The area was occupied for thousands of years exclusively by the Gunai or Kurnai people and known to them as “Nyerimilang” or the “chain of lakes“. It was accessible only from the water until the 1920s. In 1884, the land was acquired by Alexander Murray who owned the Pier Hotel at Paynesville, which he advertised as “the finest and most centrally situated hotel on the lakes“.
Murray saw a commercial opportunity in the Government’s plans to complete the artificial entrance to the Gippsland Lakes. Vast quantities of timber would be required for the project, so Murray set up a mill at Metung in 1884 and acquired the land at Nyerimilang for its trees. The steep cliffs along the shoreline were no obstacle to transporting the timber out of the forest. Tree trunks would be dragged to the cliff top by bullocks and slid down bark-lined chutes to the beach below, where they were loaded onto steamers and taken to Metung.
In 1891, Murray swapped his 50-acre block of land, with its 8-roomed house and 2 small cottages, for a block on Cunninghame Arm, owned by Frank Stuart, a prominent Melbourne businessman and politician. Stuart transformed Nyerimilang from a commercial resource to an idyllic holiday retreat. Born in NSW in 1844, Frank came to Melbourne at the age of 22 and worked in the softgoods trade for several years. He founded two clothing companies that made hats and waterproof clothing. In 1889, he was elected MLA for East Melbourne and served as a minister in the Munro Government, a post he resigned in 1891 – the year he acquired Nyerimilang.
Frank, his wife Matilda and their children adored the secluded and comfortable timber house with its bush setting and glorious views. They acquired a further 6 blocks of adjoining land and built a 6-hole golf course overlooking the lakes. Every summer, they and their many house guests swam, sailed, rode, hunted and cooked chops on the open fireplace by the jetty.
After Frank’s death in 1910, the extended Stuart family continued to spend holidays at the lakes. His son Frank Stuart Junior inherited Nyerimilang after his mother died in the 1920s. He made extensive additions and alterations to the homestead in 1928, developed the surrounding gardens and lived there in style, complete with housemaids and gardener. When Frank Stuart Jnr died in 1936, his widow Eleanor gave the property to the Anglican Diocese of Gippsland for use as a Boys Training Farm.
William Buckland, known as the “quiet millionaire“, bought the property from the church in 1940 and used it as a holiday house and farm until 1965. It changed hands two more times before Marion Le Cheminant persuaded the then Premier, Sir Rupert Hamer, to buy Nyerimilang in 1976 to preserve it for conservation, education and recreation purposes for the people of Victoria.
Nyerimilang is managed by Parks Victoria with the support of an impressive Friends Group, many of whom give hours of their time every week to run the gatehouse shop and excellent reference library. Together with the Society for Growing Australian Plants, they have a working-bee once a month in the gardens. The house and cultivated gardens, including Eleanor Stuart’s beloved English roses, reflect more than 100 years of social activity, while the 178 hectares of property encompass a range of native vegetation.
Highlights of the park include the recently completed East Gippsland Botanic Gardens with its pools and waterfalls and the Whistling Kite Track, which winds its way through a patch of warm temperate rainforest, showing what the vegetation of Nyerimilang was like before Alexander Murray’s time. Scenic walks meander along bush and farm tracks, past Kurrajong trees and wetland areas.
The park is open daily from 8:30am until sunset and the homestead itself is usually open from 10:30am to 3:00pm on weekends and 9:30am to 4:00pm during weekdays. A display featuring the history of Nyerimilang and the natural resources and history of the Gippsland Lakes is located inside the homestead. A collection of reference material for further study is available in the homestead library which is usually open every Wednesday.