Wangaratta is a regional city in North East Victoria, located on the edge of Victoria’s High Country and the King Valley, approximately 250 km from Melbourne along the Hume Highway.
It is also accessible from Sydney by rail on the direct train line to Melbourne.
The city had an estimated urban population of 28,824 in April 2018
The Wangaratta area was originally inhabited by the Pangerang People whose hunter-gatherer lifestyle was eminently suited to the broad expanses of the King and Ovens River floodplains.
‘Wangaratta’ is the Pangerang word for the long neck of the cormorant. ‘Wanga’- meaning long neck, and ‘Ratta’ meaning cormorant. These birds are a common sight on our two beautiful rivers, the Torryong (Ovens) & Poodumbia (King).
For thousands of years the land was managed and conserved by Indigenous Australians. Through understanding Indigenous culture we can come to appreciate and gain a spiritual connection to the land.
The first European exploration of the area began with Hume and Hovell (1824) and their reports of the area were further enhanced by those of Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836 (the Major Mitchell Trail passes through the town). The Ovens River was named after a Major Ovens, who was secretary to Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales at the time.
The first settler in the Wangaratta district was George Faithful who arrived in 1838, others, including Joseph Docker who took up the deserted Bontherambo run and Thomas Rattray who established the first punt service across the Ovens, soon followed and the settlement of the Wangaratta district commenced and flourished.
The 1850s gold rush in the North-east helped the new township to establish itself as a major centre, and the first bank (the Bank of New South Wales) opened in 1859, and a plaque on the current bank premises (the WestPac Bank, in Murphy Street) commemorates the centenary of this event in 1959.
The age of steam trains arrived in 1873 and, by 1884 the town had a population of about 1400, four churches, two breweries, three flour mills, two foundries, a hospital, a tannery, a tobacco processing factory and a theatre.
As with many towns, geography was to play its part in the development of Wangaratta. As part of its golden era legacy, Beechworth was for many years the major administrative and legal services centre of Victoria’s North-east, but gradually gave up this position to Wangaratta.
Becoming the Textile Town
A wool-processing mill was first opened in Wangaratta in 1923, with several other mills opening over the next 30 years, reinforcing the importance of textiles to the economy of the city.
Once known as the Wangaratta Woollen Mills, today’s Australian Country Spinners is the largest worsted spinner in Australia, and produces a wide range of industrial yarns using Australian Merino and Crossbred wools.
In 1946, a Canadian company, Bruck Textiles also came to Wangaratta, creating a population boom in the town, and attracting workers from all over the country and Europe, as post-war migrants made the company a working destination.
Bruck Textiles began with manufacturing furnishing and apparel fabrics and still operates today, though its emphasis has shifted to high performance fabrics such as those used by the Australian Defense Forces.
Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award
Reflecting it’s history and well-earnt name as “the textile town”, Wangaratta is today home to the much-coveted Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award. This biennial nationally significant award has been presented by Wangaratta Art Gallery since 2009, and showcases textile artistry and talent from across Australia.
The Stitched Up Textile Festival
The Stitched Up Textile Festival is a biennial celebration of everything textile that is held in & around Wangaratta and has been run by a dedicated group of volunteers (the Wangaratta Textile Arts Association) since 1999, attracting audiences from across Australia.
Our tours visiting Wangaratta