jamieson ~ high country
Our town is one of many in North-East Victoria that sprang up, flourished, then faded away following the fortunes of the 1860s gold rush. Situated at the confluence of the Goulburn and Jamieson Rivers, the town developed as a supply base for the four thousand miners working in the adjacent Ranges.
Within five years of its foundation in 1861, Jamieson had a population of over five hundred, with nine “hotels”, two banks, a school, a court house, even a theatre. Shops and houses extended well beyond the area of the current township. But the easily mined gold petered out in the 1870s and Jamieson slowly declined into the pretty backwater it is today.
The cleared portion of the Jamieson valley, where the vineyard stands today, is about 6 kms long by half a km wide. The fertile river flats were used for tobacco growing and market gardens. Potsherds, glass, even cutlery and bits of horse-harness often turn up in the vineyard. In the course of drainage works done prior to planting, an intact scissors-mower and also a 1920s hay-bailer (now on display in the Jamieson Museum) were unearthed.
As far as we know, there were no vines in the region then but there were two breweries supplying the many hotels which once serviced this now sedate community. Large scale mining had more or less come to an end by the first decade of the twentieth century and the few small workings still in use were destroyed in the 1939 Black Friday bushfires.
As the waters rose following the building of the Eildon Dam in 1956, the area became a centre for recreational activities. By the 1990s Jamieson, on the Goulburn Arm of Lake Eildon, was a mecca for fishing and water sports and the adjacent heavily forested mountains attracted bushwalkers and 4WD enthusiasts. But then a series of dry years caused the lake to recede from Jamieson, and so it remained for fifteen years until the rains of 2010-11 brought it miraculously back to life.
In 1993 Jamieson hit the headlines when prison warder Heather Parker gave her lover Peter Gibb and his mate Archie Butterly plastic explosive to blow out the wall of the Melbourne Remand Centre. After a six-day manhunt involving car chases and shoot-outs with police, the fugitives inadvertently drew attention to themselves by attempting to burn the gut-shot Butterly’s blood-soaked dressings in a waste-paper basket in their room at the Gaffney’s Creek Hotel. The fire got out of control – so runs the tale - and the hundred-year-old well-insured if not very profitable local landmark was burned to the ground. The trio were bailed up in the bush near Jamieson by the Police Special Operations Group. In the ensuing gun battle, in circumstances that have never been made clear, the wounded Butterly was shot in the back of the head with a handgun he had taken from a police officer in the course of the gaol-break.
Jamieson was again in the news in December 2006 when dry lightning strikes started bushfires on Mt Terrible. Over the next six weeks these fires spread to consume more than 1.1 million hectares of bush and agricultural land (cf. the 1.6 million burnt in 1939). Jamieson became the staging area for CFA strike teams and the base for television news crews. For several weeks the town was under constant threat until it was saved by timely rain. ‘We were due for it,’ was the general consensus, ‘Should be safe for another fifty years.’ But then in February 2009 the fires returned and 173 people in Victoria died.