In the very north west of Victoria, in a dry Mallee landscape, and the home for centuries of an indigenous population and culture, Europeans with their sheep arrived to graze the untouched rich pastures along the mostly permanent rivers of the Murray and the Darling, and settled Western NSW on broad acre station country. It was the mid 1800's. Large stations still remain today in the vast areas of Western New South Wales.
It is a region of low rainfall, but fertile soils. Red sandy loam soils, the colour of the Outback.
A prolonged drought between 1877 and 1884, and a Royal Commission by the State Government into water supply, led to the first large scale irrigation settlement in Victoria, and the settlement known as Mildura was established in 1887, with substantial financial contribution from the State Government. It followed a model of irrigation development in California. The fathers of this development were the Chaffey brothers, George and William.
It was not easy in its infancy. Sheep farming went into decline as the scourge of the rabbits competed with the sensitive low rainfall pastures. After the initial boom of the gold rush in central Victoria, a financial recession was now occurring. But Mildura did survive. Other inland cities nearby such as Wentworth in NSW, supplied the sheep Stations with stores, and transported wool bales along the waterways as far as Wilcannia along the Darling River, and Echuca upstream of Mildura on the Murray.
Water flow in the longest river in Australia was still not completely reliable until a series of locks and weirs along its length, and dams and reservoirs in the headwaters near the high country were established after 1915. This enabled consistent water availability in irrigation areas such as Mildura.
But adding water to fertile soils in a hot and dry climate, allowed almost anything to grow. Dried fruit such as sultanas and raisins, and citrus predominated early, but wine and table grapes now occupy large tracts of land. Additional land outside of the initial irrigation area, is now watered by private diversion from the river with large private pumps on broad acre farms. Almonds and vegetables, and cotton when water is plentiful are among new crops.
If the river provided the life blood (water) to our community, then migration after the two great wars provided our people from diverse European countries, along with returning soldier settlers, who were allocated small irrigation lots, or larger dry land farms in the Victorian Mallee. The size of these farms ultimately proved too small, and many were unable to provide a living for their families, until amalgamation of farms enabled economic and financial security to families.
The Mildura we see today in every aspect reflects these early beginnings. A wonderful multi-cultural community centred on the Old Mildura Irrigation Area, with its streets numbered in the American fashion, with wide boulevards and centre plantations, the main streets planned and crossing at right angles.
The economic prosperity of the area though, does not solely rely on horticulture. Mildura is the largest city in the centre of a catchment of 60,000 people. It is far distant from other large cities. Large retail stores double that population estimate, as people travel long distances to shop here.
The climate is hot and dry, and with wonderful recreational water sports and leisure opportunities in the River, tourism is a large component of the economy. Many people enjoy the mild winters days, although nights can be particularly cold. And a vast array of restaurants provide food from around the world.
There is a vibrant arts community, with wine and music festivals, live theatre, art galleries and cinemas.
With so many people in the Mildura district, educational and health services, agriculture supply companies, provide much employment in addition to the more seasonal fruit harvesting employment.
The Benetook Veterinary Clinic and Animal Hospital, amongst others, provides the veterinary care to that very important population of people’s pets, racing and pleasure horses, and broad acre production animal either on large stations, or smaller irrigated hobby farms.
And we love doing it.