EVO­LU­TION OF A RIVER CROSS­ING

Re­de­vel­op­ment of the precinct be­hind Faith­full Street has fo­cused on one of Wan­garatta’s key his­tor­i­cal and en­dur­ing fea­tures, the Ovens River.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Si­mone Ker­win pho­tos Marc Bongers and cour­tesy Wan­garatta His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

Re­de­vel­op­ment of the precinct be­hind Faith­full Street has fo­cused on one of Wan­garatta’s key his­tor­i­cal and en­dur­ing fea­tures, the Ovens River.

IT’S hard to stroll across the stock­bridge to Wan­garatta’s re­vamped Ovens River Precinct with­out imag­in­ing what early set­tler Wil­liam Henry Clark would have made of the area’s evo­lu­tion. More than 170 years since Clark be­gan op­er­at­ing a liquor store and a ferry en­ter­prise en­abling trav­ellers to cross the Ovens, the precinct now bus­tles with café pa­trons meet­ing for lunch, and fam­i­lies tak­ing in views of the river from the bridge and the more re­cently added board­walk.

The area is also thriv­ing through its link to the Bullawah Cul­tural Trail, a project which aims to cel­e­brate and share the an­cient sto­ries, knowl­edge and skills of lo­cal In­dige­nous peo­ple. Clark, who ar­rived in the area in 1838 and quickly saw the po­ten­tial of the store and ferry ser­vice he pur­chased from Thomas Rat­tray, would prob­a­bly not be sur­prised by the de­vel­op­ment. Con­sid­er­ing the set­tle­ment was known as Ovens Cross­ing when he first knew it, Clark would have en­vis­aged a city built around the river.

What may have raised his eye­brows is the fact it took some time for the $3.3 mil­lion re­vamp along the Ovens to oc­cur, and for the city’s fo­cus to re­turn to the jewel in its crown. Im­por­tantly, though, the wealth of his­tory sur­round­ing the Ovens cross­ing is now en­shrined in the precinct, with in­for­ma­tion boards telling the story of those who once in­hab­ited the area, in­clud­ing Wil­liam Clark.

Des­tined to be known as the ‘ fa­ther of Wan­garatta’ for his 30 years of in­ten­sive in­put to the bur­geon­ing vil­lage, Clark wasted lit­tle time con­struct­ing larger premises (on the site of the for­mer Syd­ney Ho­tel) af­ter pur­chas­ing his busi­ness. As trade in­creased, he built the Hope Inn in 1843, and with the boat he had pur­chased from Rat­tray look­ing a lit­tle worse for wear, Clark spent 500 pounds in 1848 on a new craft to carry his ferry pas­sen­gers.

The punt was de­scribed in Bill O’callaghan’s The Wan­garatta Story as “a float­ing bridge” and “mea­sur­ing 30 feet by six feet and pro­pelled by wind­lass with cog wheels…two men were usu­ally needed to con­trol it”.

The men hauled the punt from one side of the river to the other, car­ry­ing ev­ery­thing from hu­man pas­sen­gers, to their wag­ons and beasts.

“Rail­ings along the sides, and a wooden flap with chains and levers at each end to act as gang­ways, com­pleted the equip­ment,” reads the de­scrip­tion in DM Whit­taker’s ‘Wan­garatta’. >>

As more and more peo­ple moved through the town­ship on their way to the gold dig­gings in the 1850s, Clark sold his punt to the gov­ern­ment. A scale of fees was es­tab­lished, and The Wan­garatta Story says charges were “con­sid­er­ably less than those charged by pri­vate op­er­a­tors”.

“In fact they were so low, twopence for every pas­sen­ger and a half­penny for every sheep, that af­ter a few months the leasee in­formed (po­lice mag­is­trate Ge­orge) Harper that he had sus­tained a loss. In 1854, Clark re­pur­chased the punt, and op­er­ated it un­til the bridge was built.”

The punt was sunk in 1855 af­ter the first bridge across the Ovens was built where the river cross­ing stands to­day, lead­ing into Mur­phy Street. Toll gates and a gate­keeper’s res­i­dence were erected to charge for peo­ple, an­i­mals and carts, and later cars, buses and trucks, as they crossed the bridge. When the toll sys­tem was abol­ished in 1874, the gates were sold to the Ceme­tery Trust for five pounds, and re­mained at the Wan­garatta Lawn Ceme­tery en­trance un­til they were re­placed by iron gates.

As part of the re­de­vel­op­ment in the Ovens River precinct, the toll gates were re­fur­bished by GOTAFE stu­dents. They now stand as a mon­u­ment to the his­tory of the area, and a source of fas­ci­na­tion to the city’s younger gen­er­a­tion, which strug­gles to fathom hav­ing to pay to cross the river they can skip across so freely.

Wan­garatta his­to­rian Val Glee­son, a for­mer City of Wan­garatta coun­cil­lor and for­mer Lady May­oress, said she was pleased the city had started turn­ing its face to the river once more. “I think it’s won­der­ful,” she said. “It’s our fo­cus, and in the past was our liveli­hood. We had a fel­low from Can­berra visit here in the ‘70s, and he ad­vised us we were turn­ing our backs on what should be our prized posses­sion. A few years later, we took his ad­vice and started turn­ing things around. I think it was a great de­ci­sion.”

/ THE PAST VIEW FROM and gates at of the toll­house of the This photo bridge is part ’s Ovens River over­seen by Wan­garatta Mu­seum, Wan­garatta the col­lec­tion at His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. Wan­garatta the

THE GATES / The orig­i­nal Ovens River toll gates (right) were sold to the Ceme­tery Trust for five pounds af­ter the toll sys­tem was abol­ished in 1874, and re­mained at the Wan­garatta Lawn Ceme­tery en­trance un­til they were re­placed by iron gates. The gates were re­fur­bished by GOTAFE stu­dents and re­housed as a fea­ture of the Ovens River precinct works.

PI­O­NEER / Wil­liam Henry Clark ( left), of­ten re­ferred to as the fa­ther of Wan­garatta, op­er­ated the punt ser­vice across the Ovens River from 1839 un­til it was sunk in 1855 af­ter the first bridge across the Ovens River was built.

PART OF HIS­TORY / Wan­garatta His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety mem­bers Val Glee­son and Mar­garet Pratt with part of the re­mains of the Wan­garatta punt, which is on dis­play at the Wan­garatta mu­seum. The punt was raised from the river in the late 1960s, af­ter be­ing sunk when the city’s first bridge was built.

A replica of the Wan­garatta punt is part of the col­lec­tion at the Wan­garatta Mu­seum, op­er­ated by the Wan­garatta His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, in the city’s for­mer fire sta­tion in Ford Street. RE­CRE­ATION /

CHANG­ING FACE / Dur­ing a walk along the Ovens River, it’s easy for thoughts to flow to what early set­tlers ex­pe­ri­enced in their en­deav­ours to cross the river.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.