Less than fifty years after arrival of the first fleet, squatters crossed the alps and began to settle the alpine region.
Despite hardships, the settlers persevered and slowly consolidated, and the region began to establish itself as a producer of high quality cattle.
Sheep were introduced later to the region, and wheat was successfully planted.
In 1834, a Polish expatriate named Johan Lotski, a botanist, discovered gold in the Livingstone Creek, at the town’s present location. But his claims fell on deaf ears.
It wasn’t until 1851 that the Reverend W B Clark, a noted geologist reported that he had found evidence of gold in quantities that would make the mining of it economically feasible.
Alluvial deposits of gold were found in tributaries of the Livingston Creek, and by the end of 1854, over 200 men were camped along its banks digging for gold, most of it being found within a metre or so of the surface.
More and more miners and their families crossed the alps.
Miners and their wives walked, while their children made the journey in boxes and crates strapped to the sides of pack-horses on tracks that were harsh and unforgiving.
Broken tracks on the sides of mountains, stones loosened by unsteady horses hooves tumbling to a river hundreds of feet below, tested the resolves of many a miner.
In time, a ramshackle town of calico tents and bark-roofed huts had established itself with a post office, a store and a pub, The Golden Age, a building made of logs and slabs that served mostly gin and rum that could kick like a horse.
The town had no planned streets they just followed the cow tracks and creeks and are consequently as crooked as a dog’s hind leg to this day.
Up one of the creeks, and on high ground, was the Commissioner’s Station.
It consisted of a number of huts and tents, a stable, and the Omeo Log Jail, built in 1858.
It was here that the commissioner and his two troopers, one of them Constable Steel, who later was to shoot Ned Kelly, registered claims, issues miners rights, and settled any disputes between miners over land and water.
The log jail was constantly occupied, for Omeo was undoubtedly the wildest and most lawless gold-mining town in Australia.
The town had it all sly grog tents, gambling dens, opium dens, prostitution, con-men, ex-convicts, horse thieves, fighting, murder, you name it.
Supplies still had to be brought into the town by pack-horse and it was only in summer months that bullock drays could make the journey.
There were no roads, there were no bridges.
Loads had to be taken off and reloaded time and time again to enable the team to get through the mud and get up steep inclines. And wheels had to be continually chocked to stop the wagon rolling backwards.
The entire trip was hazardous.
On the tops of ridges, there was always the danger of going over the edge Some hills were so steep that the only way of going down safely was to tie a tree behind to steady the wagon.
Creeks and rivers had to be continually crossed and horses and bullocks had to be rested along the journey, sometimes for days.
Among those to arrive on the Omeo goldfields were Chinese miners.
They first arrived in 1859.
The majority of them had made the long journey over the alps from Beechworth many of them arriving with no more than a pole with a sack at each end slung across their shoulders.
They received a mixed reception.
Traders welcomed the possibility of increased patronage the Chinese would bring, but whether it was based on ignorance, whether it was substantiated, or not substantiated, the Chinese were viewed with a lot of suspicion by the European miners.
Incidents at other goldfields had inferred that they were thieves and liars and could not be trusted.
It therefore wasn’t long before a Chinese camp similar to those on other goldfields was established at the western edge of the township.
Most of the Chinese accepted the camp and it was only a matter of time before it had Chinese traders and tradesmen, storekeepers, blacksmiths, butchers, bakers, cake-shops, and opium dens.
Even a Joss house was built.
The camp offered not only local ordinary common food staples but many Chinese delicacies.
Their contribution to the community was far greater than most of their European counterparts realized or would admit.
The town meanwhile was prospering.
Businesses began to establish themselves.
Banks arrived. In 1889, the Colonial Bank of Australia.
In 1892, the Commercial Bank. A J McDonald, one of the states leading architects designed the post and telegraph office and new courthouse.
They were completed in 1891 and 1892 and remain unique for their architecture to this day.
Archbishop Hindley of the Anglican church rode into town in 1878.
His first impressions were the dilapidation of the buildings and the number of goats in the street.
The number of goats according to him were a sure sign of poverty in an old mining town.
He may have been right.
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