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(3429, 36 km N, Hume City)

One of the earliest European settlements in Victoria, Sunbury dates from 1836, when John Aitken, George Evans and Samuel and William Jackson arrived from Van Diemen's Land. The Jacksons settled on the banks of a stream (now Jacksons Creek) and named the district after Sunbury-on-Thames near London. It has also been suggested that the local Aboriginal name for the creek was sunburra. William ran sheep on the property, and Samuel was an architect whose designs included St Francis' Church in Elizabeth Street, the first St Patrick's Cathedral and the original (Royal) Melbourne Hospital. George Evans settled nearby, calling his property by the Aboriginal name Buttlejorrk. His homestead, later known as Emu Bottom, is reputedly the oldest in Victoria, surviving several bushfires including a devastating one in 1980.

Sunbury was a pastoral area until 1851, when it was surveyed and proclaimed a village. It became a changing place for the gold escort, and bushrangers were imprisoned here, but it was bypassed by the more direct route through Diggers Rest. A new township developed two miles (three km) east, temporarily threatening Sunbury's ascendency. The Gap or Aitkens Gap was named after the local pioneer sheep-farmer John Aitken. It is the site of one of Caroline Chisholm's shelter sheds, and although it thrived for some years, there is virtually no trace of it now.

In 1853 W.J.T. Clarke was granted 31 000 acres (12 400 ha) in the district. His influence brought the railway to Sunbury in 1859, rather than to Bulla. In 1874 his son, Sir William, benefiting from his father's wealth, built Rupertswood mansion. A pivot of upper-class society, it had its own railway siding. After visiting English cricketers played a local team in December 1882, Sir William's wife Janet is said to have burnt a bail in 'remembrance' of the 'death' of English cricket (which had been announced earlier that year in the London Sporting Times after the English team was defeated on their home soil), creating the 'ashes' for which Australian and English teams have fought ever since. After Sir William's death, his son Rupert sold off most of the estate, retaining Kismet Park and its racecourse, which hosted regular race meetings until World War II. Rupertswood later became the Catholic Salesian College, and another part of the holding, Clarkefield, was subdivided for soldier settlement after 1945.

Following a decline in gold yields in the 1860s, the government gave assistance to new industries. For a time Sunbury was a major Victorian wine-growing area, whose vineyards included Goonawarra, first planted in 1863 by James Goodall Francis, later Victorian premier. Although phylloxera did not affect Sunbury, the vines were removed when grazing became more profitable by the late 1920s. Although the town had a flour mill, two creameries and, briefly, a rabbit-canning factory, by the turn of the century its major employer was its mental hospital, which began as a children's industrial school in 1865 before being converted to a lunatic asylum in 1879. Later the Caloola Training Centre for the Intellectually Disabled, it became a campus of Victoria University in 1994.

Industry began to move to Sunbury in the 1960s, attracted by the proximity of the new Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine. In the 1970s the Sunbury Pop Festival attracted national attention. Although residential estates have proliferated, much of the area remains rural, with wineries established at the replanted Goonawarra and Craiglee vineyards.

Jenny Keating