Hamilton is in Victoria's Western District. Permanent population is 9,400 (2006 census). Location is 37° 44'S, 142° 01'E. Average maximum temperature is 19 degrees Celsius and average minimum is 8 degrees Celsius. Average annual rainfall is 618 millimetres. Hamilton is the largest population centre in the South Grampians shire of 6,652 square kilometres and 2006 population of 17,187 (i.e Hamilton contains a little over half the shire population).
Hamilton is on the Victorian Volcanic Plains covering much of Western Victoria and stretching from Portland in the west to Cragieburn in the east and from Clunes in the north to Colac in the south. The region is characterised by vast open areas of grassland, grassy woodland and some open woodland interspersed with extinct volcanic eruption points, old lava flows and scattered, large shallow lakes. The plains are generally less than 250 metres above sea level.
|Dry stone walls built from volcanic rock are typical of the Western District.|
The Plains were formed by extensive volcanic activity in three phases, the first beginning about 4 million years ago with the third fairly recent, with eruptions lasting until 7,000 to 8,000 years ago being quoted. Many volcanoes produced sheets of lava which flowed away leaving fairly small cones at the point of eruption, but at some eruption sites scoria formed a steep sided cone. Older lava flows (4 million years old) have developed fertile soils several metres deep and excellent for agriculture but more recent lava flows have given rise to a few centimetres of clay and a chaotic surface layer of bare and broken rock. Hamilton lies in an area of mixed volcanic history; some parts are on old lava flows which have now developed deep, fertile soil ideal for agriculture, other parts show abundant surface rocks on shallow soil. The broken rock was used by early pastoralists to build dry-stone walls characteristic of Victoria's Western District.
The area of present-day Hamilton was passed by Major Mitchell in 1836 and is within the area he described as Australia Felix. Pastoralists had settled in the area by 1839 and quickly came into conflict with the local aboriginals who tended to be settled and not nomadic; the region was fertile and well-watered enough to have plenty of wildlife so there was no need to travel for food. Aboriginals resisted pastoralists taking their hunting land for grazing sheep; they took sheep for food and pastoralists killed aboriginals in retaliation. A period of strife followed until 1842 when the Portland border police and a contingent of native police were ordered to the area. This police presence, combined with the effects of dislocation, European diseases and killings by settlers, ended most aboriginal resistance in the area.
|Hamilton - page 2|
|Ram Tower outside a Hamilton bank marks the importance of sheep to Hamilton.|
A small town gradually formed on a property named The Grange close to the track between Portland and New South Wales. This township, including an inn, blacksmith and small store, became a social centre for surrounding properties. A post office was opened on 1 July 1844. In 1851 the township of Hamilton was formally declared; the surveyor named the place after family friends. The railway reached the town in 1877, the local railway station later became a hub for several branch lines.
The Hamilton area was settled for sheep grazing. Wool growing remained the dominant activity for decades bringing enormous prosperity to the Hamilton region. During those years Hamilton claimed to be the Wool Capital of the World and figures of 15% of the national wool clip being generated in the Municipality of South Grampians around Hamilton were touted.
Wool-based prosperity continued during the 1950s and 1960s as Australia "rode the sheep's back". Despite tariff and market changes in the 1970s prosperity was artificially maintained by the reserve price scheme which proved to be unsustainable.
By 1991, when the scheme was abolished, there were 4.8 million bales of wool stockpiled and the wool market collapsed. Graziers turned to other activities including timber plantations, crops, cattle and prime lambs.
Nearly twenty years after the reserve price scheme ended, graziers have increasingly abandoned wool and turned to cattle and sheep for meat in response to a variety of factors including substantial increases in prices received for prime lambs (a doubling in the price of fat lambs between New Year sales in 2009 and 2010 at Casterton has been reported) and reduced demand for wool. Despite these changes, visitors see a large number of sheep grazing in the Hamilton region.
|Sheep remain an important factor in Hamilton's economy.|
|Hamilton - page 3|
The move away from wool has reduced support services in Hamilton. Grampians Wool Industries in Hamilton closed its wool scouring and carbonising plant in January 2009 due to a shortage of orders, high running costs, lack of wool and competition from China. There are only two shearing contractors listed in the Yellow Pages for Hamilton.
Agriculture in various forms remains the largest employment sector in Southern Grampians Shire including Hamilton. The 2006 census reported 20.3% of full-time jobs in the shire were in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector. Employment in some other sectors was Health Care and Social Assistance (12.1%), Retail Trade (11.3%), Construction (7.6%), Education and Training (7.4%), Manufacturing (5.9%), Public Administration and Safety (5.9%) and Accommodation and Food Services (5.6%).
|Lake Hamilton formed by blocking the Grange Burn stream near Hamilton.|
The town of Hamilton provides support services for the surrounding area covering the South Grampians Shire and contains the shire offices and a range of shops. The railway station remains but the last passenger train ran in 1981 (the railway reached Hamilton in 1877), and the station building is used as the bus terminus. Lake Hamilton, a 38 hectare artificial lake, formed in 1977 by damming the Grange Burn (the river running past Hamilton), on the edge of the town provides a venue for water sports and a water bird habitat.
¶ 'Inside Out - How sheep farming has changed" by Alex Sinnott, 23 Jan 2010, in The Standard at http://www.standard.net.au/news/local/news/general/inside-out-how-sheep-farming-has-changed/1732064.aspx?storypage=2 - accessed on 2 April 2010
¶ Volcanoes and Earthquakes at http://home.iprimus.com.au/foo7/volcmap.html#top - accessed 4 April 2010
¶ Southern Grampians Shire community profile at http://profile.id.com.au/Default.aspx?id=280 - accessed 8 April 2010