The Early Years
For thousands of years before the European settlement of Australia, the original inhabitants, the Taungurong people roamed the forested hills and grassy red gum river flats around the area where the Australian Light Horse Memorial Park is now located. These first Australians found the lands all along the Goulburn River to be places of plenty. Then as now it must have been an especially beautiful area.
In 1824 Explorers, Hamilton Hume and Captain William Hovell led an expedition to find new farming lands in the south of the new colony of New South Wales, and to find an answer to the mystery of where the inland rivers flowed. The explorers travelled south as far as Corio Bay near to where the city of Geelong now stands. On 24 and 25 December 1824, on their return journey, they camped on the peaceful banks of the Goulburn River just south of where the Australian Light Horse Memorial Park is now situated (Camp Hill) before they continued northwards back to Sydney, where they reported very favourably on the southern lands they had seen.
Mary Dempsey Wallis, Jack Wallis, Catherine Wallis (1880).
The Wallis Hut
In 1836, another explorer Major Thomas Mitchell, returned to Sydney with glowing reports of the land that is now Victoria. The reports of what Mitchell called “Australia Felix” led to the opening up of the country by overlanders. Pastoralists from New South Wales drove their flocks and herds to the excellent grazing land in the south. Large landholdings were staked out by wealthy squatters, and clearing and developing the previously pristine land began at lightning pace.
The land on which the Australian Light Horse Memorial Park now stands, was part of “Marengo”, an extensive run of some 15,360 acres that carried 500 cattle and 3,000 sheep. Interestingly, even shockingly for the time, Marengo’s first owner in 1848 was a woman, Mary Dempsey.
In the decades that followed, with the introduction of the Selector’s legislation in 1860 which allowed for the purchase of land at a uniform price of £1 per acre, these large holdings were gradually divided into smaller freehold parcels of land and many small farms were established.