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(3757, 39 km N, Whittlesea City)

A rural township with a population of about 4000, Whittlesea lies near the headwaters of the Plenty River. George Sherwin established a sheep station on the present site of the township in 1837. Others settled around his large holding. Insecurity of land tenure until the 1850s meant settlers were reluctant to erect permanent buildings. The bushfires of 1851, especially Black Thursday, devastated the area and burnt many of the early wooden structures. With its rich source of quality timber, the Plenty also attracted itinerant and lawless workers who left few traces save the rapidly denuded stands of timber and the tracks over which they carried cut timber to Melbourne.

The flooding of Ryder's Swamp, a natural wetland and plentiful source of food, meant the end of peaceful habitation of their ancestral land by the Wurundjeri people. An early settler recalled in 1927 that at Yan Yean 'the blacks were in the habit of spearing eels in the early days and selling them anywhere they could. During construction, their leader took them away and they did not return'. Two continuing structures bear witness to the potential fear of attack, but perhaps more from bushrangers such as the 'Plenty Bushrangers' than from the Wurundjeri people. Breamore, John Sherwin's home at Merriang, was built around a quadrangle with a small, fortified structure to the west. Bear's Castle at Yan Yean is also a fortified structure. In neither case is there evidence of conflict. In 1853, Robert Mason surveyed the Upper Plenty region, marking out a village centre around George Sherwin's sheds and calling it Whittlesea.

James Blackburn laid out a design for supplying the increasing population of Melbourne with water from a reservoir constructed at Yan Yean, south of Whittlesea 1853-57. The population of the area increased during construction but further development was restricted with land reserved for catchment. In 1883 the Toorourrong Reservoir, a settling basin for the waters of the Silver Creek and Wallaby Creek, was constructed north of Whittlesea, with water piped directly to the Yan Yean avoiding increasing pollution of the Plenty from settlement above the reservoir. Further land was added to the official catchment area, sparing the northern parts of the City of Whittlesea from development.

A village developed serving both the timber industry and the increasing traffic along the Plenty Road, gazetted in 1848. Agriculture also flourished with the Whittlesea Show displaying both livestock and farm produce since 1859. The construction of the Toorourrong Reservoir opened the eastern branch of the Plenty above Whittlesea to timber collection once more. A railway from Fitzroy opened in October 1889, and horse-drawn tramways were built to bring timber from Kinglake and Flowerdale, to meet the rail at Whittlesea. The rail also made the markets of Melbourne available to farmers on a daily basis and dairy farming became profitable throughout the area, in addition to fruit-growing. The line beyond Thomastown closed in 1959, the Lalor-Epping section reopening in 1964, with plans to extend it toward South Morang announced in 2000.

The imposed social and physical isolation has preserved many natural features now marked as being of conservation value: the forests of Mount Disappointment and Kinglake, the ancient redgum woodlands just south of Whittlesea township, the Craigieburn Grasslands to the east, and the rural landscape with myriad stone walls constructed by early settlers and gently undulating hills. Facilities in the town include two primary schools and a secondary college that draws students from many surrounding districts.

Gwynedd Hunter-Payne

Jones, Michael, Nature's plenty: A history of the City of Whittlesea, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1992. Details
Payne, J.W., The Plenty: A centenary history of the Whittlesea Shire, Lowden Publishing, Melbourne, 1975. Details