Murtoa is a rural township in the Wimmera region.
On the Wimmera Highway and the Melbourne-Adelaide railway, 27 km north-east of Horsham.
Prior to being occupied by farm selections in 1872, the Murtoa district was in the Longerenong and Ashens pastoral runs.
Settlers were attracted to Murtoa by the presence of Lake Marma, a reliable water source. Upon settlement taking place, the locality was named Marma Gully: its renaming as Murtoa occurred when a township was surveyed in 1873, and the name is thought to have been derived from an Aboriginal word meaning home of the lizard.
Many of the settlers were of the German-Lutheran tradition.
Prior to European settlement Aborigines from the Jaadwa language group lived and moved through the area.
The first European to explore the area was Major Thomas Mitchell who travelled through the district in 1836.
1840 It was largely as a result of Mitchell's eulogy to the richness of the land that squatters took up runs in the early 1840s.
1844 two squatters named McPherson and Taylor established the "Ashens" and "Longerenong" runs which spread across over 200,000 acres (80,937ha).
1862 Longerenong was purchased by Irish-born politician and pastoralist Sir Samuel Wilson, known as Bullocky Sam, who developed an elaborate scheme of dams and channels to water the land. His two-storey 1862 homestead west of the town, Longerenong Homestead, has been described as 'the finest Gothic villa in western Victoria'.
It is a private residence but can be seen from Burnt Clay Road. Over the next decade his holding increased in both Victoria and NSW and by 1879 it was estimated that he owned 600,000 sheep - more than any other man in the world.
He eventually owned all of the land around Lake Marma.
1869 saw much of the land around Murtoa broken up into 320 acre (130ha) blocks and this resulted in an important migration of German dry-climate wheat farmers from the Mount Gambier area of South Australia.
The first party of four German farmers arrived in the district in 1871 and returned to settle permanently the following year.
Samuel Wilson did not want a town in the area and he managed to have it delayed until around 1873 when Murtoa, known at the time as Marma Gully, was officially surveyed. Through the 1870s a number of community buildings were constructed.
1873 a building made from mud and reeds from Lake Marma was used as both a Lutheran church and a government primary schoo school.
1875 it was taken over by the Victorian Board of Education. Two years later it was replaced by a proper school.
1874 The local post office opened
1876 a flour mill was established
1877 the police arrived and the Lutherans built St John's church.
1879 the railway reached the town, and it became the primary Wimmera railhead for wheat.
1883 St John's and St Luke's Lutheran churches and Lutheran schoolwere opened
1887 -- 1887 Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches were opened during
1888 1890 Concordia College for training pastors was opened
1909-1939 the town had its own freezing works where lamb was processed for export to London.
Murtoa vied with Rupanyup for supremacy in Dunmunkle Shire. Whilst Rupanyup became the shire's administrative centre, Murtoa gained the railway connection: in 1878-79 the railway was extended from Stawell to Horsham via Murtoa, and in 1886 Murtoa became a rail junction when a line was opened to Warracknabeal. Rupanyup got a spur line in 1887. During its first decade Murtoa also gained a flour mill (1876), the Dunmunkle Standard newspaper (1878) and an agricultural and pastoral society (1881). A finely constructed water tower was built in 1886 for town water and for steam engines: it is on the Victorian Heritage Register and is used for museum purposes. A mechanics' institute was built in 1888. In 1903 Murtoa was described in the Australian handbook: Murtoa has become a major wheat storage and freight centre, although livestock raising was sufficiently important for a carcass freezing works to be operated during 1911-24. During World War II, when wheat exports were suspended, large storage sheds were built at Murtoa and Dunolly. The Murtoa sheds, named the Marmalake Storages (1942) were 260m x 60m and 400m x 75m, holding a combined volume of 10.5 million bushels. Last used in about 1990, the remaining smaller one was added to the Victorian Heritage Register and described as a stick shed. The sticks are vast poles supporting the 19 metre high roof, giving the interior a cathedral like appearance. In 2014 it was added to the National Heritage Register. In 1922 a higher educational school was opened, and in 1956 it became a high school. A Catholic primary school was opened in 1963, continuing along with the Lutheran school. Murtoa's hospital was opened in 1944, and continued as a branch of the Dunmunkle Medical Service. During the early postwar years Murtoa's population approached 1200 persons, declining by about 200 by the 1970s, and by about 150 by the 1990s. It is still a substantial Wimmera township, with the three primary schools and a secondary college, four churches, golf, bowling and racing clubs, and a racecourse which has four meetings a year. Lake Marma is surrounded by a reserve with a swimming pool (1926), tennis courts, an oval and a caravan park. The public garden has an attractive fountain and band rotunda. The showground hosts an annual show in October. The flour mill which closed in 1977 was taken over for the manufacture of strawboard panels (from wheat stubble) and the freezing works building was taken over for a cabinet works in 1994. Murtoa College was formed by the amalgamation of Murtoa Primary School and Murtoa Secondary College in 2003 (281 pupils, 2014). Murtoa's census populations have been: CENSUS DATE POPULATION 1881 623 1911 1147 1947 1197 1976 1003 1996 839 2006 792 2011 991 Further Reading Peter and Trish Adler, Murtoa 125 year celebrations 1872-1997, the authors?, 1997 Kathryn Curkpatrick, Dunmunkle sketchbook, Murtoa, 1983 L. Rabl, Souvenir 'Back to Murtoa', Murtoa, 1959 L. Rabl, Murtoa centenary, 1872-1972, a century of development, Murtoa, 1972 Victor Rabl, An early history of Murtoa 1871 to 1893, Murtoa, c1996 Headwords: Murtoa