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Bairnsdale gardens.jpg
Bairnsdale Gardens Main Street
Population 14,271 (2015)
 • Density 597.1/km2 (1,546/sq mi)
Established 1860
Postcode(s) 3875
Elevation 49 m (161 ft)
Area 23.9 km2 (9.2 sq mi)(2011 Census UCL)
LGA(s) Shire of East Gippsland
State electorate(s) Gippsland East
Federal Division(s) Gippsland
Mean max temp Mean min temp Annual rainfall
20.1 °C
68 °F
8.3 °C
47 °F
643.6 mm
25.3 in

Bairnsdale (/ˈbɛərnzdl/, locally [ˈbeːnzdæɪl]) is a city in East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. The estimated poulation of Bairnsdale urban area was 14,271 at June 2015. The city is a major regional centre of eastern Victoria along with Traralgon and Sale and the commercial centre for the East Gippsland region and the seat of local government for the Shire of East Gippsland. Bairnsdale was first proclaimed a shire on 16 July 1868 and it was proclaimed as a city on 14 July 1990.

The origin of the city's name is uncertain. It would have almost have certainly been Bernisdale, with "Bernis-dale" originating from "Bjorn’s dale", or glen which indicates the Viking origins of the Skye Village. Legend has it that Macleod was impressed by the number of Children on the run, the children of his stockmen, that he called it Bairns-dale, or "valley of the children".

In 1876 the Bairnsdale Shire, which went on to become one of the largest in Victoria in the 1880s, was led out of administrative chaos by former shire auditor and shipping agent Herman Bredt. He had also acted as a mine manager for the nearby Sons of Freedom mine. German born Bredt was the father of Bertha Bredt who married the famous Australia poet and writer Henry Lawson. Prior to this she had worked at the Bairnsdale Hospital. In this period the Main Street was fashioned but was unsealed thereby causing extensive problems of dust in the summer and mud in the winter. Asphalting didn’t take place until 1883. Nicholson Street was formed in 1877 and MacLeod Street followed in 1879.


Bairnsdale is sited on a bend of the Mitchell river, with the river flowing from the west along the northern edge of the town, before turning south to flow along the eastern edge, although suburbs are now found across the river to both north and east, e.g. Wy Yung, Eastwood and Lucknow.

Mitchell River

The Mitchell River flows into Lake King and Jones Bay at Eagle Point Bluff. The Mitchell, Tambo and Nicholson rivers deliver a combined discharge of 1.1 gigalitres per year into the Lakes system. The Strategic Management Plan quotes that about 100,000 tonnes of suspended solids (excluding bottom sediments) are estimated to enter the Gippsland Lakes each year from the catchments of the Mitchell, Tambo and Nicholson Rivers alone. Sediment loads from the western catchments (discharging to Lake Wellington) deliver two to three times the nutrient and sediment loads than from the eastern catchments (Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo Rivers). Comparison of aerial photographs spanning 1935 to 1997 demonstrate that the vast majority of shorelines are eroding at an average of less than 10 cm per year.

The lower reaches of the Latrobe River, Thomson River and Mitchell River flow into the Gippsland Lakes and have extensive floodplains in which there are large wetlands, often separated by natural levees from the main river channels.

The Mitchell river flats were always prone to flooding and 1891 bore witness to the flood that was only second in extent to the great floods of 1870. The biggest floods recorded were in 1893-94 with them being 76mm higher than the 1870 water levels. All floods caused the township great suffering with loss of life, infrastructure and crops. The flooding that occurred in the 1893-94 was notable for the gallantry of Patrick Piggott and George Brooks who both worked to rescue people. However, on their last trip their boat tipped as they moored it and both men were swept into the river and drowned. A witness remonstrated that; " the very last, they fought bravely for their lives against fearful odds". Both men are remembered upon a marble tablet installed at the Mechanics’ Hall (The Bairnsdale Library).

The Mitchell Delta is represented as a type-L under the Ramsar wetland type classification framework, which means that it’s a permanent inland delta. The Mitchell Delta is a classic form of digitate delta (from Latin digitātus, having finger or toes) and is located near the western shoreline of Lake King at Eagle Point Bluff, extending into the lake as silt jetties formed by alluvial deposition of sediment. The Mitchell Delta represents one of the finest examples of this type of landform in the world and is a site deemed of international geomorphological significance and is one of the finest examples of a classic digitate delta in the world.


Macleod Morass and Jones Bay Wildlife Reserves cover an area of 557 ha and 123 ha respectively. The Reserves lie immediately south of Bairnsdale at the head of Lake King and on either side of the Mitchell River. According to tradition, the Tatungoloong clan of the Gunai/Kurnai peoples were the custodians of land and waters and used the aquatic and terrestrial habitats of the area as sources of food and the surrounding open forest for shelter.

Macleod Morass formed with and was eventually isolated from Lake King and Jones Bay with the development of the Mitchell River Silt Jetties. The marginal bluff marks the former shoreline position of Lake King and the relict gravel beaches and spits were formed by wave action.

The area contains geological features and sites of State geological and geomorphological significance. The extensive 'backswamp' forming Macleod Morass, the escarpment ('marginal bluff') along its western boundary, and relict gravel beaches and spits (e.g. Brownlow’s Point) are important features providing evidence of once higher sea levels in Bass Strait.

Macleod Morass was originally classified as a 'deep freshwater marsh' but currently only approximately 30% of the Morass is still representative of the original classification. Water inflows to the Morass are dominated by catchment run-off from Cobblers Creek and several smaller intermittent streams, urban stormwater from McGees Gully, and direct rainfall. Major floods in the Mitchell River result in complete inundation of Macleod Morass and serve to 'flush' the entire wetland system.

Since 1939, wastewater that has been treated to varying levels has been discharged to Macleod Morass, resulting in elevated nutrient levels, reductions in water quality and changes in the distribution and abundance of vegetation. Macleod Morass Wildlife Reserve was first reserved on 16 August 1961 under the Land Act 1958 (Vic.) Jones Bay Wildlife Reserve was first reserved on 7 April 1961 for the Preservation of Wildlife under the Land Act. Macleod Morass and Jones Bay Wildlife Reserves occur within the Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site, listed under the Convention on Wetlands or The Ramsar Convention.

The reserves contain a range of threatened vegetation types that provide habitat for a diverse array of wildlife including 23 threatened fauna species. Over 100 bird species, including 53 waterbird species, have been recorded within the vicinity. Eight migratory bird species found in the reserves are listed under the international Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement 1974 (JAMBA), China–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement 1987 (CAMBA), and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

Macleod Morass is an important breeding site for Australian white ibis (Threskiornis moluccus), straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis) and black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus). Management strategies are in place to protect known sites of significant fauna and colonial breeding waterbirds from unnecessary disturbance, particularly the white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), green and golden bell frog, warty bell frog, black-winged stilt, Australian white ibis and the straw necked ibis.

A diverse range of 141 fauna species has been identified near the reserves, including 23 fauna species listed as threatened in Victoria and three nationally vulnerable.


Bairnsdale experiences a temperate climate with warm summers and cool, damp winters. The highest recorded temperature in the town was 46.2 degrees Celsius on 7 February 2009, during the early 2009 Australian summer heatwave. The lowest, −4.5 degrees, was recorded on 4 August 1997.

Climate data for Bairnsdale (Bairnsdale Airport 1942-2013)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 44.0
Average high °C (°F) 25.8
Average low °C (°F) 12.8
Record low °C (°F) 4.2
Rainfall mm (inches) 47.5
Avg. rainy days (≥ 0.2mm) 8.7 8.4 9.0 11.1 13.1 13.4 14.1 13.2 13.7 13.5 12.1 11.0 141.3
Source: Bureau of Meteorology


St Marys Church Bairnsdale is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database and the National Trust Register. On 19th October 2013 the church celebrated its 100th anniversary

Some of the earlier buildings in the town are perhaps a memorial to William J. Yates, who was a prominent architect, builder and monumental mason. He built the school, the old Shire Hall (1860), the Wesleyan Church and parsonage (1876), St. John’s Church, the old Bairnsdale Hospital (Cnr of McKean and Ross Streets) and the Mechanic’s Hall.

Roman Catholic Church

One of the most notable landmarks of Bairnsdale is the St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Main Street known for its distinctively tall tower. Construction of St Mary’s Church was commenced in 1913, replacing an earlier brick church which had been built thirty years earlier in 1883. Murals cover the walls and ceiling of St Mary's in Bairnsdale depicting saints, the trinity and scenes of hell, purgatory, heaven and the crucifixion. Every year the church receives up to 80,000 visitors from all over Australia and the world. The murals were painted by out of work Italian artist Francesco Floreani during the Great Depression and remain a fascination to this day.

St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was well established when a new church building was opened on 29 April 1883. The Reverend Fr. Patrick O’Donohue was priest from 1883 to 1888. Early in the 1880s a school was opened and developed quickly so that extensions to the building were added in 1888.There were about 120 pupils in 1890. Fr Cremin oversaw the congregation from 1909 and in this period plans were drawn up to erect a magnificent brick church at an estimated £10,000. The architects were A.A. Fritsch and Harry French. Work started in August 1913 with the a stone being laid by Bishop Phelan of Sale on 19 October. The new church with its tower, described by a witness as, "a free treatment of Romanesque style, built of brick with a slate roof".

Bairnsdale experienced growth in church numbers in the 1880s, many of them frequently recording packed congregations, particularly on special occasions. St Johns Church of England often had congregations of over 200 at the morning and evening services. The congregations of that church were headed by the Reverend E.W.S Hartmann who later lost his life crossing the flooded Mitchell River. He was succeeded by W.G. Hindley, under whom, a new brick church was built (still on the corner of Main and Pyke Streets) and opened by Bishop Moorhouse on 24 June 1884.

Old Bairnsdale Hospital
The former Bairnsdale Hospital buildings designed by Harry Gibbs, the two-storey central block, the single-storey pavilions on each side and the Contagious Diseases Ward to the south, are architecturally significant as an outstanding and largely intact example of nineteenth century hospital design.


Bairnsdale's centre gardens stretch from the Mitchell River to the western edge of town, a distance of about 4 kilometres (2 mi). The main garden section runs for over 500 metres (550 yd) through the central commercial district and features beds of flowering annuals and perennials, numerous mature deciduous and evergreen trees, war memorials and a restored historic band rotunda. The rotunda was constructed in 1910 and restored to its present condition in 1993.

In 1943 the erection of a monument at the eastern end of the gardens to the district centenary led to that section being called the Centenary Garden. The Country Women's Association (CWA) Younger set took over the beautification of the Centenary Garden in 1947 and planted a tree there in May of that year to commemorate the 21st birthday of Princess Elizabeth. Extensive tree planting with Australian native trees was carried out in the post-war years, providing a colourful display, particularly in spring and early summer.

From 1964 under the care of the town’s head gardeners, E.A. Cottrell and C.T. Harrison, the gardens had been extended westward with the planting of hardy trees, in particular desert ash and flowering gum. By 1959 the highway had been extended to the foot of the hospital hill, and tree planting and lawns had provided two kilometers of gardens on the centre reserves. Garden beds were extended westward to the West End Store in 1975 with the help of people employed under the Whitlam Government Regional Employment Development Scheme (REDS) for the unemployed. In 1969 a wishing well that was carved by Bruce Duffy of the Technical School and financed by the Rotary was erected in the Centre Gardens adjacent to the Coles Supermarket. In 1984 a plaque was added to commemorate Victoria’s 150th anniversary.

To commemorate those locals who did not return from the Boer War in 1899, a monument was unveiled in the Main Street Gardens on 12 June 1903 in the presence of Lord and Lady Forrest, a number of returned men, school cadets and a large crowd of citizens.


Bairnsdale Cemetery
Entrance to the Bairnsdale Cemetery on the corner of Forge Creek Road

The Bairnsdale cemetery is now located off Forge Creek road opposite the race course. Its original location was situated at punt flat, now the site of the Mitchell Gardens Holiday Park beside the river. A plaque in acknowledgement of the site is located at the south-east corner of the Caravan Park. As a result of the major flooding in 1870 the site experienced erosion and reports were made that remains were washed downstream. Peter Moroney, Shire Secretary at the time, instructed William Jefferson to retrieve the remains and they were re-interred at the present cemetery.

As far back as the 1920s the cemetery was frequently criticised for its untidy appearance. It was proposed around this time that the cemetery be removed from the overseer of the council and transferred to the care of the different denominations. This was not adopted. In 1990 control of the cemetery was transferred to a community based trust. The lawn section of the cemetery was commenced in 1969. Initially wooden pegs were used to indicate grave numbers, later cloverleaf-shaped cast iron pegs were used. In 1946 a memorial garden was established for Bairnsdale's war dead. The Imperial War Graves Commission took over this section in 1946 and the area was attractively laid out with a fine gate and Cypress hedge, well kept lawns and white headstones, with a central memorial Cross of Sacrifice to the memory of the RAAF personnel who died in the Bairnsdale district during the war. Sir Dallas Brooks unveiled the Cross on a visit to the town on 7 September 1950. The lawn section was planned in 1964 and completed in 1970.

Frederick Jones was the earliest of the squatters in the Bairnsdale Shire. Jones had previously been a school teacher in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. In the early 1840s Jones joined one of the early pastoralists in the Gippsland area, William Odell Raymond, at Omeo – he was traveling south from the Wellington area where he owned land on the Macquarie River across the border in New South Wales. They arrived at the Mitchell River crossing on 20 June 1842. Once in the region Jones decided to take up the area of Lucknow. He named it such, in contrast to the other settlers Frederick Taylor and John M. Loughnan who had taken up Lindenow – the reason being that Jones had left Sydney a poor man and he felt auspicious about his new life and hence felt his ‘luck’ was on the ascendancy.

In 1848 John Archer who was a retired sea-captain was appointed manager of Lucknow Station. Jones traveled back to New South Wales to visit his run on the Murrumbidgee. Archer had been a master on the Letitia which operated between Sydney and Hobart and later, traded cattle between Port Albert and Hobart. In 1845 Archer married a young girl named Eliza and brought her to Gippsland, settling at Lucknow in 1847. Eliza died in childbirth and her grave can still be seen to this day by the roadside in Crooke Street, East Bairnsdale.

The inscription on the headstone reads ‘Sown in weakness, to be raised in power’. The monument is not on the original burial position, several house blocks to the west, and has been moved down the street as houses have been built. It is thought that this headstone is the only remaining evidence that there was indeed a cemetery in this location in the 1800s.


According to the 2011 consensus, the most common responses for religion in Bairnsdale (Urban Centres and Localities) were No Religion 27.2%, Catholic 21.5%, Anglican 20.9%, Uniting Church 6.9% and Presbyterian and Reformed 3.7%. Overall, 63.0% of the population nominated a religion, and 27.2% said they had no religion, compared with 59.8% and 29.6% respectively for East Gippsland Shire. The largest single religion in Bairnsdale urban area (Overlay) was Western (Roman) Catholic, with 21.6% of the population or 2,619 people as adherents.

Tennyson Smith, the ardent prohibitionist and evangelist and teetotaller visited Bairnsdale in February 1920 and gained many supporters when he initiated a branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. The movement was unsuccessful when they met with violent opposition who interrupted meetings and threw stones at Tennyson as he returned to Adelaide House (171 Main Street) where they broke windows and tried to gain access to the building. The Prompt arrival of Constable Martin, who fired a revolver in the air and arrested a leading trouble-maker, broke up the disturbance.

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