The wow town for art and motorsport fans
STORY: JANET BOND PHOTOGRAPHY: VISIT VICTORIA
If you’re seeking a town that is not only picturesque, but offers lots of ways to become part of a thriving community, Benalla is the perfect fit.
Just a two-hour drive from Melbourne, and on the road and rail route to Sydney, Benalla lies on the Broken River gateway to the high country. Expanses of water, valleys, forests and grazing land make it an exceptionally beautiful part of Australia.
At its heart is Lake Benalla surrounded by a 4.25km walking track and the historic Botanic Gardens. Further out, visitors flock to see the nationally-significant Winton Wetlands.
Cultural activities can be one of the sacrifices you make with a move to the country, but Benalla has a reputation as a cultural destination. It is home to a renowned regional art gallery, the Costume and Kelly Museum, a popular arts trail and 65 street art murals that awarded Benalla the title of Regional Street Art Capital of Australia.
It also has a rich community life. Local people connect through sporting clubs, everything from the traditional sports of cricket, football, soccer and netball through to archery, cycling and skiing. For arts-lovers there is a local arts guild, theatre company, historical society and ballroom dancing club.
Motor racing fans delight in the local track action at Winton Raceway. Along with opportunities for drivers to test their skills on a professional circuit, the raceway hosts events such as the Winton Super 400 and a Virgin Australia V8 Supercar Round. Major race meetings are so popular that there is even a camping ground for visitors keen to embrace the atmosphere just metres from the track.
“You can buy straight from local producers at the Lakeside Craft and Farmers Market on Lake Benalla’s foreshore and at local farm gates. Samara Farm sells olive oil, jams and pickles along with produce from 3000 Damask roses.”
The Benalla Rural City district takes in the villages of Baggaginnie, Devenish, Gooranbat, Swanpool, Tatong, Thoona and Winton. They’re all beautiful spots to visit on weekend jaunts.
For foodies, the region serves up a feast. Eateries range from fine dining to cafes – lakeside dining at the Benalla Art Gallery Café is a treat – all specialising in local produce. For home-grown cooks there is a plethora of places to source produce from the region. There are local markets including the regular Lakeside Craft and Farmers Market on Lake Benalla’s foreshore and farm gates where you can buy straight from local producers. Samara Farm sells olive oil, jams and pickles along with produce from 3000 Damask roses – a treat to see in spring bloom. As for wine, Benalla is part of the renowned Glenrowan wine region that dates back to the beginning of last century. Today if offers boutique cellar door sales, private estate wineries and barrell room tours.
If one of your motivations in moving to a country town is to give your children a different type of life to built-up suburbia, Benalla is a rich alternative. Along with a range of educational facilities – both government and independent primary and second schools and a TAFE college – it provides a plethora of opportunities for children to learn and participate in interest groups and junior sports. And of course, there’s expanses of natural space to explore and delight in.
The Traditional Custodians of the land on which Benalla stands are the Taungurong people.
WATTLE ROAD 🖤 The 4.25km track around Lake Benalla and through the botanic gardens; and the iconic Benalla Art Gallery – it’s presence as one of regional Australia’s finest galleries has set the foundations for a thriving arts community.
DISTANCE FROM MELBOURNE: 200km north-east.
Population: 14,024, with approximately 9000 living in the Benalla urban area and the remainder in surrounding areas.
WHO LIVES HERE?
According to the 2016 Census:
♦ The median age of people in Benalla is 49 years. Children aged 0 – 14 years made up 15.4% of the population and people aged 65 years and over made up 27.9%.
♦ Of the families in Benalla, 30.0% are couple families with children, 49.3% are couple families without children and 19.2% are one parent families.
♦ 83.0% of people were born in Australia. The most common countries of birth are England 2.1%, Germany 0.8%, New Zealand 0.6%, India 0.5% and Netherlands 0.5%
♦ The most common occupations in Benalla include technicians and trades workers 15.9%, professionals 15.7%, labourers 13.7%, community and personal service workers 12.9%, and managers 12.0%
CLIMATE: Warm and temperate with significant rainfall. January average temperatures, max 30.3, min 14.0. July average temperatures, max 12.4, min 3.0.
MAIN EMPLOYERS: Health, manufacturing and agriculture.
SCHOOLS: There are three State primary schools, Benalla College which is P1-12 and St Joseph’s, a Catholic primary school. Secondary options include FCJ College and the Australian Christian College Hume. Benalla also has a TAFE campus.
HEALTH CARE: Benalla Health provides inpatient care and day procedures, midwifery services, medical imaging, pathology and community health programs such as a diabetes support group and a sexual health clinic. Mental health programs and drug and alcohol counselling are also available to the regional community.
NBN CONNECTION: Fibre To The Curb (FTTC)
PROPERTY PRICES: The median sale price of houses is $302,250. For units, it is $208,500.
RECREATION: Lake Benalla Walking Track; Benalla Aquatic Centre, Benalla Indoor Recreation Centre, Basketball, Aqua Aerobics
SPORTS CLUBS: Archery, basketball, tennis, croquet, hockey, football, soccer cricket, swimming, bowling, netball, pistol, ski, veteran cycling
ARTS: Benalla Art Gallery, Benalla Performing Arts & Convention Centre, the Sir Edward `Weary’ Dunlop Learning Centre and the Costume and Kelly Museum.
FESTIVALS: The Wall to Wall Festival, Benalla Festival in spring, the Benalla Short Film Festival, Garden Expo and the Formula SAE-Australasia motorsport competition.
Director of the Benalla Art Gallery
Having grown up in Townsville, I’ve always been quite passionate about the regions and regional Australia, and how dynamic and vibrant those locations are whilst still having a sense of landscape, and of space and community. So moving back regionally was something I was always interested in.
Benalla has been very welcoming. We’ve got a group of very passionate people who have been involved with the gallery for many decades. The Friends of The Gallery, a group of volunteers and supporters, wanted to meet me as soon as I started to provide me with the history. They’re always keen for a chat and a catch up which is nice. But I also joined the cricket team last year – that was something I wasn’t doing in Melbourne, I wasn’t playing any sport.
They’re two different worlds, but it was good to meet two different sets of people in the community pretty quickly.
It is a big responsibility (taking on the directorship of the art gallery) because it is such an important asset for the community and one we want to make sure is broadly accessible. One of things I am intent on is that we are a space that is open for our whole community and to do that we need to develop and deliver quite a balanced program across the year. We need to find a touch point for not just the audience that have already committed to us, but for those people who may not think the art gallery has something to offer them, or to pique their interest
The last full year we were open, we had 80,000 visitors through, which for what is a small regional gallery, is quite an incredible accomplishment… (it’s delivered) real economic value to local businesses and connected industries. I think we can do even more.
My wife and I have just bought a little place, near the end of the lake, on the other side of the railway tracks. The property market in Benalla was already booming when we moved here a year ago, but it’s pretty insane at the moment. Places are being listed for sale and sold within a week.
Benalla does have a sense of home now. We’re very comfortable here and probably enthused by the opportunity as well. We visited Benalla during the Wall to Wall Festival in 2017, so we saw how picturesque it was, and also how vibrant and dynamic it could be. So we were excited by that.
And coming from north Queensland, we’re not scared off by distance. From Townsville you have to drive four hours to get to anywhere, and not somewhere bigger, but just a comparable centre. Here we are just two hours drive from Melbourne and all the things that appeal to us about Melbourne are still within reach if we’re really interested. But now we’re in close proximity to the ski fields, the King Valley and the wineries, to Shepparton and Wangaratta and the amazing art galleries that are part of the network. There’s some amazing and beautiful sights around us and in Benalla itself – we’re so wonderfully, centrally located
Travel time is approximately 60 minutes.
FIND A PROPERTY
4 Alexander Grey Lane, Benalla
4 2 4
80 Arundel St, Benalla
6 4 -
93 Bridge Street, Benalla
3 2 2
12-14 Bridge Street, Benalla
3 1 4