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Early history

Prior to European settlement, the area now known as the Chewton Bushlands, was an abundant landscape, a rich source of food for the Djadja Wurrung people, who hunted game and harvested the roots of Yam daisies, Milkmaids and the many varieties of native orchids, which are still flourishing, even in the most inhospitable parts of the hilly terrain today.

After Major Mitchell and his party camped at Expedition Pass in 1836, he gave enthusiastic reports of the beauty and fertility of the land in the area. At the time, the country was sparsely settled, but Governor Latrobe made the land available to the squatters under Crown leases, and Donald Campbell took up the Strath-loddon Run, at 25,000 acres in 1848, as a sheep run. The vast size of the runs covered a wide range of differing environments, from flat desert country to the impenetrable passes of Mount Alexander and wide grasslands of the Moolort plains. In 1851, Forest Creek became the site of a major gold strike, and the early settlers were joined by a multitude of prospectors, mostly ‘new chums’, increasing the population of the town, named Chewton in 1855, by over 25,000 people.

Nowadays, the Chewton Bushlands can be entered from Golden Point Road. Many tiny house sites were designated along the sides of the road, now known as Commissioners Gully Road, where the remnants of the Commissioners Hut and the lock up still remain on either side. Expedition Pass Reservoir was established in 1868 and along Commissioners Gully Road, a dam wall was built to catch some of the flow of water captured by the Chewton Hills, as they were known then. They have an elevation of 600 feet at the highest point, with the water running out to Forest Creek. The wood and the slate from the quarries of heavily timbered country around Chewton were major sources of building materials for the local township. Meanwhile, in the Chewton Bushlands, the main cause of environmental degradation was the removal of timber that took place prior to, and particularly during, the Second World War. The survival of so many varieties of plants, many of which are only easily seen or identified in the spring, is a great testament to the resilience of Australian plants and animals and their adaptation to this environment.

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