the extraordinary people who helped shape a region


Migration in Victoria’s High Country has shaped our regional history, bringing with it a vitality and diversity that tells its story through food, wine, architecture and festivals – stories of persistence, community, hardship and possibility.

The first settlers of the High Country.

The indigenous clans and tribes of our valleys, rivers and mountains were present for tens of thousands of years prior to European settlement in the 1820's and were the first true settlers of Victoria's High Country.

The arrival of Europeans.

After Hume and Hovell explored the area in 1824 in search of new farm lands, European settlers began to move in, grazing sheep and cattle. However, it was the discovery of gold in the 1850’s that ignited a temporary population boom, including thousands of Chinese migrants seeking their fortune.

Wallaces Hut, Falls Creek

Chinese customs and culture.

The Chinese miners brought their own customs and culture, and their camps contained places of worship, shops, opium dens and market gardens. Many Chinese migrants settled in the Ovens and King Valleys after the Gold Rush as merchants, market gardeners and most notably as hop and tobacco farmers, establishing a new and later migration-fuelling industry.

Chinese headstone at Beechworth Cemetery

Beechworth’s Chinese heritage is commemorated today in the beautiful Chinese Gardens, Burning Towers and in a significant section of the local cemetery.

Italian migration to Australia.

With the rise of Fascism in Italy, the 1920’s saw an increase in Italian migration to Australia, and the first Italians involved in tobacco farming in the region. From 1942 – 1946, the Myrtleford POW camp housed over 1000 Italian soldiers, many of whom became involved in the tobacco and agricultural industries in the Ovens Valley area after leaving the camp.

Pizzini Wines - kilns

The Benalla Migrant Camp.

With the introduction of federal immigration policies, the region continued to receive assisted migrants from a range of non-English speaking countries for many decades to come. The Benalla Migrant Camp housed approximately 60,000 European migrants post World War Two.

Weekend Fit for a King

The Benalla Migrant Centre operated between 1949 – 1967 and was one of the longest lasting centres in Australia.

Migrants laboured as payment for residence.

As payment for their passage and permission to live in Australia, migrants were sent to work for two years, many on the nearby Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Scheme, and a large number on tobacco farms in the Ovens and King Valleys. Many, particularly Italian migrants, went on to set up their own farming operations.

Otto and Elena Dal Zotto feasting, cheers with a glass of Prosecco

By the 1970’s, a distinct Italian rural community had begun to take shape in Myrtleford. The town even had its own Italian cinema.

The introduction of European grape varietals.

In the 1980’s, as government regulations began to restrict the cultivation and sale of tobacco, many Italian families saw the opportunity to diversify by growing vegetables, nuts, and European wine grape varietals. Vineyards were established in the King Valley, growing grapes for large operations like Brown Brothers, with some families branching out to produce their own wines.

Some of these families, such as the Pizzini’s and Ciccone’s, are still producing wine today, and have been instrumental in the creation of the King Valley wine region.

The Italian spirit lives on.

Today, we continue to celebrate our mixed and vibrant heritage with festivals such as La Fiera in Myrtleford, and La Dolce Vita in the King Valley.


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