Arapilies Big Sky - History page image
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Aboriginal people

Aboriginal people knew Mt Arapiles as ‘Dyurrait’ or ‘Djurid’. Significant sites are found on the mountain and surrounding plains, including extensive stone tool quarries on the upper cliffs. Five Aboriginal clans are the Traditional Owners of this country; the Wotjobaluk, Wergaia, Jupagalk, Jadawadjali and Jaadwa peoples. When Major Mitchell journeyed here in 1836, the area at the base of Mt Arapiles was blanketed with trees including yellow and red river gums. These provided a fertile habitat for a huge range of animals, birds, plants and reptiles the Aboriginal people would have hunted.

Natimuk Lake

Natimuk Lake is an ephemeral lake which dries up after a period of no rainfall. Over the years, farmers in the area have had to be inventive in finding ways to combat the lack of water. For instance, when the 1890’s drought hit, farmers built wells in the dry bed of Natimuk Lake and later roofed farm dams to decrease evaporation.

On 12 January 2011, Natimuk was hit by torrential rain, with over 100ml of water falling overnight. This flash flooding forced the evacuation of at least 12 homes and caused extensive crop damage. Two women were also rescued from the floodwaters. But the floods also had an upside - the lake was finally full.

With its sloping, sandy banks, Natimuk Lake has long been a place of fun and recreation for the people of the Wimmera region. After the Natimuk Swimming and Lifesaving Club was formed in 1913, the Lake became an even more popular picnic spot for families, school children and church parties, despite the fact it was sometimes empty.

Major Mitchell

Major Mitchell became the first European to see the Wimmera on his second surveying expedition of south eastern Australia. Camping at the base of Mt Arapiles on 22 July 1836, he ignored both his travelling companions and the Aboriginal people when he claimed in his official record, ‘I was the only Adam.’ Major Mitchell named the mound of sandstone and quartz rocks ‘Arapiles’, after the Spanish hill where his brother had died in battle.

There is a plaque dedicated to Major Mitchell in the ‘Plaque Area’ at the base of Mt Arapiles.

Major Mitchell is frequently described as ‘brave’ and ‘determined’, yet there is evidence his party massacred Aboriginal people, without provocation, during his surveying expedition. Mitchell justified the attack because of fear that ‘…the party would be compelled to fight its way back against the whole savage population’. Were these the actions of a ‘brave’ man?

A challenging environment

Today, the Wimmera region is well known for its unpredictable climate, but the European settlers were lulled into a false sense of security after 22 inches of rain fell each year in the first six years after settlement. The rapid clearing of buloke trees for agriculture, fence posts and firewood did not help, since the roots of these trees helped bind the soil together and trap moisture. The early settlers needed to find solutions to cope with the frequent dry spells and an earthen channel system was built to carry water to thousands of farms. Although these channels were fed from reservoirs which filled after heavy rain, 95% of the water evaporated before it reached its destination. Following the worst drought in history between 1996 and 2008, the 17,500kms of channels were replaced by the Northern-Mallee and Wimmera-Mallee pipelines.

Vinegar Hill

The Wimmera Plains were once an ancient seabed and today about 25% of Victoria’s wetlands are located in the Wimmera. After sea levels dropped, fine-coarse-grained Parilla sands were deposited, forming beach ridgelines and dunes across the landscape on a north-south axis. Continual deposits of wind-blown sands reinforced those ridgelines, leaving heavier clay deposits in the swales between them, where the water collected to form the lakes and wetlands you can see today. Vinegar Hill is a sand lunette formed by the wind. From Vinegar Hill you can see Mitre Lake, one of the 27 lakes Major Mitchell saw from the top of Mt Arapiles. Mitre Lake, Natimuk Lake and Natimuk Creek are all part of the Natimuk-Douglas Hypersaline Wetland system. This system is made up of a chain of saline and brackish (mostly saline) lakes. The lakes fill annually during winter and spring and dry out again in summer. This wetland system is a vital habitat for thousands of migratory birds, including black-winged stilts, banded stilts and red-necked avocets. It has been nominated to the Ramsar Convention to be a wetland area of significance.

Captain Melville ‘The bushranger of Mt Arapiles’

Born in Scotland in 1823, and baptised Francis McNeish McNeill McCallum, the infamous bushranger Captain Melville was charged with theft at the age of 12 and three years later for breaking into a house. He was deported to the colony of Van Dieman's Land where he served over 10 years at the island prison at Point Puer, Port Arthur, before arriving in Victoria circa 1851. He then committed a number of crimes including insolence, misconduct, absconding and a string of highway robberies of diggers on the Victorian goldfields. Whilst incarcerated in 1856, Melville was involved in the murder of prison officer, Owen Owens and sentenced to hang. Melville ended his own life in his cell in 1857 before the hanging. While on the run, Melville allegedly used a cave off the side of Mt Arapiles as a home and hiding place for his stolen stash of gold and treasures. Now known as Melville’s Cave, the site is part of the popular climbing route, ‘Bushrangers Bluff’.

Mount Arapiles

Mt Arapiles is an ancient place. Made of quartz - rich sandstone and conglomerate sedimentary rocks, it is home to around 500 plant species, including yellow and red gums, kangaroo grass and golden wattles, mosses and lichen. In summer, the mountain is a riot of colour. Grey kangaroos and swamp wallabies live near the top of the mountain and ringtail and brushtail possums forage for food at night. On the ground, shingleback lizards, tree and sand goannas and the eastern brown snake weave their way through the sand and grass. The area is alive with birdsong. Over 100 species of birds have been recorded at Mt Arapiles, including weebills, thornbills, honeyeaters, lorikeets, parrots, kookaburras, galahs, magpies, rosellas, robins, blue wrens and wedgetail eagles. One of the fastest birds in the world, the peregrine falcon, nests on its cliffs.

420 million years

Mt Arapiles was formed from the rock deposits of a huge river, which carved its way through the landscape 420 million years ago. On the many routes of Mt Arapiles climbers can see rounded pebbles on the rock face, which show the mountain was once part of a riverbank. About 20 million years later, magma erupted from beneath the quartzose sandstone and conglomerate sedimentary rock deposits, where it solidified as granite. The heat from this granite eventually turned the sedimentary rocks into hard quartzite. Over time, erosion removed the softer sedimentary rocks surrounding Mt Arapiles, leaving the quartzite formation standing alone.


Mt Arapiles is a mecca for rock climbers. It is one of the best and safest rock climbing areas in the world. 2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of climbing at the site. On any given day, you may find climbers of many nationalities pitting their strength against the rock. There is also evidence Aboriginal people scaled the mountain to get sandstone for making stone tools and weapons. Modern-day climbing began at Mt Arapiles when Bob and Steve Craddock visited the region after seeing a poster of Mitre Rock on a suburban train in 1963. Upon arrival they were astounded to see Mt Arapiles. The Craddock’s returned the following month and were among the first recorded climbers of the mountain, along with Peter Jackson, Doug Angus and Greg Lovejoy, who pioneered the Introductory Route, Siren, Tiptoe Ridge, Salamander and Spiral Staircase routes. The first climbing guide was published only three years later and today climbers have the choice of over 2000 routes, ranging in difficulty from Grade 1 to Grade 34.


English settlers were the first European arrivals to this area, taking their cattle down the rutted wagon wheel tracks left by Major Mitchell when he journeyed to Mt Arapiles. German settlers really shaped the history of the area during this time. The many German road and farm names around Natimuk and Mt Arapiles reflect the enthusiastic settlement of this district by German Lutheran immigrants; many of them fleeing religious persecution. German Lutherans arrived in the Natimuk area from South Australia in the 1870’s and were each granted selections of 320 acres with mortgages of 1 pound per acre. Establishing farms near Mt Arapiles, Natimuk and Vectis, the German settlers quickly became prosperous by using ingenious farming methods. The growth of cereals, pulses and canola in the area today reflects the strenuous efforts of these early pioneers. However, despite being migrants ‘the public most strongly endorsed’ these new settlers. The Germans faced persecution during World War I and held meetings throughout the Wimmera to declare their loyalty to the British Empire.

Lost in the bush

Just near Mitre Rock was the site of one of the most famous incidents in 19th century Victoria. Late in the afternoon of Friday 12 August 1864 the three Duff children Isaac 9, Jane 7 and Frank 3, left Spring Hill Station near Harrow, west of Natimuk. They did not return. Local people gave the children up for dead after many days of unsuccessful searching but their father brought in three Aboriginal trackers to search for them. On 20 August 1864, the trackers found the children near Natimuk. They had travelled almost 100 kilometres and gone nine days without food and four without water. The Aboriginal trackers were paid for their services. Two of them, known by their European names Dick-a-Dick and Redcap, went on to tour England as members of Australia’s ‘first eleven’ in the 1868 Aboriginal Cricket Tour of England.