Myrtleford is situated on the Ovens Highway, near where the Ovens River and the Buffalo River meet.
The Yaitmathang people were the traditional owners of the land around Myrtleford. They occupied the lower reaches of the river valleys throughout the year, and camps were established on the softer-soil plains of the open flat country where water and food sources were plentiful.
Evidence of their presence remains today in two ‘Big Trees’ (one in Smith Street, Myrtleford and the other at the corner of Prince and Myrtle Streets, Myrtleford), the grinding stones and axe heads occasionally found in local creeks and the rock art in granite shelters at Mudgegonga.
The earliest known European settler to the area was Mr John Hillas, who owned the cattle run known as the Myrtle Creek Run. After gold was discovered in the Buckland Valley in 1852, thousands of travelling miners would cross Myrtle Creek enroute to the goldfields and would use the area as a place to rest. A small township developed near the fording (crossing) place and was aptly named Myrtleford.
Mining was a significant contributor to Myrtleford’s economy. Two reefs were found close to Myrtleford, one of which was the Reform Reef, which remained in use until 1888.
Early agriculture was fruit and vegetables grown by Chinese miners, followed by dairying, tobacco and hops growing.
Stage coaches ran between Beechworth, Myrtleford and Bright from the 1850s and the first store opened in 1856. By 1889 Myrtleford had three churches, a library and two schools.
By 1903 the population of Myrtleford was 434. Residents sourced their water from tanks and wells, and did so until the creation of Myrtleford’s first water supply system in 1934 (see below).
There was a huge increase in Myrtleford’s population following World War II (which reached 2,741). The town’s services were developed accordingly, with a war memorial hospital being built in 1959, a high school in 1960 and an additional water reservoir being built in 1971.
Responsibility for the township of Myrtleford changed several times. Originally the Buckland Roads District, created in 1862, was responsible for the township of Myrtleford until it became part of the Shire of Bright in 1866. However, the establishment of ridings into the Shire of Bright in 1869 created dissatisfaction regarding the sharing of rate revenue, and the Myrtleford and District Progress Association were proactive in campaigning for residents pushing for Myrtleford to be a separate municipality from Bright.
It was not until 8 June 1960 that the Shire of Myrtleford was proclaimed, with the new municipal chambers and offices opening in 1967.
Today Myrtleford is part of the Alpine Shire Council, which was formed on 18 November 1994.
Well, well, well…
Until 1934, Myrtleford residents relied on unreliable tanks and wells for water supplies. The Myrtleford Water Scheme laid pipe from the headwaters of Buffalo Creek at the foot of Mt Buffalo to a concrete reservoir on the south-western side of reform Hill. The fall of the land was such that pumps were not needed to deliver the water to the reservoir.
Pipes throughout the reticulation system were originally made from tongue and grooved timber, bound together by spirals of wire and coated in bitumen. You can guess how that water tasted. Still, residents welcomed access to town supply as it improved fire safety and enhanced gardens and sporting amenities.
In the early 1950s the ‘Old Reservoir’ proved inadequate, and an expanding population and industry demanded a new reservoir in the northern area of the town. This, too, was the replaced with another reservoir built at ‘Nil Gully’ in 1971.
North East Water
Sixty years to the day after the launch of the Myrtleford Water Scheme, Myrtleford Water and Wastewater merged with others to form Ovens Region Water Authority, the predecessor to North East Water.
In keeping with government goals to have Victoria’s water supplies bacteriologically safe to drink, the Authority made the decision to disinfect the town water supply at Myrtleford. After two public meetings, the Myrtleford Water Disinfection Reference Group was formed to assist Ovens Region Water Authority evaluate alternative water disinfection methods. The discussion process led to the installation of a pilot Ozone-Ultraviolet plant.
But it wasn’t cheap. The Authority agreed to finance disinfection of the water supply up to the amount set aside for chlorination and advised the community that they would install ozone-UV disinfection only if a majority of Myrtleford customers agreed to fund additional costs.
A survey of customers was conducted and the results showed an overwhelming response in favour of the ozone-UV disinfection method. The project also attracted a great deal of interest as this was the first time this type of disinfection method had been used for a drinking water supply.
The Deputy Premier and Minister for Agriculture & Resources the Hon. Patrick McNamara officially opened the new state-of-the-art Water Treatment Plant on 18 June 1999.
We didn’t stop there. In 2003-04, a half-million dollar upgrade of the Myrtleford Wastewater Treatment Plant also took place. The plant’s traditional lagoon-based system was replaced with an innovative dual-powered lagoon treatment system (this greatly improves effluent quality and assists in finding reuse markets – farms, golf courses – for the treated water).
A new clear water storage for the Myrtleford Water Treatment Plant was completed a few years later, and a new water treatment plant for Myrtleford was completed in 2011.