be back next year come blossom time.