Taken from The Age, 8 Feb 2004.
NATHALIA – A HISTORY
Nathalia is a town with an old-fashioned country feel in a flat agricultural and dairying area, 220 km north of Melbourne via Shepparton. Consisting of some 1500 people it is spread over both banks of Broken Creek on the Murray Valley Highway, between Echuca and Cobram.
It is testimony to the vagaries of Australian place names that some proponents claim ‘Nathalia’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place with no stones’ while others say it is named after Peter the Great’s mother.
The area is thought to have been occupied by the Yota-Yota people prior to white settlement. The first European in the district was explorer Charles Sturt who followed the Murray to its junction with the Goulburn River in 1838. Squatters soon followed and the town was to develop on the ‘Kotupna’ station, established by W.J. Locke in 1843. This was divided in two in 1861 then broken up for closer settlement after the 1869 Land Act, despite the strenuous resistance of the squatters.
One of the selectors, Richard Blake, took up land on the future townsite in 1875. He built a sawmill in 1876 and a flour mill in 1877. A village was in existence by 1876, when the first hotel was licensed, and a regular coach service was established the following year. The first post office, state school and Wesleyan Church opened in 1878. When the first survey was conducted in 1879, there were about 150 persons living on both sides of Broken Creek. The streets were named after early landholders.
The town’s main thoroughfare (Blake St) was modelled on Sturt St in Ballarat. It features a fine central plantation on the southern side of Broken Creek. There are some attractive 19th-century verandah-fronted shops and red-brick buildings and a large reserve on the southern bank of the creek, off Park St, which is ideal for picnics.
Nathalia was gazetted as a village in 1880. A Catholic Church and the first bank opened in 1881, a coach factory in 1882, a local newspaper and police station in 1884 and a flour mill in 1885. The railway arrived from Numurkah in 1888, facilitating the expansion of local production. A butter factory was built in 1895 and, in 1900, a local man patented the Empire combine harvester but, unfortunately for the state, the design was sold to a South Australian company. By 1905 the population had reached 1000 and the town had settled into the role it enjoys to this day as a service centre to the district which produces wheat and other crops.
Annual events include the Easter Bush Bash and the Agricultural Show on the first weekend in October. The Bush Bash entails a major tennis tournament, involving some three or four hundred competitors. It takes place on the town’s 16 lawn tennis courts.
Camping and fishing can be enjoyed along the Goulburn and Murray Rivers and Nathalia has a golf club.