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The Greta - Hansonville communities prior to the outbreak of World War One

The Greta - Hansonville communities prior to the outbreak of World War One

There were two distinct communities and four distinct areas that made up what is now referred to as the Greta Valley. The Parish of Greta was part of the Shire of Oxley and included Greta, (formerly called Hanson), Greta West (the original Greta), Hanson South, (later known as Hansonville), and Greta South. The Greta district included Greta and Greta West and Hansonville covered Hanson South and Greta South! The closest towns were Moyhu and Glenrowan, the latter being the closest point to the vitally important rail service to Melbourne. Wangaratta and Benalla were the larger service towns. The original Greta district was located approximately fifteen miles from Benalla and Wangaratta, hence the name Fifteen Mile Creek was given to the major waterway that ran through the generally lush district of rolling plains and gently sloping hills. 

An indicator of the cultural mix of the settlers is glimpsed through reading the list of guests to the Old Pioneers of Greta and Myrrhee Banquet, hosted by the young men of the district in a marquee at Mr J. Hughes farm in 1907. There was a mix of English, Scots and Irish names such as Evans, Ellis, Graham, Patterson, O’Brien, Shanley, and Tanner with the Irish predominantly settling around Hansonville and Greta South.

The main industries were dairy farming, cattle and sheep grazing, horse breeding and saw milling, and where there was water, tobacco and hop production. The Hansen Dairy Company, located at Hansonville, together with the smaller creameries at Greta South, Hughes’ Bridge and Greta West serviced the thriving dairy industry. However, these creameries were closed in 1913 due to rising costs and reduced supply and as 1914 was the second driest year on record, the Dairy Company and the communities it served, faced their own challenges 

In keeping with generally small land holdings and the larger families of those times, there were four schools. Greta, Greta West, Greta South, and Hansonville. An important day in the schools’ calendar was Empire Day, celebrated on May 24 when the teachers frequently followed the protocols prescribed in the School Paper and also invited a local patriotic identity to address the children. 

There were also four churches – Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Primitive Methodist and following the custom of the times, these distinctions were reflected in defined areas of the Greta Cemetery. 

As the result of community fundraising, a modest hall at Hansonville had opened in July 1909. A hall for the Greta district was also in the planning stage with the first meetings held in 1913. The Victoria Hotel at Greta West was an important community gathering point too, hosting meetings and weddings as well as the usual activities of a licensed premises. 

Other services were provided by the several post offices – Hansonville, which was combined with a local store, Greta, Greta West, Greta South, and Hanson South. The Police Station which had first been located at the original Greta, opposite the imposing brick Victoria Hotel, and later moving closer to the Greta Cemetery and two churches, had been permanently closed in 1903 due to a lack of business. Police matters were then referred to Glenrowan. 

Although Wangaratta was a thriving centre, horse and buggy was still the usual mode of transport for people from outlying districts with roads often made impassable by flood. Telephone communications for areas such as Greta and Hansonville were in their infancy. At the outbreak of the World War One, Greta West was still without a rudimentary telephone service. 

Both before and during the war, the Greta Races, one of the highlights of the local social calendar, were a way for at least some of the population to support the Wangaratta Hospital as well as to indulge in their love of horses and horse racing. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the annual agricultural show were other Wangaratta based social occasions that drew enthusiastic support from the Greta-Hansonville districts.  

Recreations closer to home included traditional concerts with recitations, songs and music; balls and dances, bazaars, picnics and football. The Greta Football Club was reformed in May and by August 1, 1914, Greta was a member of the Greta-Glenrowan Football Association. They played against Winton in the semi-final in the Benalla gardens, just managing to win by the narrow margin of two points. There were only the three teams in the association.    

It was only three days later, August 4, 1914 that Australia entered World War One on the same day as Britain. 1914 had begun with extensive bushfires in the Greta and neighbouring Laceby areas, when local homes were threatened and crops, pasture and fencing destroyed. Now the threat was more remote but even so, more sinister. The young men and the families of the two communities were about to be tested as never before. The trial was to last for more than four years, and in some cases for a lifetime.