Advertisements for Myrtlebank Guest House, Grampians (Hall’s Gap) from Where to Go in Victoria, 1948 and Where to Go in Victoria, 1958-59 (both published by The Victorian Railways), p379 and p345 respectively: [RHSV Collection – BL138-0401 and BL139-0315]
TOURISM IN THE GRAMPIANS – Myrtlebank Guest House – DROWNED !
At this time of the year, our minds turn to holiday destinations. Hall’s Gap and the surrounding Gariwerd-Grampians ranges are one among Victoria’s many traditional holiday places.
The first tourists to the Grampians area mainly consisted of intrepid naturalists, the occasional artist and rugged adventurers. Generally, tents would have been the main form of their overnight accommodation. Sometimes representatives from the sparse number of settlers would be called upon for logistical help and perhaps shelter in inclement weather. As time moved on, rooms and nourishment were purposefully offered by these property owners, leading into the early 20th century when more commercial enterprises known as ‘Guest Houses’ were established.
Names of many of the properties in the Grampians area became well-known – Bellfield, Grampians House, Morningside, Norval and Myrtlebank. Most are now demolished, some having motels built on their original site. Myrtlebank Guest House, situated in Fyans Valley just out of Hall’s Gap, is of particular interest – as it was drowned.
In 1916 Anne Warren (then 56 years, a widow of one year and mother of 13 children), assisted by her daughter Goldie, established Myrtlebank a purpose-built two storey building. She and her late husband George, had inherited an uncle’s property in 1908. This had often previously accommodated travellers in a crowded and happy farm-house. Uncle Robert and Aunt Sarah Graham had pioneered their settlement in Fyans Valley since the early 1860s.
With ‘sleep-outs’ Myrtlebank could be cater for up to 40 guests. It became famous for its wonderful meals and hospitality. All their own produce supplied the kitchen: fresh milk; vegetables; chickens; turkeys and fresh bread, baked daily. The electricity plant room kept the functions of the house in action, particularly the kitchen and the laundry – every night the generator would be switched off at 11pm. In those early days the prime method of trekking was on horse-back, so stabling was plentiful. (‘Sleep-outs’ could be an area of a veranda that was glassed in or partitioned off so that it may be used as a bedroom.)
Anne Warren died in 1935. Goldie, with the help of nieces, kept the house going. A granddaughter of Anne, Chick Anderson later recalled: “To me the kitchen seemed to be the hub of the house, where Aunty Goldie ruled supreme. She must have worked long hours. Last thing at night the bread for the next day was baked . . . a big black pot of porridge was put on the back of the stove.” (quoted in Victoria’s Wonderland: a Grampian History, compiled by Hall’s Gap and Grampians Historical Society, 2006, p. 65)
Eventually Goldie found the work too much and tried to lease the business. Yet another family member ‘came to the rescue’ – her widowed sister Hilda Cavanaugh [Cavanagh] bought-into Myrtlebank, her son and daughter-in-law joining her. A ballroom, more bedrooms, larger private quarters, a swimming pool and golf course came to be added.
A WATERY END
A century after the family had settled the land Myrtlebank was thriving. But, in 1962, this came to an abrupt end. Victoria’s water needs were judged to have prime claim to Fyans Valley. Along with neighbouring farms, the Government requisitioned the land to construct the Bellfield Dam.
The superstructures of Myrtlebank Guest House were dismantled and moved elsewhere. All that remains are its stumps and the in-ground swimming pool. During severe drought conditions, their ghostly forms have been seen.
Bellfield Dam was opened in 1964. Its embankment rises to 45.72 metres above the Fyans Valley floor. Full capacity is 74,010,000 cubic metres of water, it being the last and second largest reservoir in the Wimmera-Mallee Water Supply System.
[A note on spelling – the observant reader will notice a mismatch between the spellings of two important names in the images and the text above: Myrtle Bank and Myrtlebank and Cavanagh and Cavanaugh. Into the 1930s, at least, the guest house’s name appears in newspaper articles and postcards as one word. While Cavanagh is the more common spelling of the proprietors, Cavanaugh is used in our major source – a publication of the local Hall’s Gap & Grampians Historical Society.]
FURTHER READING and RESOURCES
Gariwerd-Grampians ranges and the surrounding plains:-
Brambuk the National Park & Cultural Centre : www.brambuk.com.au
Ros Stirling : Gariwerd: summits old in story : http://www.heritageaustralia.com.au/articles/features/4896-gariwerd-summits-old-in-story
Grampians National Park : http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/grampians-national-park
Grampians tourism : http://www.visitvictoria.com/Regions/Grampians.aspx
Myrtlebank Guest House:-
Victoria’s Wonderland: a Grampian History, compiled by Hall’s Gap & Grampians Historical Society, 2006
Claire Halliday, ‘Memories flood back as drought reveals dreams that progress drowned’, Sunday Age 03.11.2001 : www.theage.com.au/news
Guesthouses and similar accommodation in other parts of Victoria :
Catherine Turnbull : Favourite escapes to the Outer-East : 100 years of holidays, picnics, excursions and sporting carnivals held in the Outer Eastern region of Melbourne (Riddells Creek, Association of Eastern Historical Societies, 2002)
Bryn Jones : Free from city cares : the story of Healesville’s guest houses (Healesville, Healesville and District Historical Society, 2007)
– : Hotels and guesthouses of Queenscliff : memories of a bygone era (Queenscliff, Queenscliffe Herald and Queenscliffe Historical Museum, 2009)