The town that migrants built

A town built by migrants

Mount Beauty in Victoria’s high country is a town built by migrants.

From the early days of the Kiewa Valley Hydro-electricity scheme to the development of the nearby ski field, migrants have played a key role in developing the town.

Secretary of the Kiewa Valley Historical Society Helen McDougall says that a large influx of migrants came to the town after the Second World War.

“There were large numbers of French, Spanish and Maltese people after the war,” Helen said.

“There were also people from the Baltic states, Russia and Germany,” she said.

The influx was primarily due to the Kiewa Valley hydro scheme which sought to harness the waters of the fast flowing Kiewa River to produce electricity.

Helen said Mt Beauty was earmarked for a hydro scheme as early as 1938.

“There were men in camps here doing surveys and drilling – and many were migrants,” she said.

“The first township in the area was Bogong Village, which was established in 1940.

“The first workshop was established at Mt Beauty in 1943 and as more workers came they created dormitories and messes.

“The first house was built in 1846 and the first school in 1948. Then, a co-op shop and post office was opened in 1950.

“At the height of the project, there were 500 men in the town,” Helen said.

Many married and stayed on.

“There were French tunnellers and Italians from a firm called EPT working to erect the power transmission poles over the mountains,” Helen said.

And in the 50s and 60s a wave of Italian immigrants arrived, many establishing tobacco farms.

“There were also migrants working in sawmilling and in the dairy industry,” Helen said.

In the 1930s the first skiing took place in the area – especially on nearby Falls Creek and Mt Hotham  – thanks largely to Norwegian and Austrian immigrants.

But in the 1960s skiing really took off as sport and Europeans built the first commercial lodges and worked as instructors.

Today, Mt Beauty is home to a diverse population of 1200 people.

But its population swells with the influx of tourists enjoying skiing, bushwalking, horse riding, gliding, bike riding and fishing.