History of Tocumwal
Prior to European settlement, the Tocumwal area was inhabited by the Ulupna and Bangerang tribes. The town name derives from Tucumiva, an Aboriginal word meaning ‘deep hole’ or ‘pit’. The name comes from the belief that the Blow Hole was the abode of a native spirit, which was accustomed to move through a subterranean passage from the Murray River to the Blow. The Blow Hole is closely associated with the folklore of the area, with indigenous legend telling of a giant Murray Cod living at the bottom.
The first pastoral runs were established in the 1840s. In 1860, Edward Hillson purchased 5000 acres from Patrick Hennessey, and on this land the town was built. The Tocumwal Post Office was built in 1868, and the village was recognised in 1872 – the same year a punt was established.
In 1891, the Tocumwal Hotel was built by Edward Hillson and the population of the town was 350 people. In 1893, the Court House and Police Quarters were erected.
Prior to Federation, Tocumwal was an important customs point for goods crossing between the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. In addition to the punt charges, tax on horses, cattle and sheep had to be paid. The old NSW customs house is now a residence in Anzac Avenue.
In 1895, the Tocumwal Bridge opened for traffic and replaced the punt.
In 1898, the standard gauge NSW Railways main southern railway line was extended from Junee to Tocumwal, through Narrandera. The broad gauge Victorian Railways Melbourne to Shepparton railway line reached the Murray River at Tocumwal in 1905. This was extended to Tocumwal in 1908, creating a break-of-gauge at Tocumwal.
The morning of 9th July 1908 saw the historic event of the first stock train with 24 trucks of sheep crossing the bridge. A passenger train followed later that afternoon. Tocumwal remained a Victorian station until 1914, when it was connected to the NSW Railway system. It became a major trans-shipping port with both gauges, to serve the increasing traffic, particularly the need of the military.
These developments resulted in the population increasing fom 350 in 1880 to 1000 in 1914.
Due to Tocumwal’s riverside location, by the 1980s it had already become popular with holiday makers from the Melbourne and Shepparton areas.
During World War II, Tocumwal was the site of the Royal Australian Air Force Station, which was a major Royal Australian Air Force training airfield and depot.
Following the bombing of Darwin, the United States and Australia made plans for Australian inland defence. The Tocumwal airfield was the largest and first of airfields planned, as preparation for a possible Japanese invasion. The aerodrome was commissioned by the US Army Air Corps and constructed in 1942 as the McIntyre Field heavy bomber base. 5,000 people were involved in the construction of the base, which had 450 buildings spread over 25 square miles, with 114 km of roads interconnecting it all. There were four runways, each nearly 2km in length. Planes were using the airstrip within 5 weeks of beginning construction, and the airfield was completed in four months.
Overall it was spread out to ensure defensive dispersal of aircraft, fuel and personnel. It was disguised as much as possible by designing the accommodation buildings in the shape of normal houses and by aligning them on continuations of the streets of the town.
American forces moved to Tocumwal, however, as the situation in the Pacific improved, they moved north to Queensland. The aerodrome then became the RAAF Station Headquarters for training Liberator bomber aircrews. In December 1944, there were 5,500 men on the base. It subsequently became an aircraft depot until the 1960s.