Grape Growers and Wine Makers of Gippsland:
a history
by Robert Haldane

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On-line article only.

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‘Despite being hailed as the new agricultural paradise of Victoria …Gippsland did not become a centre of viticulture and grape growing … Gippsland missed the boat. During the first wine boom of the 1860s it had been too remote. During the second, in the 1880s, the cooler districts were falling out of favour’.1

Almost from the time of first European settlement in the 1840s Gippsland has been a bountiful producer of agricultural produce. Settlers were quick to introduce cattle and sheep grazing, and other farming activities including dairying, pig breeding and turkey rearing were all practised widely. Horticultural pursuits were also an important part of this rural mosaic and the Gippsland landscape was peppered with crops of hops, maize, nuts, fruits and vegetables of almost every description. Not surprisingly, a few new settlers also experimented with grape growing and winemaking.2

Superintendent Edgar Slade (Victoria Police)

The first record of a vineyard of note in Gippsland was that of Edgar Slade at Alberton in South Gippsland. Slade led an idiosyncratic and interesting life. Born on 28 July 1806 at Battersea in England, Slade went to sea in April 1821, aged fourteen and served in the Royal Navy, until retiring at the rank of Lieutenant in 1848. In 1833 he married Alicia Melville in Campbelltown, Scotland and together they arrived in Melbourne aboard the Monarch in 1852.3 Generally referred to as Captain Slade RN, he joined the Victoria Police Force on 1 February 1853. Initially appointed as a Sub-Inspector he was transferred to Alberton with the rank of Inspector and conducted the 1853 census of Alberton and Tarraville, which recorded his address and that of Alicia Slade as ‘Victoria on Orr’s Special Survey’. Later, whilst still based at Alberton, Slade was promoted to Superintendent (1st Class) and commanded the Gippsland Police District.4 Slade ‘put up a hard fight to have Port Albert made the chief town in the district’ but ‘the opening of the Lakes Entrance’ and the advent of a passable overland route between Melbourne and Sale ‘settled the point decisively in favour of Sale’ and in 1863 Slade was compelled to move the Gippsland District Police Headquarters from Alberton to Sale. He auctioned his furniture and livestock and advertised his Alberton garden for lease, including two acres of vineyard. On moving to Sale he resided in a Cape Cod-style villa named ‘Sunnyside’, which still stands in Guthridge Parade.5

Away from policing Slade had quite erudite interests; once described as having ‘a curious kind of religiosity’ about him, he was a member of the Royal Society of Victoria, the Philosophical Society of Victoria and the Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science. A keen sailor, he was commodore of the North Gippsland Yacht Club and later President of the Port Albert Regatta Club. He served two terms as president of the Alberton Shire Council and was a passionate supporter of the Great Southern Railway Line. He was appointed a justice of the peace and magistrate at Alberton and was appointed pursuant to the Education Act as inaugural chairperson of the Alberton Board of Advice. A devout Anglican, Slade laid the foundation stone of St Luke’s Anglican Church at Alberton, which was named after the church that he formerly attended in Chelsea, England.6

Slade was also an avid horticulturalist. He established Gippsland’s first olive grove and planted an extensive orchard and vegetable garden. He sold vegetables including cabbages, onions and carrots and was awarded prizes at agricultural shows for his oranges, peaches, poultry and geese but it was his grape growing and wine making that aroused the most interest.

In 1859 Slade advertised for ‘a German gardener who understands something of the vine’ and it was around this time that he planted Gippsland’s first sizeable vineyard at Alberton. It is not recorded what response his advertisement drew but he did later employ French-born vigneron Francois Edward Blanc as his vineyard assistant. Reputedly they eschewed the use of a grape press and crushed the grapes using their bare feet. Blanc found the climate at Alberton ‘unsuitable’ and selected land at Alberton West. Slade was later assisted in his vineyard by Alberton gardener John West.7

Slade’s main vineyard was at Alberton but later he also grew grapes at his villa ‘Sunnyside’ in Sale. Under the label ‘Touat’8, Slade exhibited and sold a range of wines that included burgundy, claret and riesling. In 1867 he auctioned eighteen one dozen cases of riesling, described as being ‘a very fine white wine and the produce of the Taouat vineyard at Alberton’. Prospective buyers were assured that this wine was ‘made from Riesling’s grape alone expressly in accordance with the instructions given by Dr Guyot’. Frenchman Jules Guyot was the author of Culture of the Vine and Wine Making, translated and published in Melbourne in 1865 by expatriate Frenchman Ludovic Marie. Slade adopted the systematic approach to wine making outlined in this classic work, including the hyperbolic prose published in the Gippsland Times to promote his wine auction:

‘The white wines are in general diffusible stimulants for the nervous system … Because they possess in the highest degree all vinous qualities, bouquet, flavour, stimulative, nervous, active, cordial and spiritual; in one word, because they are to other wines what youth is to mature age’.

Later that same year Slade offered for sale 10,000 rooted grape vines ‘principally Riessling’s [sic] and Miller’s Burgundy’ and also advertised for someone to graft 600 grape vines. Slade produced a claret made from ‘Black Cluster’ grapes, which was described as ‘a capital red wine …decidedly superior to the majority of those [clarets] imported into the colony … it had something of the character of Burgundy’. His Alberton vineyard was lauded in the Gippsland Times as being ‘the largest and best regulated vineyard in Gippsland’.9

In 1867 Slade retired from the Victoria Police, aged sixty, and returned to reside at Alberton where he lived comfortably for many years as a ‘retired civil servant’ drawing both naval and police pensions. His successor as Superintendent in charge of the Gippsland Police District, John Sadleir, later wrote that in retirement Slade,

‘lived in a pleasant home at Alberton, under the shadow of his vines and fig-trees. The figs were perfect, but one cannot say much for the product of his vineyard. His neighbour and constant friend, Captain Kelsall, used to make extraordinary faces as he sipped sparingly of Slade’s home-made wine’

Slade died at his Alberton home ‘St. Catherine’s Lodge’ on 9 February 1902, aged ninety-five. His death has since been described as ‘the passing of an era’ because he ‘did so much to keep Alberton on the map and had such high hopes for its future’. It also signalled the end of an epoch in Gippsland’s wine making history, for although Slade had not made or sold wines for some years prior to his death, the passing of this pioneering Gippsland vigneron coincided with the demise of the local industry that would last almost seventy years.10

Edgar Slade at St Catherine's Lodge, Alberton

St Catherines Lodge, Alberton

Slade was predeceased by his wife Alicia, who died childless at Alberton on 7 October 1876. It is not known what became of Slade’s vineyard. His nephew, Sidney Slade, was resident in the Alberton district during the 1880s and 1890s, working variously as a hotel keeper and licensed victualler. In 1888 he applied for a Colonial Wine Licence and was also the owner of a property named ‘The Vineyard Paddock’ at Alberton West. It is not known if he worked as a vigneron but a census of Victorian vineyards conducted in 1892 does not include a listing for Edgar or Sidney Slade or of any vineyards in Alberton.11

Although Slade was the most noted early Gippsland vigneron, he did have some contemporaries in the vineyard and one of the very first was Edward Thomas Newton, who produced both red and white wines at his Alberton property ‘Ebon-Ebon’.12 An early arrival in the Port Phillip District, Newton was employed as an agent by John Batman and was Trustee to Batman’s will. He arrived at Alberton in March 1843 and was joined by his wife Elizabeth (nee Martin) in November that year. Together they had eleven children and over time he was described variously as an auctioneer, brewer, land agent, postmaster, storekeeper and vine grower. For many years he was an Alberton Shire councillor, serving as shire president from 1869 to 1873. In 1844 he was reportedly fined thirty pounds for selling wine without a licence. Undaunted by this he maintained a lifelong interest in his ‘Ebon-Ebon Vineyard’, until his death due to apoplexy in 1882. In 1859 he won a horticultural society prize for his ‘white grapes’ and also produced red and white wines made from unspecified grape varieties, which he advertised for sale locally in the Gippsland Standard.13

Another luminary with an interest in grape growing and wine making was local physician, Doctor George Dixon Hedley of ‘Greenhills’ at Tarraville. He was one of several ‘amateur vine growers’ who ‘from time to time made small quantities of wine with very considerable success.’ Elected to the seat of South Gippsland in the Victorian Colonial Parliament, following the resignation of Angus McMillan, Hedley also served as a clerk of petty sessions; territorial magistrate; and was inaugural chair person of the Alberton Road Board. Like most of his fellow wine makers Hedley was also a keen poultry breeder, gardener and orchardist, who won prizes at horticultural shows for his fruit and ‘dark grapes’.14

Other pioneering grape growers in the Alberton district included market gardener Robert Nixon Hewitt, who as well as growing prize-winning mangold wurzels and other vegetables, planted 1.7 hectares of grape vines at ‘Castleton-on-the Albert’; and Slade’s ‘constant friend, Captain Kelsall’. Edward William Kelsall was a retired army officer who had arrived in Port Albert in 1855 and held the government appointments of deputy registrar of births and marriages and clerk of courts. He purchased freehold land at Alberton and like Slade he planted an orchard and vineyard from which he produced his own wine. His wine making interests were never as extensive as Slade’s but he did succeed in winning a prize from the local horticultural society for his grapes.15

Yarram storekeeper Charles Devonshire was another member of the Alberton wine making coterie, producing riesling and a red wine made from the Spanish grape mataro, also known as mourvedre, on his property Devon House at ‘Yaram Yaram’. Like Slade’s friend Captain Kelsall, Devonshire’s friends found his red wine ‘too sour’ and not to their liking. In contrast a correspondent for the Gippsland Guardian newspaper found Devonshire’s wines ‘a little too sweet’ and opined that ‘the red wine in particular is a very delicious beverage, and would at once become in great request could any quantity be obtained’.16

One viticultural opportunity that was lost to the region around this time was the move away from Gippsland by Samuel McWilliam, who would later found the famous ‘McWilliam’s Wines’ dynasty. Samuel McWilliam arrived in Australia in 1857 and settled at Denison near Sale. He remained there with his family until moving to Corowa in 1875. There is no record of McWilliam growing vines in Gippsland but within two years of moving to Corowa he befriended pioneering vigneron Dr Henry Lindeman and established a vineyard of eighty acres that he named ‘Sunnyside’. One of his sons, John James McWilliam, who was born at Denison and attended Denison State School, later managed ‘Sunnyside’ and assumed control of the family wine business.17

The plantings of wine grapes in Gippsland during the 1850s and 1860s were largely experimental and essentially the work of hobbyists rather than the work of men with serious commercial aspirations. Official figures for the period, which enumerated vine acreage and wine production by locality, lumped Gippsland into the catch-all category ‘Rest of State’. The promise of the 1860s, ‘That these numerous successful attempts at wine making have at least proved to us one great fact, that the district is capable of producing the very finest tables wines, and a rich harvest awaits any one who embarks in a vinery with proper spirit and energy’ was never fulfilled.18 Their small-scale production and distance from markets meant that early Gippsland wines were destined for local sale and consumption only and the nascent industry gradually faded away. It was not until the 1880s that grape growing in the region underwent something of a renaissance but again the industry faltered and by the early twentieth century commercial grape growing and wine making in Gippsland was almost non-existent.

Following the early plantings of Slade and others there was a hiatus in Gippsland viticultural activity until its resurgence was led by Swiss immigrant Louis Wuillemin at Briagolong. But even here Edgar Slade exerted an influence and along with Ferdinand von Mueller and others, Slade is credited with being a promoter of Briagolong as Gippsland’s nineteenth-century ‘Garden of Eden’.19

Louis Wuillemin was born in the Canton de Vaud, Payerne, Switzerland in 1838. Canton de Vaud was noted for its vineyards and tobacco. His father, John Hector Wuillemin was a wine merchant and for some years Wuillemin’s grand father, J. Grendjean, was reportedly the largest manufacturer of tobacco in Switzerland. Reputedly fluent in six languages and a graduate in languages from Sorbonne University in Paris, Wuillemin, was also an artist and as a Professor of Languages taught at a school in Nizhniy, Novgorod in Russia.20 Wuillemin left Russia for France and in 1867 attended the Paris Universal Exhibition, where the Victorian display, which included exhibits of wine and tobacco, sparked his interest in migrating to Victoria.21

Wuillemin left Liverpool aboard the Wennington on 31 October 1867 and landed in Melbourne on 8 February 1868. Armed with a letter of introduction, Wuillemin sought the advice of Swiss-Australian vigneron Hubert de Castella at ‘St Hubert’s Vineyard’. De Castella endeavoured to steer Wuillemin away from a life of ‘manual labour’ and provided him with letters of recommendation for a ‘pedagogic career’ at Melbourne University. Contrary to Manning’s erroneous assertion that ‘On arrival in Victoria he [Wuillemin] became Professor of Languages at Melbourne University’, Wuillemin eschewed de Castella’s advice and the prospect of teaching opportunities in Melbourne and opted for life as a horticulturalist in Gippsland. In late 1868 he travelled with a dray load of provisions to Briagolong and eventually selected land on Freestone Creek, Briagolong that in time became the Delta Vineyard.22

Hubert de Castella

Wuillemin claimed to have ‘had experience in tobacco in Switzerland for twenty years, in the principal valley where tobacco is raised, where the Swiss cigars are made’. At Briagolong he initially experimented with crops of opium but by 1872 had established a European-style tobacco plantation. He erected a cottage, drying sheds and a small cigar factory and was soon Gippsland’s principal manufacturer of tobacco and cigars. On 26 January 1877 Wuillemin married Elizabeth Shaw Mauritz at the Presbyterian manse in Maffra. Aged eighteen and a New Zealander by birth, Mauritz was twenty-one years younger than her husband. Several months after their wedding Wuillemin applied for naturalization as a permanent resident of the Colony of Victoria and set about building a larger residence for his family, which grew to include five children.23

Wuillemin ‘grew tobacco for about fifteen years’ but ‘gave it up in 1882’, the year after a tobacco excise tax was introduced. He was of the view ‘that whenever the vine is a success, tobacco is a success – when the wine is of good quality the tobacco is also’ and this adage saw him move totally away from tobacco growing and heralded his establishment of a winery and experimentation with different grape varieties. Initially he planted a vineyard of three acres from which he at first sold the fruit as table grapes in bunches weighing up to five pounds. Further plantings of vines increased his Delta Vineyard to eight acres of mixed grape varieties, including white hermitage, riesling, chasselas, red hermitage and pinot noir. His first wine crushing was in 1885 and he exhibited his wines at shows in Melbourne and Europe.24

An inveterate polemicist who wrote many letters to the local press, Wuillemin was a model of Francois de Castella’s classic ‘Swiss character’:

'… a curious mixture – a complex of heroic virtues and queer shortcomings … industrious, hard working and resourceful … but also independent, and this in the extreme at times … self-centred and intolerant of domination by others; and of correction, even if not justified’.25

Wuillemin was the district’s first wine maker of note but he was soon joined by others including Swiss migrants, brothers Henry and Albert Estoppey, who in July 1885 ‘had the ground prepared and 15,000 rooted grape vines ready to plant’ and their brothers Ferdinand and Charles Estoppey who planted nine acres of vines at their ‘Phigi Vineyard’, at Culloden near Briagolong, including plantings of gold and pink chasselas and hermitage. Other growers to follow including Italian migrant Joe Gillio, ‘along the Marathon Road’ who at one stage ‘had around 20 acres’ and grew muscatel grapes used to produce a sweet wine that sold locally for two shillings a gallon and  Michael Landy who planted about five acres of mixed grape varieties a short distance from the Wuillemin property. As was the case with Edgar Slade and his contemporaries around Alberton in the 1860s, Wuillemin and his neighbours did not restrict their horticultural activities to grape growing but were also noted for their tobacco, cider, hops and fruit trees. Indeed their commercial success in these ventures was quite an advance on the efforts of growers in the 1860s and Michael Landy even managed to ship fresh fruit from Briagolong to England.26

One year the vignerons of Briagolong staged a wine competition between the vineyards on Freestone Creek and those on George’s Creek. ‘For want of similar kinds’ only two wine varieties out of a possible seven were competed for: one white and one red, both from the most recent vintage. The ineligible wines were riesling, hermitage, hock and chablis. Delta Vineyard took first place with a light red wine made from red chasselas grapes. According to a Gippsland Times correspondent, first prize for a white wine, produced from golden chasselas grown at George’s Creek, was awarded to ‘Taylor Brothers’ and although a James Taylor is known to have had property adjacent to Wuillemin’s at The Delta, there is no record of a Taylor Brothers vineyard. The Estoppey Brothers were actively involved with their vineyard at George’s Creek at the time and it is likely that they and not ‘Taylor Brothers’ produced the winning white wine.27

Pioneering colonial wine authority Hubert de Castella visited Wuillemin and the Estoppey brothers at Briagolong in 1885 and wrote fulsomely of their work in his book John Bull’s Vineyard, describing Gippsland as ‘a country propitious to the growing of grapes … The high lands of that region are certain to produce perfect wines, about 25 [degrees] of strength, well adapted for cold climates, yet wines of ordinary consumption, to be drunk at meal times (des vins de table)’.28

De Castella envisioned ‘the grape’ as the principal means of ‘reclaiming’ the region and foresaw a time when family farms of fifty acres ‘cultivating ten acres of vines and ten acres of fruit trees’ would , if kept ‘in good order’ yield ‘not less than six hundred gallons to the acre’.29

In 1889 Louis Wuillemin and Charles Estoppey were issued with Vigneron’s Licences, allowing them to sell wine produced from their own grapes but it was not to be consumed on their properties. Folklore has it that ‘wine tastings’ did occur at their vineyards and stories abound about the trouble some ‘tasters’ had walking or riding home from ‘Sunday wine tasting sessions’. In 1893 Wuillemin was fined two pounds at the Maffra Court for ‘allowing his wines to be drunk in his vineyard’. In a bid to legally overcome this obstacle to sales of his wine, Wuillemin sought an outlet for his wine at licensed premises in Sale. The proposal drew howls of protest from local traders and others but in December 1902 the Sale Licensing Court did grant a Colonial Wine Licence for that purpose.30

In 1890 the Victorian government introduced a sponsorship scheme, whereby any person planting grape vines of an approved variety was eligible for the payment of bonuses at the rate of two pounds per acre. Despite this generous incentive, fuelled by the optimism of de Castella and the work of Wuillemin and others, Gippsland did not fulfil its much-vaunted promise as a wine producing region. In May 1892 the Board of Viticulture compiled a list of ‘Vine Growers of Victoria’ and of 1000 growers cultivating an area planted to more than 30,000 acres of vines, the Board of Viticulture listed only twenty-four Gippsland growers with a total of 28.25 acres under vine. Ranging in size from quarter of an acre to nine acres and spread across Gippsland from Inverloch to Omeo, the largest Gippsland holdings were those of the Estoppey Brothers (nine acres), Louis Wuillemin (eight acres), both at Briagolong and that of J.J Bawm (2 acres), on the Perry River at Stratford.

Later that same year the Government Statist, Mr Hayter, released further information:

‘In the shire of Avon there were five vine-growers, who produced 143 cwt. of table grapes and 100 gallons of wine. In Buln Buln three acres under vines, but the produce is not given. Bairnsdale has no record at all. In the Maffra shire there are two growers, who have 20 acres under cultivation, 4 not bearing and 16 bearing; 102 cwt. of table grapes were produced, and 2,000 gallons of wine made’.31

Despite this modest scale of production pundits were always on the lookout for prospective grape growing opportunities and following a visit to Buchan one scribe in The Snowy River Mail wrote, ‘as a wine producing country, after what I have seen of the North Eastern districts, I can venture the assertion that for viticulture this locale should, with the soil and climate, produce the highest class of wine in Victoria’. Similarly, a Gippsland Mercury correspondent expressed the view that,

‘we are chiefly anxious that viticulture should flourish in our midst. It is a grand productive industry, giving employment to many hands, and it is a downright waste of our opportunities that it should be neglected. … the time will come when the slopes of Gippsland will be covered with pleasant vineyards we are certain – just as certain as we are that a light wine, admirably suited for colonial needs, could be better produced here than any other spot.’32

Whilst some might have dismissed such observations as the optimistic ramblings of newspaper scribes, their views were given added weight when experienced Echuca-based, German-born winemaker John Vettler wrote to the Age newspaper putting the view that Gippsland was ‘in every way suitable … to grow champagne grapes – viz., Pineau, blanc, gris and noir’. Vettler had thirty-seven years Australian wine making experience behind him and despite contemporary views to the contrary, he not only felt that the production of an ‘Australian champagne’ was a possibility but that ‘a large portion of Gippsland’ was suitable for the production of ‘genuine champagne wines’.33

It was not to be. The urgings of Vettler and others went unheeded. Despite having soil types, rainfall and climate that compared favourably with those of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne; and not having suffered unduly from frosts, storm damage, locusts or the ravages of phylloxera, such as had devastated other parts of Victoria, the plantings and profile of the Gippsland wine industry were piffling. Cooler dry wine producing districts such as Gippsland were ‘falling out of favour’ as the public taste veered ‘almost exclusively to sweet wine’. The trend was to fortified wine, spirits and beer. And much to the chagrin of Francois de Castella the most popular mealtime beverage of all was tea.34

Economic conditions in the 1890s were dismal and this was exacerbated after Federation in 1901 by the dismantling of intercolonial trade barriers that ended the protectionism previously afforded Victorian wine. The new ‘national’ wine industry was centred on South Australia. With the death of Michael Landy in 1899 and Louis Wuillemin, aged seventy-four, in 1911, much of the drive behind Gippsland’s Garden of Eden died too. The region would not be home to any large-scale wine producers or grand wine estates. A fact underscored in Francois de Castella’s 1942 treatise Early Victorian Wine-Growing, in which Louis Wuillemin is the only Gippsland vigneron to rate a mention and only then in the somewhat obscure category ‘Other Isolated Victorian Vineyards’: listed as ‘at far Briagalong’. As had occurred in the 1860s Gippsland’s nascent wine industry again missed the wine boom and entered the twentieth century having ‘failed to achieve a meaningful identity as a producer of wine in the nineteenth century’.35

The parlous state of the Gippsland wine industry around the turn of the century endured for seventy years, revived only briefly and sporadically by the likes of Bairnsdale vigneron Jonadab Townsend. He operated a wine saloon in Riverine Street near the corner of Bailey Street and together with his youngest son Jerry Townsend, a boat builder, grew ‘vines on the steep scarp rising up above his Boats for Hire shed’ on the banks of the Mitchell River. Author Hal Porter fondly remembered Jerry Townsend clambering ‘about like a chamois among his vines … picking grapes to make the knock-out plonk he sells illegally to the indiscreet’.36

Another more remote but equally unusual vineyard was that of Williamstown grocer, James Rice & Sons at Croajingolong.37 James Rice was born on 20 August 1840 at Nismes, France, the son of English engineer Bernard Rice and his wife Ellen (nee Hobbs). James, who was fluent in French, arrived in Australia with his father in 1854. Later in life, Rice, who was reputedly a wine connoisseur, identified land near Mallacoota that he thought resembled the wine producing regions of France. He translated several French works on wine growing for two of his sons to use as reference works in establishing their Croajingolong vineyard.38

Although grape growing and wine making were virtually non-existent in Gippsland during the first seventy years of the twentieth-century, there were those who felt that Gippsland still held promise. Foremost among them was French-trained viticulturalist and former Victorian government viticultural adviser Francois Robert de Castella. The oldest son of Hubert de Castella, he shared his father’s earlier enthusiasm for Gippsland as a wine-producing region. Fluent in French, he was a prolific writer, and an active educationist and broadcaster. In 1940 he described the possibilities for wine production in Gippsland as ‘scarcely yet been thought of’ and put the view that Gippsland ‘is the portion of our State which approximates most closely to the South of France, and the Levante and Catalonia, of Eastern Spain, the region of Southern Europe where the vine is most extensively cultivated’.39

Despite his eminence, de Castella’s vision for Gippsland, like that of Vettler and others before him, was ignored. It was not until well after the 1950s shift in dining and drinking habits that the attention of Gippslanders again turned to the production and consumption of local wines. The advent of restaurant and BYO liquor licences in the 1960s was the harbinger of a gradual shift in dining and drinking culture that saw an increase in wine consumption and a burgeoning interest in grape growing and wine making throughout Victoria. But even during this post-war renaissance Gippsland did not keep pace with developments elsewhere and the wine literature of the period contains no references to Gippsland.40

It was not until 1970 that grape growing and wine making was revived in Gippsland and the pioneers were Harry Dacre Stubbs and his wife Pauline, who established ‘Lulgra Vineyards’ on a fifty-five acre property fronting the North Arm at Lakes Entrance. Like Edgar Slade and Louis Wuillemin a century before him, Dacre Stubbs was an erudite and talented individual, once described as being ‘a man of volatile enthusiasm who has had umpteen hobbies’, he lived by the credo, ‘If you haven’t done it before, it must be worth doing’.41

Dacre Stubbs (courtesy Martin Stubbs)

Dacre Stubbs was born on 1 May 1910 in East Hardwick, Yorkshire, England, the son of Captain Henry Stubbs and Adelaide Stubbs (nee Rogerson). Educated at Pocklington Secondary School in Yorkshire, he served an apprenticeship in the merchant navy from 1926 to 1931, after which he worked for five years in the wireless and broadcasting industries. For a time Stubbs was a racing car driver, leading a ‘playboy lifestyle’ centred on a ‘passion for fast cars, motor racing and parties’. He was also described as being ‘a keen-eyed Englishman – rather like a cavalry officer’. In 1937 he joined the BBC as a program recorder but this was curtailed when war broke-out and he was seconded to the Air Ministry to operate secret underground transmitting stations in various parts of Britain. It was also during this period, in 1939, that he married Pauline Swinstead and began to develop a serious interest in photography, participating in a number of photographic societies and exhibitions. After the war Stubbs returned to the BBC where his interest in photography saw him appointed as a staff photographer.

In 1948 Dacre and Pauline, together with their son Martin (born 1943) migrated to Melbourne, where Dacre pursued a career in photography. An active member of the Melbourne Camera Club, Stubbs was a distinguished commercial photographer who at the pinnacle of his career was appointed as inaugural chairperson of a committee formed to establish the Department of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Abiding in the belief ‘that the brain and body should never be idle’, Stubbs was an inveterate traveller, writer and sailor. When not entertaining friends aboard his 42 foot ketch Gannet on Port Phillip Bay, he spent hours photographing motor races and vintage cars, and together with Pauline and Martin made numerous trips to outback Australia to study and photograph Aboriginal rock art: his anthropological studies culminating in 1974 with the publication of his landmark work Prehistoric Art of Australia.42

Pauline Stubbs - 1947 (courtesy Martin Stubbs)

During the 1960s, on the eve of departing on yet another outback trip, Pauline Stubbs found a newspaper advertisement for a water front property at Lakes Entrance. The idea gestated and on their return from interstate the Stubbs’s purchased the property, which they named ‘Lulgra’, meaning ‘hidden water hole’. They then set about designing and building a new home, clearing bracken and dead trees, erecting new fences and in 1970 commenced planting rooted grape vines that they had purchased from Rutherglen. The provenance of the very first vines they planted is not known but early ‘Lulgra’ plantings did include riesling, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. The first vintages were produced in the basement of the family home. Dacre later described this as ‘Establishing A Vineyard As An Art’. When the scale of wine production increased a winery was built and a ‘Lulgra’ label was produced, featuring the Greek wine god Dionysus. ‘Lulgra’ became Gippsland’s second licensed winery when Harry Dacre Stubbs and Pauline Stubbs trading as ‘Lulgra Vineyards’ were granted a Vigneron’s Licence on 15August 1980.43

Original Lulgra residence & wine cellar

Remnants of original Lulgra Vineyard

On 5 August 1985 the Vigneron’s Licence held by Stubbs’ was transferred to the neighbouring Smith family at ‘Wyanga Park’, who acquired the main ‘Lulgra’ vineyard and winery building. The Smiths then combined their seven acres of vines, including traminer, chardonnay, pinot noir and reisling with the Stubbs’ property and on 20 January 1986 the name of the merged entity was legally changed to ‘Wyanga Park Vineyards’. This new enterprise was expanded substantially and included Gippsland’s first winery café and winery boat cruises aboard the aptly named Corque. The original small plot of experimental ‘Lulgra’ grape vines and house were retained by the Stubbs family.44

Lulgra Wine

Lulgra label [Sauvignon Blanc]

Lulgra wine label [rear]


Although Dacre Stubbs led the modern-day Gippsland wine renaissance others were quick to follow and the first was his good friend, distinguished CSIRO scientist and cosmologist, Dr Malcolm Winfield and his wife Margaret (nee Mofflin). In 1967 the Winfield’s purchased an eighty acre property, named ‘Golden Point Farm’, almost opposite ‘Lulgra’ on the North Arm at Lakes Entrance. Winfield’s venture was experimental rather than commercial and his approach to viticulture reflected ‘a lifetime of rigor and dedication to a curiosity-driven exploration of the nature of matter and creation’. From the outset Winfield adopted a scientific approach to his viticultural work and consulted at length with fellow CSIRO scientist Alan James Antcliff, a vine physiologist and breeder, who was the senior principal research scientist in charge of the vine improvement program at the CSIRO division of horticultural research at Merbein. In addition to vines from Italy, France and Germany Winfield expressed a desire to experiment with vines from Portugal and the Dalmatian Coast. Together they pushed the boundaries of viticultural experimentation in Gippsland and Antcliff sourced the rarest available grape varieties for Winfield to try at Lakes Entrance, including ansonica and grillo (whites from Sicily); bombino nero and uva di troia (reds from Puglia); fernao pires and verdelho (whites from Portugal); & touriga and souzao (reds from Portugal). Consistent with his science-based approach, Winfield made detailed notes about grape varieties, clones, weather patterns, soil types, disease control and the management of bird damage, including trials of mesurol. In a memo to Antcliff, one of his more idiosyncratic vine notes read: ‘One of the more baffling observations was that zucchini seeds, planted between several of the vines at a drought time of the year, germinated and grew magnificently, continuing to bear well until a month ago [May 1973]’.

Malcolm and Margaret Winfield

The Winfields planted their first vines in 1971 and by early 1973 were growing thirty-three varieties of wine grapes, including unusual varieties such as, clairette, touriga, dog ridge and mavronemeas. In all Winfield planted fifty-seven varieties of grape and like Slade and others before him he also planted an extensive orchard, including experimental plantings of avocado. Winfield’s early wine making efforts were rudimentary and entailed the crushing of grapes in a bucket but he did manage to produce some good wines, which he cellared under his house. His 1977 cabernet sauvignon was described by the head of oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College as ‘a big purple wine with plenty of acid and considerable potential’. At one point Winfield contemplated contracting his wine making to Dacre Stubbs. He named his venture ‘Winfield’s Vineyards’ and his letterhead and proposed wine label bore the descriptor ‘Bordeaux-type wines’. Unfortunately, Winfield ‘finally had to acknowledge the supremacy’ of the forty varieties of birds that his vineyard ‘inadvertently’ supported and over time his wine making venture lapsed. Dr Winfield died in 1998 and apart from some 250 wines of mixed hues and quality that were stored under his house, little remained of the Winfield wine experiment. Some Winfield vines were later salvaged by vigneron Howard Reddish and grown at his Mount Markey vineyard at Cassilis.45

Winfields Vineyard

The experimental science-based approach to viticulture adopted by Antcliff and Winfield was replicated on a smaller scale in 1974, when Department of Agriculture agronomist based at Bairnsdale, Leo Hamilton, planted a trial plot of chardonnay, shiraz and riesling on his property at Sarsfield. The vines trialled by Hamilton were provided by Murray Clayton, a former Seppelts viticulturalist, who in the early 1970s was the Viticultural Extension Officer with the Victorian Department of Agriculture. In a show of scientific prescience, Clayton believed that East Gippsland was well-suited to the growing of chardonnay and provided vines to both Leo Hamilton and John Armit at Bindi Station near Omeo to test his hypothesis. The clone of shiraz trialled by Clayton and Hamilton was later adopted by Ken Eckersley, forming the basis of his Nicholson River Winery syrah.46

Winfields Vineyards Label


Winfield's Vineyards Letterhead

Although Stubbs and Winfield were Gippsland’s first modern-era viticulturalists, neither of them initially applied for a licence to sell their wine and the first post-1920s Vigneron’s Licence granted to a Gippsland winery was granted to Robert Leonard Guy trading as ‘Golvinda Wines’ on 7 June 1977.47 A former South Australian, Guy and his wife Ann claimed to have planted ten acres of vines on their property at Government Road, Lindenow South, which they named ‘Golvinda’ after the historic Golconda Fort in Hyderabad in India.

Guy had studied and tutored in oenology at Roseworthy College and after considering such variables as climate and soil, he settled on Lindenow South in Gippsland as his preferred site for a dry lands vineyard. Planted predominantly to cabernet sauvignon, from which Guy planned to produce a Bordeaux-style red, the vineyard included smaller plantings of chardonnay and reisling. His rudimentary self-built winemaking equipment included a screen acquired from a blue metal crusher and recycled iron bark poles that were used to make a roller grape press.

Golvinda’s business activities were later expanded to include winery spit-roast dinners and the establishment of the South Pines golf course. Widely circulating suggestions that ‘Golvinda’ sold cleanskin wines purchased from other parts of Victoria, labelled as Gippsland wine, damaged both the reputation of ‘Golvinda’ and that of the fledgling Gippsland wine industry. Guy surrendered his Vigneron’s Licence on 8 January 1996 and the winery and golf course were sold. The ‘Golvinda’ winery, like the Winfield experimental plot, no longer exists: Guy’s lasting legacy to the district being a golf course not a vineyard.48

It was an era when newspaper reports of Gippsland viticulture opened with lines like ‘Finding a winery in Gippsland at first struck us as like catching a flathead in the Barossa Valley’. But following the efforts of Stubbs and Winfield, the beginnings of commercial vineyards were established elsewhere in Gippsland in relatively quick succession: in 1975 by Dr Gordon and Christine McIntosh at ‘Briagolong Estate’ and Peter Edwards at ‘McAlister Vineyards’ Longford; in 1978 by Ken and Juliet Eckersley at ‘Nicholson River Winery’ and Dr Chris Hill at ‘Carrick Springs Vineyard’ (now Windy Ridge) near Foster; in 1979 by Phillip Jones at ‘Bass Phillip’ south of Koonwarra; and in 1980 by Harry and Val Friend at ‘Narkoojee’ Glengarry. Non-commercial or ‘hobbyist’ vineyards planted during this era included those of John Armit at Bindi Station, Dr Harry and Eve Cumming at Buchan Station, Leo Hamilton at Sarsfield and Dr Clive Levis at Wy Yung.49

At the urging of Winfield and others a group of Gippsland grape growers and wine makers, including Cumming, Eckersley, Hamilton, Levis, McIntosh, Reddish, Smith, Stubbs and Winfield, together with restaurateurs Melinda and Marshall Waters, met at Waters Restaurant in Bairnsdale in 1984 and formed the Gippsland Grape Growers and Winemakers Association. The nascent Gippsland wine industry now had a semi-formal network to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, ideas and experimentation. Over time it grew to become the regional voice for growers and wine makers and was the first conduit for any form of regional branding, marketing and promotion.

By 1990 there were twenty-one established vineyards and seven licensed wineries in Gippsland. The Gippsland wine industry was on a firm footing and growing all the time. In 1996, marking what was an auspicious benchmark for the region, leading Australian wine authority James Halliday described Nicholson River Chardonnay as a ‘majestic’ wine that pushed ‘the flavour envelope further than almost any other Australian chardonnay’. Beginning in 1989 the same wine was also voted the most popular white wine nine times at the annual Victorian Exhibition of Winemakers. Yet despite this growth and success, ‘the Gippsland region’ was still generally perceived as Victoria’s ‘most remote and least-known winegrowing region’. Age wine writer Jeni Port, in an article headed ‘Growers in a far-flung empire have the goods’ succinctly noted, ‘the Gippsland [wine] region takes up almost half of the State. Yet, for all its size, its production of wine remains small. Its image is still one of a fledgling’.50

Despite being bedevilled by the tyranny of distance, the Gippsland wine industry continued to prosper and the prophesies of Hubert de Castella and others belatedly came to fruition. In particular, the idiosyncratic trio of Edgar Slade, Louis Wuillemin and Dacre Stubbs, who each pioneered an epoch in the evolution of this industry, deserve credit for their prescience and endeavour. Gathered fireside with Hubert de Castella, replete with a glass of Gippsland’s finest wine in hand, they might perhaps be exalted to read in the 2008 edition of James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion the details of forty-five successful Gippsland wineries, stretching from the South Gippsland coast, through to Briagolong, Lakes Entrance and the High Country beyond. It had taken time but Gippsland had proven to be ‘a country propitious to the growing of grapes’.51

© - Robert Haldane (2009)

End notes

1. David Dunstan, Better Than Pommard! A history of wine in Victoria, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Kew, 1994, p. 64.

2. Hubert De Castella, John Bull’s Vineyard, Sands & McDougall Ltd, Melbourne, 1886 (Overseas Press Service edition 1981); and David Dunstan, Better Than Pommard, passim.

3. The National Archives, Kew UK. Catalogue references ADM 193/13 and ADM 196/69 & Gippsland Times, 20 October 1867, for naval service history; Register of Deaths – Alberton 1902 – No. 268, for Edgar Slade’s family details; Public Record Office of Victoria, Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria 1852-1923, for arrival in Victoria.

4. The Gippsland Police District then comprised police stations at Alberton, Tarraville, Palmerston, Stradbroke, Sale, Stratford and Traralgon, with the district headquarters at Alberton. Omeo was a separate police district under the command of an Inspector with stations at Livingstone Creek, Tongeo Mungee, Tambo and Mitchell.

5. John Sadleir, Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer, George Robertson & Company, Melbourne, 1913, pp. 136-9; and Thomas O’Callaghan, History of the New South Wales and Victoria Police, The Author, Melbourne, 1914, p. 425, and Return Showing Distribution of Victoria Police, Melbourne, Government Printer, 1860, for Slade’s police career; Patrick Morgan, The Settling of Gippsland: A Regional History, Traralgon, Gippsland Municipalities Association, 1997, pp. 35-43, for Port Albert history; Gippsland Heritage Journal, No. 5, 1988, pp. 42-3, for 1853 Census of Alberton & Tarraville; Victoria Police Gazette, 1863, p. 108, for relocation of Gippsland Police District Headquarters to Sale on 18 March 1863; Gippsland Guardian, 1 May 1863, for auction of livestock & 30 October 1863, for lease of vineyard.

6. Sadleir, Recollections, p. 138, for religiosity; 19 August 2007), for Royal Society of Victoria; John Adams, From these Beginnings: History of the Shire of Alberton (Victoria), Alberton Shire Council, Yarram, 1990, passim.

7. Gwen O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 2, 2006, pp. 632-3, Edgar Slade, for vegetable and grape growing; James Preston, ‘Gustave Blanc (1876-1959)’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 7, Melbourne University Press, 1979, pp. 323-4, for Blanc; Yarram Standard News, 31 August 1977, for crushing grapes with feet; Gippsland Times, 25 July 1867 and O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation, Vol. 2, p. 717, for John West.

8. Touat (sometimes spelt Taouat) was an oases group in Algeria famous for palm wine.

9. Gippsland Times, 21 February 1867; 2 March 1867; 25 July 1867; 24 July 1869; 22 October 1867; Dunstan, Better Than Pommard, p. 42, for Guyot and Marie.

10. Sadleir, Recollections, p. 138, for quotation; Adams, From these Beginnings, p. 156, for passing of an era; Register of Deaths – Alberton 1902 – No. 268, for Edgar Slade.

11. Register of Deaths in the District of Alberton – 1876 No. 126 – Alicia Slade; O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation, Vol. 2, p. 633, for Sidney Slade; Dunstan, Better Than Pommard, pp. 238-258, for vineyard census.

12. Newton’s property is spelt in different sources as ‘Eabon Eabon’ & ‘Ebon Ebon’. Graeme Butler, Port Albert Conservation Study, Alphington, 1982, p. 24, states ‘Of the name, Eabon Eabon, the Rev. Cox states that it was the name of the aboriginal tribe who occupied that part of the Alberton district, north of Brewery Road, prior to settlement (Eben Eben)’.

13. Adams, From These Beginnings, p. 88; O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation, Vol. 1, Vol. 2, pp. 515-6; John Howe, Edward Thomas Newton, (24 October 2007); Ian D. Clark, ‘George Augustus Robinson’s 1844 Journey through Gippsland’, Gippsland Heritage Journal, No. 17 (December 1994), p. 16, for fine; Gippsland Guardian, 13 February 1863 & 14 July 1876, p. 3.

14. O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation, Vol. 1, pp. 301-2; Gippsland Guardian, 13 February 1863; Adams, From These Beginnings, passim, for Hedley.

15. Adams, From These Beginnings, p. 33, for Hewitt; O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation, Vol.1, pp. 305-6, for Hewitt and pp. 361-2, for Kelsall.

16. Adams, From These Beginnings, p. 88; O’Callaghan, Clonmel to Federation, Vol. 1, p. 173; Gippsland Guardian, 13 February 1863, for Devonshire.

17. (19 August 2007 [This link possibly no longer accurate October 2012]), for McWilliam; Lloyd Evans, ‘John James McWilliam (1868-1951)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 10, Melbourne University Press, 1986, pp. 368-9.

18. Francois de Castella, ‘Early Victorian Wine-Growing’, The Victorian Historical Magazine, Volume 19, Issue 76, 1942, p. 144; Gippsland Guardian, Friday, 13 February 1863.

19. Laurie Manning, Discovering Briagolong, Paoletti’s Maps and Videos P/L Edition, 2005, Langwarrin South, p. 58.

20. National Archives of Australia, Canberra, for Wuillemin’s naturalization papers and dates; Manning, Discovering Briagolong, p. 58, for Wuillemin family history and silk exhibition;

21. This point is open to debate. De Castella and Manning credit Wuillemin with visiting the Victorian exhibits at the Paris Exhibition of 1871, where he ‘examined the produce of Victoria’ and sparked by ‘the quality of silk’ on display resolved to migrate to Victoria. The problem with this account is that there was no Paris Exhibition in 1871: the Paris Universal Exhibition was held in 1867 and although the exhibition catalogue lists exhibits of wine and tobacco, there is no listing for silk. De Castella, John Bull’s Vineyard, pp. 221-2, for 1871 exhibition; ‘Catalogue of products from Victoria, Australia, at the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1867’, www.slv.vic/ (13 July 2008 [This link no longer available October 2012]).

22. VPRO, Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria 1852-1923; and, for Wuillemin arrival on Wennington; De Castella, John Bull’s Vineyard, pp. 221-2, for letters of introduction and pedagogic career; Manning, Discovering Briagolong, p. 58, for Wuillemin ‘Professor of Languages in Melbourne’ and land selection at the Delta in 1869; Personal communication to the author from Jane Allen, University of Melbourne Archivist, 2 July 2008, that Wuillemin has never been a professor at the university.

23. Report from the Select Committee upon State Monopoly in Manufacture of Tobacco, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1896, pp. 25-26, for Wuillemin on growing tobacco and grapes; Register of Marriages solemnized in the District of Gippsland, 1877, Register No. 753, for Wuillemin-Mauritz wedding and family details; National Archives of Australia, Canberra, for Wuillemin’s naturalization papers.

24. Ibid, pp. 226; Manning, Discovering Briagolong, pp. 58-60.

25. Notes from Peter Synan, ‘The Wine Industry of Early Gippsland’. nd; Francois de Castella, ‘Some Pioneer Lillydale Vignerons’, Victorian Historical Magazine, Vol. 20, No. 2, December 1943, p. 66.

26. Ibid, pp. 225-9; Manning, Discovering Briagolong, pp. 58-60; Ken Eckersley, ‘Gippsland’s Grape Growing History’, Report to the Gippsland Grape growers and Winemakers Association, 2 June 1985.

27. Gippsland Times, 17 August 1896.

28. De Castella, John Bull’s Vineyard, pp. 219 & 234;

29. Ibid, pp.221 & 241.

30. Manning, Discovering Briagolong, p. 60, for Sunday tastings; Gippsland Times, 17 May 1893, for fine; & 18 December 1902, for Colonial Wine Licence.

31. David Dunstan, Better than Pommard!, pp. 64, 167-170, 238-258; Gippsland Mercury, 22 September 1892.

32. Snowy River Mail, 12 May 1894; Gippsland Mercury, 22 September 1892;

33. Letter from John Vettler, Age, 27 January 1892, p. 6.

34. Francois de Castella, Eubiotics: Or the art of good living’, Inaugural John Keith Walker Lecture, Wine and Food Society of New South Wales, Sydney, 11 August 1944.

35. Gippsland Mercury, 20 August 1891; Dunstan, Better than Pommard, p. 64; Manning, Discovering Briagolong, pp. 60-2; Francois de Castella, ‘Early Victorian Wine-Growing’, p. 167.

36. Tim Gibson, Monumental Memories: Bairnsdale Cemetery, Kapana Press, Bairnsdale, 1996, pp.8 & 11; Hal Porter, Bairnsdale: Portrait of An Australian Country Town, John Ferguson, Sydney, 1977, pp. 186 & 277.

37. Croajingolong around this time was a county extending from Lakes Entrance to the NSW border and was later proclaimed a shire that in 1892 was renamed the Shire of Orbost. It has not been possible to identify the location of the Rice & Sons vineyard with any exactitude.

38. Email from Ken Eckersley, 11 September 2008.

39. David Dunstan, ‘Francois Robert de Castella (1867-1953)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 13, 1993, pp. 604-5; K.A.R. Horn, ‘Charles Hubert de Castella (1825-1907)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3, 1978, pp. 367-8; (27 May 2007), for de Castella quote.

40. Walter James, Wine in Australia, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1952.

41. Ian Moffitt, undated newspaper cutting, National Library of Australia.

42. Interview with Martin Stubbs, 29 June 2007; Eulogy for Harry Dacre Stubbs, 15 November 2001; Isobel Crombie, ‘Biography of Photographer Dacre Stubbs’, unpublished notes, 7 October 1992.

43. Idem; The News, 14 November 1980, p. 10; Interview with Geoff Mahlook, 30 May 2007; Jill Ellis, ‘Personality Profile – Dacre Stubbs’, Lakes Post, 21 April 1993, pp. 16 & 22; Copy of Vigneron’s Licence Number 2400769, Issued 15 August 1980, provided by the Office of Director of Liquor Licensing to the author, 16 October 2008.

44. Interview with Geoff Mahlook, 30 May 2007; (01 June 2007).

45. Interviews with Howard Reddish, 29 May 2007; Nick Thurbon, 20 June 2007; Russell Winfield, 04 August 2008; Personal notes of Malcolm Winfield, 21 December 1995; Age Obituary 25 August 1998; File of Malcolm Winfield’s personal vineyard notes and ephemera held by Howard Reddish.; David Dunstan, ‘Allan James Antcliff (1923-1985)’, Diane Langmore (Ed)., Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 17, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 2007, pp. 28-29.

46. Interviews with Howard Reddish, 29 May 2007; Ken Eckersley, 3 September 2008; Leo Hamilton 11 September 2008.

47. Copy of Vigneron’s Licence Number 056, Issued 7 June 1977, provided by the Office of Director of Liquor Licensing to the author, 16 October 2008.

48. Interviews with Robert Guy, 31 May 2007 & 19 September 2008; Gippsland Times, 18 June 1980; & unidentified newspaper cuttings held by the author. The author has personal knowledge of complaints made to the East Gippsland Liquor Licensing Inspector & the Liquor Licensing Commission regarding the alleged sale of clean skin wines being purchased and sold as Gippsland wines.

49. (29 May 2007); (01 June 2007); (27 May 2007); Interviews with Eve Cumming; Ken Eckersley; Leo Hamilton; and Howard Reddish, 7 August 2008; Val Friend, 12 August 2008.

50. Idem; Interview and notes provided by Ken Eckersley, 31 May 2007; The Australian Magazine, 14-15 September 1996, p. 45; Jeni Port, Age Epicure, 14 August 1990, p. 31.

51. James Halliday, Australian Wine Companion, 2008 Edition, Hardie Grant Books, Prahran, 2007, pp. 748-9; De Castella, John Bull’s Vineyard, p. 219.

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