The strikingly beautiful Victorian community of Benalla is quickly establishing itself as a must-visit destination for country-life loving grey nomads.
Sitting just off the Hume Highway about 200 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, the ‘Rose City’ boasts some lovely public gardens, a rich history, a burgeoning reputation as an arts centre … and a lot more besides.
The city, which has a population of around 10,000, was first proclaimed back in 1861.
The first pastoralists arrived in the area in 1838 and a police station was established soon afterwards, a post office opened in 1844, a bridge was built across the Broken River in 1847, and the railway eventually arrived in 1883.
This, of course, is Ned Kelly country and the legendary bushranger made a number of court appearances in Benalla. The Stringybark Creek Historic Reserve, where Ned and his gang murdered Constable Thomas Lonigan in 1878, is 50 kilometres to the south.
The best way to discover Benalla’s Victorian-era buildings, museums and gardens is to take the self-guided Heritage Trail. Highlights include the Commercial Hotel built in 1860, the National Bank built in 1891, the Old Courthouse built in 1864, and Moira House built in 1878.
History buffs will also enjoy a look around Benalla Cemetery, where the likes of Kelly gang member, Joe Byrne and Kelly’s grandmother, Mary Anne Quinn, are buried.
Normally, the Benalla Costume and Kelly Museum would be the best place to learn more about the Kelly gang’s activities, but the facility is closed for renovations until early next year.
This is a significant cultural centre and the city’s superb art gallery looks over Lake Benalla. The Benalla Performing Arts and Convention Centre hosts some high-class shows, and the city’s walls and buildings are brightened up by more than 50 colourful murals.
There’s also a Ceramic Mural Garden featuring a frieze wall, an amphitheatre, and turquoise glazed ceramic domes … and Benalla is also the starting point for the North East Victoria Silo Art Trail. Before Covid threw a spanner in the works, the Wall to Wall Street Art Festival was held here annually.
This is a truly beautiful city, with the artificial Lake Benalla very much the centrepiece, along with the wonderful Botanical Gardens which is home to a sculpture of the city’s most famous son, war hero, Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.
As a major service centre, Benalla has a wide array of shops and services, and offers great camping options. These include the Benalla Tourist Park, Benalla Showgrounds Caravan Park, and a camping area at Jaycee Island near Benalla Lake. Out of town, there’s camping at the Casey Weir Rest Stop, the James Camping Reserve, and at Mount Samaria National Park.
The park, which is about 30 kilometres from Benalla, is home to stunning waterfalls, massive eucalypts, and superb walking trails. Also a little out of town, but well worth a look are the Reef Hills State Park, the Winton Wetlands Reserve. And just down the road is the iconic Winton Motor Raceway, which hosts the iconic all-historic motorsport event, Historic Winton.
So much to see, so much time to do it!