How Swan Hill was bornJune 19, 2014

"Among the reeds on the point of ground between the two rivers was a shallow lagoon where swans and other wild fowl so abounded that, although half a mile from our camp, their noise disturbed us through the night. I therefore named this somewhat remarkable and isolated feature Swan Hill, a point which may probably be found to mark the junction of two fine streams."

- Thomas Mitchell

Perceptive visitors will figure out Swan Hill's history by looking at her surroundings. Nestled by the banks of Murray River, the fertile landscape lured outsiders back then. During the colonial years, there was a race to explore Australia's interior, fame and fortune awaiting those who would be able to make a discovery. Thomas Livingston Mitchell, who served the Army during the Napoleonic Wars, was one of those gentlemen who became one of the key figures in the European exploration of Australia. If not for the likes of him, then the country's course of history might have been different.

Mitchell joined the race with something to disprove, which was Charles Sturt's assertion about the Darling River. Sturt, who previously led several expeditions into the interior of the continent, became rich and famous for his discovery of Darling and that this body of water flowed into the Murray River. But Mitchell, a native of Craigend, Scotland, thought that there was something not right. So he set out on November 24, 1831. Like Sturt, Mitchell learned that surveying the place was a taxing job. In fact, they encountered another team, tired and broken. But this was an opportunity in disguise.

Two expeditions later, Mitchell reached western Victoria, buoyed up by the panorama of pasture plains that would lead to a land rush. (Communication may not be that fast back then, but news of Mitchell's finding didn't take long to reach Sydney.) It was no surprise that the Scot named it "Happy Australia", which was in contrast to the arid area found in much of the interior. He didn't end there, travelling until reaching a remote land where he heard the melodious hymns of birds at night time. It happened on June 20, 1836.

A few decades later, a small community developed in that area:

"Swan-hill is a small, and, notwithstanding its 20 or 25 years of existence, not very flourishing, township ... the population does not exceed 100 persons, but the township can boast of a substantial post and telegraph office, which is the principal building in the place. There is a church built of brick, belonging to the Church of England, and a small wooden chapel owned by some other denomination. The hospital, for Swan-hill can also boast of a hospital, is prettily situated at the junction of the Little Murray with the main stream. The district around the town is principally pastoral. About 10 or 12 miles distant there is a salt lake, from which a coarse salt is obtained and exported to Riverina and the Upper Murray. There is a mail three times a week, and the township is already connected with the metropolis by telegraph."

Mitchell's discovery of Swan Hill, along with his other expeditions in southeastern Australia, led to his knighthood in 1839. He was arguably the best Surveyor General there was.

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