By 1901, Omeo was at its peak with a population of 9400.
They were prosperous times.
The main street, Day Avenue, was packed every night with people out strolling, shopping and enjoying the evening air. Hotels and cafes were doing a roaring trade with free-spending miners, and businesses were booming.
People worked hard, miners, timber workers, graziers, but also had time to enjoy the unique lifestyle the high country offered.
All aspects of life in a young nation were no different in this isolated, far away town.
The isolation of their situation was made up by a strong community spirit and a deep appreciation of one’s neighbor.
In time, motorcars were appearing on roads in the area.
At first, they were regarded as something of a menace.
Horses took violent exception to the cars. They didn’t like them at all.
These strange-shaped noisy fast-moving creatures proved too much for them to handle and they frequently bolted causing many an accident.
But when the motorcar did arrive, it began to change Omeo people’s lives.
Mail that had been delivered by pack-horse began to be delivered by car, and in 1918 the Omeo mail car service began.
It wasn’t perfect – the mail car often missed the train from Melbourne but at least it was a vast improvement on the pack-horses.
Three local residents bought the town’s first cars and everyone all predicted they would all be killed.
In time T model Fords were to become the most popular, and before long, only two bullock wagons remained in the transport business.
Read more : Cars, Trucks, and Bikes.
A total of 232 of Omeo’s young men enlisted.
Many of these became casualties. Forty-four were killed, and many never returned to the shire.
That year, many of the mines that were flourishing closed down.
The boom was over.
Omeo was hit hard by the rabbit plague.
In 1894 they were first sighted in the area.
By the turn of the century, Omeo was home to millions of them and there was a real threat that they would overrun the entire region.
Grazing land, pastoral land, vegetable gardens, all were being ruined.
The rabbits left no food at all for sheep and cattle. Sixty-five percent of land originally taken up by settlers had been abandoned.
In the evenings, thousands of rabbits would emerge in the twilight and move in on anything edible.
Horses would not give them a second glance and dogs couldn’t be bothered to chase more than a couple here and there. There were just too many of them.
Wire netting proved ineffective and rabbit drives where up to 15,000 rabbits at a time were trapped and killed in fenced-in paddocks failed to have any real effect on their numbers.
Read more: Rabbits and Governors
Any hardships were soon overcome by preparations for the grand celebrations that were to become the Omeo Centenary in 1935.
The Back to Omeo celebrations. It certainly was quite an occasion.
The town was dressed up from top to bottom with flags and bunting along the main street and extra lighting installed anywhere you could hang a lamp. Hundreds of people made the journey to Omeo from as far away as Queensland and soon became known as “The Comebacks”.
A grand parade welcomed them and kicked off a continuous program of activities that included back to school events, fancy dress dances, concerts, sports events and plenty of dancing that had the Memorial Hall shaking to its very foundations.
Even an hour long deluge of rain on Saturday night that had campers scrambling for higher ground along the banks of the Livingston Creek couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the grand event. It was a wonderful time.
All content subject to copyright. Copyright 2017 Neil Bolitho.
The producer supports the intellectual property rights of others and every reasonable effort has been made to respect the historical significance of images used.
Where the attempt to locate copyright owners has not been successful, the producer apologises for any accidental infringement where copyright has proved untraceable, and has made every attempt to respect the historical significance of images used.