Porepunkah is situated approximately 5 kilometres north-west of Bright, at the foot of Mt Buffalo and at the junction of the Buckland and Ovens Rivers. It is believed that the name Porepunkah is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘meeting of the waters’, from the Minubuddong language.
While Hume and Hovell would have sighted Mt Buffalo from their camp at Whorouly earlier, European settlement of Porepunkah took place in the 1830s. It is believed that the first permanent white settler was John Buckland, who took up the lease for the Barwidgee Run in January 1840, with Port Punkah or Little Portland Run (Porepunkah) included in his lease.
The discovery of gold during the 1850s led to an increase in miners to the area, a large number of which were Chinese. Porepunkah is the nearest modern town to the site of the fatal Buckland Riots that took place on 4 July 1857, which involved the hostile and savage treatment of the Chinese by the other miners.
In 1860 Porepunkah was surveyed as a township, with the Post Office opening in 1870 followed by the Porepunkah Primary school in 1873. Porepunkah was officially proclaimed a township on 22 June 1910 by Lord Carmichael, the Governor of Victoria.
Originally under the purview of the Bright Waterworks Trust, reticulated water would only be introduced in Porepunkah in 1980. Prior to that, residents extracted their water from either private wells or directly from the Ovens River. The water supply scheme constructed for Porepunkah included a low off-take weir across Buckland River some 120 metres upstream of the Buckland Bridge. A supply main, over 12 kilometres in length, took the water for the weir to a service basin (an earthen tank of 4.5ML capacity). The ambitious project also included what in 1980 would still be a rarity – chlorination.
The project ran into a temporary dilemma when the contractor was placed in the hands of a receiver. Fortunately, the Waterworks Trust took the workers under their employ, and the project was completed with only a two-week delay. Unfortunately, the moment it was completed, water restrictions were enacted and it was Christmas 1981 before the township was finally able to access the water.
Pushing you-know-what uphill
With a population of 550 people, Porepunkah was the last town of its size in north east Victoria to be provided with a reticulated sewerage system under the Victorian Government New Town Sewerage initiative. Following a long period of community consultation, North East Water received ministerial approval to proceed with the scheme in February 2004.
As simple as it sounds, the town was connected to the Bright Wastewater Treatment Plant. To achieve that, however, required North East Water to design a sewerage scheme that included almost 9,000 meters of gravity sewer mains, 2,000 pressure rising mains, and packaged sewage pump stations, all for the tidy sum on $2.3 million.
The January 2003 Alpine bushfires had a devastating effect on many of North East Water’s catchments including that of Porepunkah. The fire muddied the catchments, and North East Water began a program to address the water security of towns that were reliant on pristine catchments to provide water of a high quality.
Porepunkah was at the top of that list. Bushfires throughout the Buckland and Ovens Valleys resulted in the loss of much of the natural vegetation in Porepunkah’s supply catchment. The raw water quality was subsequently diminished to the extent that following any rainfall the storage basin could not be filled, and following heavy rainfall, residents were asked to boil drinking water.
To address this, North East Water designed and built a pipeline link between Porepunkah and Bright, were water treatment was also being put in place. The project was fast-tracked in 2004 and remains in operation today.