Today, 'Narmbool' is a 2,000 hectare (4,942 acre) working property capable of running up to 12,000 head of sheep. It has been owned by Sovereign Hill since 2000 and in addition to its grazing interests, provides educational programs aimed at students in the middle years of their schooling as well as a range of facilities suitable for conferences, retreats and weddings. Of course this hasn't always been the case and sheep haven't always been the pastoral focus.
|The rolling hills of 'Narmbool' with Mt Buninyong in the distance and|
Williamson's Creek running through, October, 2015
That there were indigenous people living in the area is well documented and traces of their presence today can still be found by those who know what to look for. The name 'Narmbool' itself is believed to be a derivation of an indigenous word marmbula meaning "kidney fat". The fat from around the kidney was important to indigenous tribes across the country who used it in their ritual practices. The fat was often taken from an enemy - alive or dead - or from the body of someone who had died an untimely death. It was then daubed on the body of the medicine man to strengthen his powers or placed on objects belonging to someone who was to be cursed.
|Shaped edge on a piece of stone, still sharp enough to cut|
|Groove worn in a rock slab, presumably from repeated use|
Niven ran both sheep and cattle on his property, but his main focus was the cattle and he was looking to increase both his herd and his land holdings. His plans were cut prematurely short however later that year when during a ride to Geelong on 21st September, he was thrown from his horse and kicked. He died two days later and was buried in Geelong's Eastern Cemetery. He was 34 years old.
|Hugh Niven's grave at the Eastern Cemetery, Geelong. Hugh was the first|
person to be buried there on
Over the next several years the licence for 'Narmbool' was held by Hector Simson and John Duerdin. They in turn transferred the lease to Henry Jackson Munday who took up the lease in May, 1849 and two years later in July, 1851 applied to take up 640 acres as his pre-emptive right, including his homestead, outbuildings and a dam. On this land in about 1850 he had constructed a two-roomed bluestone cottage. The Victorian Government Gazette of 25th August, 1854 records that at that time, Henry's Narmbool run was stocked with 20 horses, 150 cattle and 9,570 sheep, however by 16th February, 1855, these numbers had reduced to 10 horses, 100 cattle and 6000 sheep.
|Sheep grazing in the distance at 'Narmbool', October, 2015|
That village would soon become the little settlement of Burnt Bridge, located near the site of the old log bridge constructed by Henry Anderson and William Cross Yuille as they journeyed to take up their runs on the other side of Mount Buninyong years before. First there was John Morrison's Burnt Bridge Inn, then a coffee tent, more hotels (one of which was a staging post for the Estafette Line of Coaches), a school, houses, and when the new road was surveyed, a toll house was also installed. By 1855 the government was calling for tenders to supply feed for police mounts which were also
stabled at Burnt Bridge.
By 1855 at 'Narmbool' however, Henry (whose brother William had died in January and was buried on the property) gave up the lease, married his brother's widow and moved back to Geelong. At this time the run passed back to a former leaseholder - John Duerdin - who also purchased the pre-emptive right.
Unlike Munday, Duerdin did not live at 'Narmbool', instead leasing it out. In this way, he held the lease until 1860 when it was transferred one last time to Samuel Wilson, younger brother of the Wilsons who had taken up the lease of the Woodbourne No. 2 Run not far away. In addition to his pastoral pursuits Samuel also trained as a lawyer and later, moved into state politics. Over the years he contributed greatly to the community, ultimately receiving a knighthood for his service to the Colony of Victoria.
|Samuel Wilson, owner of 'Narmbool'. Photograph of an 1862|
painting. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
By this time, Wilson was long gone from 'Narmbool'. In 1863, He sold his pre-emptive right to David McNaught and John Boyd whilst continuing to maintain the lease on the remaining land. Finally, on 9th February, 1872, the lease was forfeited and the ownership of the property (now a freehold) passed to the partnership of David McNaught and John and Alexander Boyd. Having made their fortune as shopkeepers on the goldfields of Ballarat, McNaught and John Boyd ventured into property. This included 'Narmbool' which they ran successfully for many years, both at various times living on the property - or at neighbouring 'Cargerie'.
|Wide open spaces, October, 2015|
A year prior, work on a second grand, brick home on the property had been completed and the land was then divided between the two Austin brothers. The snew house and the 7,500 acres which surrounded it, became 'Larundel', whilst the old homestead retained 10,500 acres of land.
In mid-1923 'Narmbool' passed out of Austin hands, purchased by William Phillips, however, like many of the large properties around the district, within months, about half the remaining land was acquired by the Closer Settlement Commission and divided into smaller lots for settlement by returning servicemen following the First World War. The endeavour was unsuccessful, with extensive land-clearing during the Austin era and over-farming by the settlers ultimately leading to a drop in productivity. By 1930, all of the acquired land had been returned to the Commission.
|'Narmbool' 1972, image taken from the John T Collins Collection, State|
Library of Victoria
Fortunately despite Ian's concerns, the native wildlife at 'Narmbool' was not adversely affected by the loss of sanctuary status. His tenure of the property lasted until 1980 when it was sold one final time to Robin and Andrew Ferry.
Upon their arrival, the Ferrys embarked upon an extensive program of replanting, regeneration and reclamation. Over the ensuing years, they installed a series of dams, fenced off the gullies and performed remedial works to tackle the significant erosion and salinity problems caused by the tree clearing and over farming of previous generations. In addition to this, they have been responsible for the planting of at least 40,000 trees across the property which not only contribute to halting erosion but have also provided habitat which has seen the wildlife at Narmbool flourish.
The next step in the Ferry's plans was a succession strategy. They were determined not only to leave 'Narmbool' in a better state than they acquired it, but also to preserve it for the community with a strong focus on education. To this end, after years of negotiations and planing, the property was was gifted to Sovereign Hill, to be used primarily to provide live-in 'environmental discovery programs' for middle school students whilst continuing the environmental initiatives put in place by the Ferrys. In addition, changes were also made to provide a restaurant (The Garden Room) and function facilities, providing opportunities for interaction with the wider community.
|Recreation settler's hut constructed onsite by Sovereign Hill for the education|
program, October, 2015
|Burnt Bridge burns again: 29th December, 2015, roadside near the site of|
Burnt Bridge following the Scotsburn fire
|Roadside on the Midland Highway, looking south east towards Williamson's|
Creek at the site of Burnt Bridge, following the Scotsburn fire,
29th December, 2015
|Google Earth overlaid with the Vic Emergency website estimate of the Scotsburn|
fire. The green line indicates the current extent of 'Narmbool'. The red line gives
the approximate boundaries of the original Narmbool Run