The Early Days of European Settlement in Bambra/Boonah by Merril O’Donnell and Stephen Brooks

The article appearing in the Geelong Advertiser on 11 August, 1862 read “SKENESBURN – to be open for selection on and after Wednesday, the 10th day of September, 1862”. The parish of Bambra was one of the areas listed and the selection took place in an office in Geelong.

It is said that many of the selectors chose their land from a map, sight unseen.

More land in the area became available throughout the 1860s and the communities of Boonah and Bambra steadily grew. In some cases, there were up to three generations living in close proximity. Religion was central to most people’s lives and before a church was built, children were baptised in private homes by the Bible Christians.




Retreat later called Bambra

As in all small settlements, there would have been minor disagreements between the neighbours, over the state of the roads or the location of a fence, but when hardship or tragedy occurred, the close-knit community would draw together.

Ron Millard writes in his book “A History of Boonah and Bambra” about the Fabian family who were original settlers in the district. Alfred Fabian and Mary Giles were married at St Thomas Church, Winchelsea in 1859 when he was 25 years old and she was 18. At the time, they were both living at Wormbete Forest, where Alfred was a sawyer.


Armistead Mill

Courtesy Colac & District Family History Group Inc.


The couple had selected two small blocks and were endeavouring to make a living for their growing family when Alfred became ill and died of heart disease in February 1871. At the time, Mary was pregnant and soon there were eight children under 12 years of age to raise on her own. Devastatingly, Mary died two years later, some say of a broken heart. Ron Millard wrote: “It must have been a very sad occasion that day in March 1873 at the funeral at the Bambra Cemetery. At the graveside the children were ‘split up’ and distributed among various people who were to become their foster parents.”

Some of the Fabian family grew up and remained in the Bambra area, raising their own children near where their parents had first settled decades before, with so much hope and so many dreams.


Photo of Catherine Reynolds

Another family supported in times of need was the wife and children of Stephen Houghton who was killed in 1885, having been struck by a limb of a tree while cutting firewood. Stephen was married to Alice Reynolds and they had three small children; a fourth child was born three months after his father’s death. Alice was surrounded by her parents, Stephen and Catherine Reynolds, her aunt Mary Bennett, and her grandfather John Snowdon, all who lived close by. The local community showed their support for the young widow and organised a benefit concert in Birregurra. Neighbours and local amateurs performed at the concert which was followed by a ball and dancing was kept up ‘until the train came’. More than £20 was raised, providing well-needed financial support for the family.




 Photos of Houghton and Reynolds family from family collections

Alice raised her children on her own and her income was supplemented when she opened a post office at her home in late 1887 and she became the first post mistress in Boonah. Mail arrived at 4pm each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays from the GPO until 1900 when the post office was moved to the school. In 1902, Alice was a grandmother when she married again to, Charles Trigg, a widower who had eight children aged 7 to 19 years. Their marriage lasted for more than 30 years until Charles and Alice died just eight months apart in 1933.


Bambra School


Various occupations and industries have seen the communities of Bambra and Boonah expand and diminish. When saw-milling and coal mining were at their peaks there were two schools operating; Boonah opened in 1882 with an enrolment of 60 students and a school built at Bambra in 1886. There were also two churches and a post office.

The schools, churches and post office are all closed now, yet there are still descendants of some of those original families living in the district.











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