During one of our recent summer getaways, we visited the High Country Omeo in Victoria.
The small town of Omeo is situated in northeast Victoria on the edge of the Snowy Mountains along the Great Alpine Road, east of Mount Hotham; henceforth this pioneering mountain has beautiful hilltop landscapes and is renowned for its gold mining history, high country cattle pastures, and significant bygone buildings. The name itself is derived from the Aboriginal word for the mountains or hills.
It is a service center for neighboring communities such as Anglers Rest, Hinnomunjie, Cobungra, Tongio, Ensay, Swifts Creek, Cassilis, and Benambra. The alpine resorts of Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham, which are popular all year round, are located less than an hour’s drive west of Omeo.
In 1834, Austrian-born naturalist/zoologist John Lhotsky was the first recounted sighting by Europeans of the plains of Omeo from the southern alps. As early as 1835, the region was first visited by stockmen who drove their stock through the area. Then in 1845 gold was found in the Livingstone Creek, which runs through Omeo, and this attracted many hopeful diggers and triggered the population to flourish. Alluvial deposits of gold were found in tributaries of the Creek and at the end of 1854, hundreds of men were camped along its bank digging for gold. By 1855 most of the shallow alluvial gold has been mined and the process of hydro sluicing was introduced to the Omeo goldfields.
By 1901, Omeo was at its peak with a population of 9400. Businesses began to establish themselves and produced a roaring trade, thereby banks were founded – in 1889, the Colonial Bank of Australia and in 1892, the Commercial Bank. Post and telegraph office and courthouse were completed in 1891 and 1893 and remain a unique design by architect A.J. MacDonald (Walter Burley Griffin’s Assistant in the designing of Canberra).
This is The New Court House which was built from 1892 to 1893 by William Williams and John Polkinghorne at a cost of just 1400 pounds. Designed by A.J. McDonald, it blended several styles to produce a distinctive Australian architecture (Federation Romanesque). Today, this building is undergoing rehabilitation.
Further on up the hill there is the log jail (or spelled ‘gaol’ in Australian dialect), which was completed in 1858, and comprises squared, logs in walls, floor, and ceiling. The last prisoner to use the jail was in 1981. In 1984 they were restored along with an exercise yard and sentry lookout and today they are viewed by many a tourist.
Black Friday fires in early 1939 ripped through Omeo, destroying the hospital and eleven shops, and the local fire brigade spent 28-days fighting the fires at Swifts Creek. It was reported only one person died – a station hand by the name of Ernest Richards who was assailed by the flames north of Bairnsdale when trying to reach his wife and newborn child, who waited safely in Omeo.
In the 2016 last census, the population was approximately 406. The town has a variety of services including a hospital, chemist, transport services, supermarket, hardware supplies, post office, shire services, banking, engineering and mechanical, hotels, cafes – a great range of food and accommodation outlets.
The Omeo Primary School boasts a long history of providing education in the region. It is the oldest school in the area and was established in 1866 and will celebrate its 155th anniversary on the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June of this year.
Agriculture has been the main employment base of the district with high-quality cattle and sheep being produced. Throughout the gold rush era of the 1850s, the area experienced a significant increase in activity that has left a colorful history, which has helped develop today’s tourist industry.
Omeo Post Office
This beautiful brick building is the Central Post and Telegraph Office, which has served the Omeo district well since it was built in 1891 for 1068 pounds. Locals would gather, awaiting the echoing rumble of coach wheels and the beating of hooves, as the Bairnsdale coach made its way down the gravel road. It rendered arches and balustrades over the entrances and steps is a testament to the quality of its construction. The original brass still holds pride of place at the entrance and ornate pillars are a feature of the interior. Gone are the coaches and the gold weighing scales, the telegraph lines and the wind-up telephones, but the memories are still alive. Today, Omeo Post Office operates a small part of the building as the local post office and houses the district’s news agency and other small local businesses.
Omeo is one of the richest alluvial goldfields in Victoria.
A signature town of the High Country, the town will impress, with its steep streets particularly the main street (Day Street) and a number of stand-out 19th-century buildings still in use to this day including the Omeo Post Office 1881, and Courthouse 1893. Bakery, cafes, a pub, galleries, and local art and craft outlets will keep those with a need for retail enjoyment fully satisfied.
Take your time to wander the Omeo Historical Museum and Justice Precinct reputed to be the best intact example of a 19th-century police and court complex in Victoria. Five heritage-listed buildings make up the precinct, in and around the Historic Park. The police cookhouse and stables date from 1883, the original courthouse, now a Museum 1862. The log goal circa 1858 is also preserved where the last prisoner was held in 1981 later to sit in the dock of the courthouse.
This is the Omeo Bank House which was built in 1889 with beautifully renovated rooms and available for many guests. We found this place thru Airbnb and we stayed for two days to explore the beauty of Omeo and its neighboring towns.
For a lovely walk with your good pal, head to the Omeo River Swimming pool, and enjoy a good dip. You can also enjoy the sights of ducks around, and a good place for overnight camping. Next to the river is a public park for kids to play in. Beware of occasional black snakes around.
Livingstone Creek Park
Petersen Gallery Museum, a private museum owned by the local Omeo artist Terry Petersen.
A local recycling shop where you can buy second-hand items, and the Colonial Hotel.
The wooden bridge in Oriental Claims Historic Area
From Omeo town, you can also check the other attractions along the district, such as:
* Oriental Claims Historic Area (gold mining history) a few kilometers west have caves, mines, and remnants of gold sluicing operation days and several walking tracks with a lookout and BBQ facilities beside Dry Gully Creek.
* The Blue Duck Inn where you can also experience the pleasures of outdoor activities such as fly-fishing, horse riding, bushwalking, bird watching, swimming, and mountain biking.
* White Water Rafting or Trout Fishing on the Mitta Mitta or Cobungra Rivers.
* Omeo Golf Club has an attractive 9 hole grassed green golf course, just 5-minutes from the town center.
*Tambo Valley Golf Club located between Omeo and Swifts Creek, it offers 9 holes set within a mature pine plantation in a narrow valley.
* Ensay Winery and Vineyard nestled in the charming hills of the Tambo River Valley south of Omeo.
* Nullamunjie Olive Farm situated on the lower slopes of Mount Stawell on the banks of the Tambo River at Tongio.
* Dinner Plain Alpine Village jus 44 kilometers from Omeo offering an extensive collection of cross country trails and in the warmer months good fishing, bushwalking, and bike riding trails and is a great place to take the kids tobogganing with its great beginners’ slopes; and
* Mount Hotham located in the Alpine National Park, which provides skiing, tobogganing, snowboarding, or simply relaxing.
Whether you are looking for adventure, enjoyment, getting back to nature or experiencing the magic of the high country, or the wonders of snow-filled attractions; be it a day, weekend, or a life change, the Omeo region offers it all.
Omeo is about a 5hour drive from Melbourne. It is a small country town that has all the usual facilities including 2 hotels, a supermarket, and several cafes and takeaways. Accommodation in Omeo includes hotels, a caravan park, and numerous B&Bs.
Acknowledgment of the Country:
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Country throughout Victoria and recognize their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging and ask that during your travels you respect these cultures, peoples, and land.