Morang

There aren’t many places in Melbourne that it snows, most winters. Once a decade or so the city as a whole might get a light blanketing, but most winters, only the higher reaches of the Dandening Ranges will see any snowfall. But there was once another place where the snow fell, silvery white against the tall hills north of Bundoora and Thomastown. Where the meltwater ran pure and clean into the upper reaches of the Plenty River, leading to the construction of Melbourne’s first reservoir, the Yan Yean.

That place, which appears on maps no more, was Morang.

Morang was a thriving township in its day, although not one noted for its loyalty to Queen and Country. Quite the reverse, in fact. Morang – a misspelling of meringue, a name given to it for how the snow looked each winter on the hills – was one of the places where rebels were always guaranteed a haven. It supported Peter Lalor and his fellows when they rebelled at the Eureka Stockade, and later, it gave aid and comfort to the Kelly Gang across the long winter of 1879-1880, and was intended to serve as one of the two launching points of the predominantly Irish-descended rebellion that Kelly planned to start (the other being Glenrowan, obviously).

But the rebellion died stillborn with the thwarting of the Kelly Gang’s plans at Glenrowan, and the vengeful (and predominantly English-descended) authorities, led from behind the scenes by Chief Justice Redmond Barry, the same man who would pronounce sentence on the last outlaw, determined to prevent any future rebellions. The fact that their plans would also, it was hoped, weaken the resolve of the now-imprisoned Ned Kelly was merely a pleasant byproduct.

So it was, across the spring of 1880, that the township of Morang was erased, figuratively and literally, from map and landscape both. Its people were scattered (many of them, in an unusual turnabout, transported back to the British Isles) or slain, the buildings demolished and plowed under, the livestock stolen or slaughtered (the latter led to a feast on the river banks that would go down in history as the Plenty Gorge), and the area as a whole declared a reserve (as part of the reservoir’s catchment) and left to return to nature. The hills were left so denuded of plants that they eroded down into the gentler, lower curves that remain today, their soil blown away in the hot and windy summer that followed.

The only relic that remained was a pub on the road to the city, the South Morang, whose name was never changed, and which eventually became the nucleus of the new suburb of that name. More than a century would elapse before there would again be a place named Morang for it to be south of.