Stratford

Stratford (including Briagolong and Munro)
Small service centre in West Gippsland
Situated at a ford on the Avon River, 232 kilometres east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway, Stratford's principal industries are dairying, sheep, cattle and horse breeding. There is some dispute about the origin of the town's name. Some claim it to be a variation on "straight ford" while others have suggested it comes from England. The most plausible explanation seems to be that it is named after the birthplace of William Shakespeare at Stratford-on-Avon in England. In any case the locals have embraced the connection and a Shakespearean festival is an annual event.

The region was first settled by Gippsland's first great explorer, Angus McMillan, who named the Avon River after a body of water in his native Scotland. He established a pastoral run in 1840 at Bushy Creek, to the north-west of the current township.

Journalist John Stanley ("The Vagabond") James claimed, in 1886, that "the first house in Gippsland was built on the site of Stratford, and it was, after Sale, the first surveyed township in the north". He may have been referring to "Strathfieldsaye", the homestead of squatter, William Odell Raymond, who established a run in the area in 1842, although Hartwich's Hut, on the same property, is thought to have been built before the house.

Stratford prospered in the 1860s as a supply centre for diggers at the Omeo and Dargo goldfields. Other early buildings which are still standing include what is now the R.S.L. Hall (built 1866), the Church of Holy Trinity (1868), the Methodist Church, including its bell tower (1873), and the post office (1884).

In 1863, the Ramahyuck Moravian Mission was established several kilometres downstream from Stratford, on the north bank, by Reverend August Hagenauer. The name combines "Ramah", the home of Samuel in the First Book of Kings, with "yuck", an Aboriginal term reputedly meaning "our place". Its intention was to remove the local Aborigines from their tribal culture and accustom them to christianity and white mores. To this end they were taught to play cricket. Though it was never self-sufficient, the mission cultivated fruit, vegetables, sheep, cattle and bees. A church, school and orphanage were built and the 931 hectares were fenced in. At its peak, eighty Aborigines were permanent residents.

Financial difficulties caused a slow decline from 1888 until the mission's closure twenty years later. The Aborigines were taken to another mission, the buildings were destroyed and the land was sold off. Today, all that remains are three headstones and some lacerations around the trees where the bark was torn off to make domestic implements, shields and canoes, and where toeholds provided access to the trees' possums. One of the gravestones belongs to Hagenauer's first Aboriginal convert, Nathaniel Pepper. About ninety other tombs, eighty of them belonging to aborigines, were only marked by perishable wooden crosses.

Stratford has two parks adjacent to the Avon River, the bed of which has proved attractive to gemstone collectors over the years. Author and naturalist, Tarlton Rayment, lived at Briagolong (meaning "people of the west"), 14 km north. Those interested in the tribal customs of the local Aborigines may wish to read his volume of tales, Prince of the Totem, published in 1933.

Things to see:

Knob Reserve
3 km south-east of Stratford is a 56-hectare park called Knob Reserve, home to an annual country music festival. At the crest of the hill you can look down upon the local farmlands, the foothills and the Avon River. The reserve is ideal for a picnic and has the appropriate facilities.

Strathfieldsaye
"Strathfieldsaye" was the homestead of squatter, William Odell Raymond, who established a run in the area in 1842. He built the house in 1848-54 from hand-made bricks and pitsawn timber. It is located on Bengeworden Road, a little north of the town, on a ridge which commands a pleasant view of Lake Wellington. Apart from some extensions in the 1870s it remains almost untouched, structurally. Along with its furnishings and some ancestral memorabilia, "Strathfieldsaye" was entrusted to the University of Melbourne in 1976. It is only open for inspection thrice yearly (phone the Buildings Section of the University on 03-93416917).

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Mineral Spring
For those headed north-east along the Princes Highway, there is a small mineral spring at the foot of Slavins Hill, 1 km out of town.

Australian Wildlife Art Gallery and Sculpture Park
Past the Munro turn-off is the Australian Wildlife Art Gallery and Sculpture Park where you can see Australia's wildlife faithfully depicted in paint, clay and bronze by award-winning artists, Chris and Dawn Stubbs. It is open to the public, Thursday to Monday or by appointment (03) 5145 8282.

The Bataluk Cultural Trail
The Bataluk Cultural Trail extends from Sale in the east, through Stratford, Mitchell River National Park, Bairnsdale, Metung, Lake Tyers, Buchan and Orbost to Cape Conran in the west. It follows the trails and trading routes of pre-colonial days and focuses on elements of Koorie history and culture, including Dreamtime stories, traditional lifestyles, the Den of Nargun, Legend Rock, Aboriginal Keeping Places, archaeological sites such as canoe trees and shell middens (some dating back 10 000 years), cultural centres of the region, and aspects of European invasion, colonial settlement and present-day existence. At Stratford the focus is on Knob Reserve.

Stratford Motel
Princes Hwy
Stratford VIC 3862
Telephone: (03) 5145 6500
Rating: ***

Avon Hotel
Tyers St
Stratford VIC 3862
Telephone: (03) 5145 6205

Stratford Top Tourist Park
McMillan St
Stratford VIC 3862
Telephone: (03) 5145 6588
Email: stratfordttp@net-tech.com.au
Rating: ****

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