Wandiligong is littered with curiously named creeks (including Lucky Jack, Mount Orient and Lord of the Hills), but it was the discovery of gold in 1856 at the meeting of Growlers and Morses Creeks that saw the sleepy hollow of Wandiligong and its handful of residents suddenly spring forth as a town.
Named after the Wondillegong pastoral run (taken up by William Forlonge in 1845) and thought to derive from an Aboriginal word describing a ‘spirit’, the settlement was based on a continual water supply and several profitable reefs. A school was opened in 1860, along with Catholic and Methodist churches (followed closely by Presbyterian and Anglican churches). The population of Wandiligong was maintained at over 1000 people until the 1880s and the pressure of pupils on the school accommodation led to the building of an elaborate brick building with an imposing bell tower in 1877, which still stands today.
Reef and deep lead mining continued until the 1900s. The narrow valley in which the town is situated was increasingly used for orchards, hops, tobacco and nut groves, and the Wandiligong Horticultural Show became an important annual event during the 1880s.
At around 1900 two further elements intruded on the landscape. Exotic trees were planted – notably avenues of poplars – and Growlers Creek became a site for gold dredging. The dredging consumed valuable alluvial flats and left a denuded riverbank landscape. An anti-dredging league obtained some concessions to dredging damage, but the industry continued until about 1930. Timber was consumed for mine props and dredge fuel, and in about 1917 pine plantations were established on dredge tailings and the lower hill elevations.
When dredging ended, Wandiligong’s population declined, abetted by the railway line travelling only as far as Bright, 8 km downstream.
North East Water
Since 1994, Wandiligong’s water has been ably supplied by the Bright Water Treatment Plant via the Ovens River. Six kilometres of pipeline were laid that feed to four 136kL storage tanks that provide water for the town’s 196 connections. In 2017, Bright’s Water Treatment Plant went through a $6.4 million dollar upgrade, further supporting the town of Wandiligong and beyond. The accompanying water storage at Freeburgh also increased water security from 60% to 95%.