Charlton is the first town along the Calder Highway that does not owe its existence to gold mining but to agriculture and its subsidiary industries. In the first copy of the East Charlton Tribune, published on 20th May 1876, were printed these words:
“East Charlton stands on the eastern bank of the Avoca River in a beautiful valley between two ranges of hills, and is distant twenty miles from Wedderburn and twenty- eight miles from St. Arnaud. The country around is of a very rich nature and bids fair to become the finest agricultural district in the colony. The whole of the land for many miles around has been selected. The wheat grown in the vicinity of East Charlton during the past season realized the highest price of any in Victoria.”
The Editor was obviously writing with pride of the district with which he was connected. Now, over 150 years later, Charlton is still a productive farming town which has weathered many difficulties over the years and altered considerably to adapt to changing times, but still retains the spirit and resilience shown by the early pioneers.
In 1835 Major Thomas Mitchell returned to Sydney after surveying through Central Victoria to Portland. During the journey he crossed and named the Avoca River about 50 kilometers upstream from where Charlton is now. As a result of his report, pastoralists took up leases which gradually opened up the whole state from the Murray to the sea. The first white settlers in the Charlton area were squatters Robert Cay and William Kaye, who leased a huge tract of land in 1844 west of the Avoca River. They later extended their holdings to east of the river and Buckrabanyule. The Avoca River was the boundary between two districts so Charlton was technically two runs, officially known as East and West Charlton Stations.
Dja Dja Wurrung
Charlton and the surrounding district was originally inhabited by the Jaara people, a native Aboriginal tribe. The local language group was the Dja Dja Wurrung. Also known as the Loddon River tribe, they occupied the watersheds of the Loddon and Avoca rivers. They roamed over a vast area including the Buckrabanyule hills, Mount Wycheproof and Lake Buloke, travelling from one water supply to the next. The group of low hills just west of where Charlton is now situated was once a semi permanent aboriginal camp site. The aborigines named the area Youanduk, meaning a basin in a rock, as there were a number of rock depressions on the hillsides providing a reasonably good water supply. Prior to European settlement it is thought the Dja Dja Wurrung numbered approximately 1000. In the Charlton district there are reports of up to 200 being present in the early years of the squatters who employed them as labourers and domestics. However their numbers eventually declined as they either moved away or succumbed to disease or old age, and reports of their presence in Charlton are rare after the 1870’s. While Charlton no longer has a resident population of the Dja Dja Wurrung, members still maintain contact with the area. Charlton is also surrounded by their legacy, in the names of our farming districts including Barrakee, Buckrabanyule, Woosang, Wooroonook and Yeungroon.
Township of Charlton
With the arrival of the squatters, traffic routes to and from the stations soon developed. Various travellers including hawkers, station hands, shearers and bullock teams carrying loads of supplies and wool, all had to cross the Avoca River to reach the West Charlton Station and others to the north. The future site of Charlton proved to be the best crossing place of the Avoca River for traffic going north from Bendigo and Ballarat, and soon became a camping ground where travellers stopped to feed and water their horses and bullocks. The passing of traffic at this spot naturally suggested a chance for business and in 1863 Mr John Flug built an inn on the east bank of the Avoca River laying the foundation for the township of Charlton.
In 1869 the land was opened up for selection and numerous smaller farmers, many of them former miners from the goldfields, came to begin a new future. The town which had taken the name East Charlton from the pastoral run on which it was situated, developed rapidly during the 1870’s with hotels, churches, shops and a school being built to cater for the rapidly growing population. The first school in 1875 was in an old bark hut and after the teacher, Mr R.A. Nicholson sent a photograph of the dilapidated building to the Education Department, a new brick school was built in 1876 for the 68 students. By then Mr Flug had moved his wine shanty to High Street and built a hotel and general store next door. As the township grew and spread across both sides of the river, the name East Charlton became inappropriate. Eventually another town already called Charlton was renamed Chute and on 1st October 1879, East Charlton officially became Charlton and was later declared a town in 1885.
Bridges Crossing the Avoca
In the mid 1860’s there was agitation for a bridge to be constructed and James Paterson of Wedderburn was contracted by the Korong Shire to build it. The bridge was finished in 1867, but because of a severe drought, no water flowed under it until 1870 when raging flood waters covered the bridge up to the middle rail. After the construction of the bridge the roads were increasingly busy with loads of wool, mail coaches and settlers travelling north to take up land.
In 1921 there was a meeting in Charlton of thirteen Shires from Gisborne to Mildura and it was decided to make the road from Melbourne to Mildura a national highway. It was this meeting that decided the route of the Calder Highway although it wasn’t named that until 1927. One matter needing urgent attention in Charlton was the wooden bridge over the Avoca River. It had become old and dilapidated with a load limit of 7 tons placed on it. A new concrete bridge, 12 metres long, was erected beside the old bridge and was opened in 1924. This bridge served the town until 1963 when it too became incapable of coping with modern traffic. The bridge was then widened to 10 metres with a separate footpath being added.
Little is discarded in Charlton, as the original wooden bridge, which had stood firm against innumerable floods was dismantled and re-erected further downstream, where it became known as the ‘Low Water Bridge’. This 122 year old bridge was replaced in 1989 by a new bridge that although still called the Low Water Bridge, was meant to remain above water in a flood. At the official opening, there was in fact a flood and with the bridge unapproachable, the ceremony had to take place in the Shire Hall after which the dignitaries rowed out to the new bridge to inspect it.
From 1880 the Charlton and district residents had been agitating to form a more compact shire with Charlton as its centre. There was much jubilation when, 15 years later, on May 27th 1895, they were granted permission to form a new shire, named the Shire of Charlton. This new shire had approximately 3000 residents and covered an area of 117800 hectares of productive farming and grazing land. It had formerly been the forgotten corner of the Shires of Korong, Gordon and St. Arnaud.
The Shire served Charlton for 100 years until 1995 when the restructuring of Local Government resulted in the amalgamation of the Shires of Charlton, Birchip, Donald, and Wycheproof to form the Buloke Shire. (Source: Charlton Celebrating 150 Years, 1863-2013, Carolyn Olive & Grace Cadzow)
Photos courtesy of the Charlton Golden Grains Museum
Charlton and the surrounding district has a population of approximately 1200 residents comprising of a vibrant mix of families who have lived in Charlton for generations and newer residents who have moved to Charlton for employment, retirement or simply a change of pace.
Charlton’s origins are based on agriculture and farming is still integral to the prosperity of the town. The Charlton district is predominantly a cropping area where cereal grains, legumes and some oil crops are grown. The area is also well known for its prime lamb and wool production. Local industries include the Charlton Feedlot which has a capacity to feed 20,000 cattle, Ingham Poultry and Boral Quarry.
Our local service sector has most of Charlton’s needs well covered with electricians, plumbers, hairdressers, masseurs, sign writers and graphic artists just to name a few. Our retail sector has changed dramatically over the years and with the increase in traffic through the town, the opportunity to attract tourists as well as service local community needs, is a prime motive for our local retailers. We have a terrific range of food outlets and gift and clothing stores as well as the necessary shops required for everyday needs including a newsagent, two banks, two supermarkets, a second hand store and a hardware store.
Education is well covered with the Charlton P-12 College, Charlton Catholic Primary School, Charlton Pre-School and the North Central Trade Training Centre with caters for the surrounding towns and includes training in hairdressing, automotive, agriculture, hospitality, allied health and IT. Another excellent resource is the Driver Education Centre which has fully functional traffics lights, roundabouts and 1.7km of sealed roads.
A new hospital constructed in 2014 incorporates an aged care facility and the ambulance service. This modern facility amply services the needs of the community with full time doctors, emergency triage, visiting professionals such as physiotherapists and a helipad.
Charlton has an enormous range of clubs and venues that cover sports for all ages. We are part of the North Central Football League and host junior and senior football, netball and hockey teams for this competition. Based at Charlton Park on the west bank of the Avoca River, the Multi-purpose facility is also home to the Charlton Harness Racing Club. The Lawn Tennis Club, the Angling Club and a 9 hole winter golf course are also based at Charlton Park. The Charlton Pony Club is located nearby with a cross country course alongside the river. Charlton has an 18 hole winter golf course located 5 km from Charlton. Set in a landscape teeming with native flora and fauna, it is a pretty spot for a visit any time of year. Charlton also has a croquet club and bowling club which have their own clubrooms and basketball and badminton clubs which are located at the Charlton Stadium situated at the P-12 College.
Leisure activities in Charlton are many and varied with yoga and tai chi classes, art classes, a garden club, ukulele club, the Red Hatters, Mens Shed, CWA Cabaritta, the RSL and Senior Citizens Club all providing ample opportunity for socialising. Bushwalking, bike riding and swimming are also popular pastimes with the swimming pool and plenty of parks, reserves and the Avoca River providing plenty of opportunities and locations to indulge.
Charlton has a wide range of entertainment options. The Rex Theatre is the pride and joy of the community. Run by volunteers, it has weekly screenings of new release films, art house cinema and live shows. Other events include a film festival, art show, agricultural show, open garden days, the Charlton Arts Cafe Culture Program, Charlton Courthouse Galley exhibitions and the local Golden Grains Museum.
Volunteering is the backbone of our town and there are many opportunities to get involved in community life. Whilst all of our clubs and organisations are run by volunteers we are fortunate to have three active service clubs who contribute significantly to the Charlton community; the Charlton Rotary Club, Charlton Lions Club and OASIS (Old Apexians Still in Service).
Charlton has an active religious community with four churches meeting regularly. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, St. Martin’s Anglican Church and the Charlton Uniting Church all hold regular services and are involved in helping the local community.
Local Government is represented in Charlton with an office of the Buloke Shire Council located in the main street.