Bessiebelle is a rural village in western Victoria, 38 km north-east of Portland. Its name was originally given to a parish, and the surveyor reputedly named the parish after a Bessie Cameron.
European settlement in the Bessiebelle area was the Squattleseamere pastoral run, taken up by Thomas Browne (‘Rolf Boldrewood’) in 1844. The area is south of Mount Eccles, and it contained an extensive swampy area through which flowed branches of the Eumeralla River. The Squattleseamere run was the site of Aboriginal hunts by police and blacktrackers in 1846, and remnants of the tribes were transferred to the Lake Condah mission west of Mount Eccles.
The pastoral run was kept intact until 1871, and reduced to about half by 1896 by sales to settlers. A school was opened in 1874. In 1879 local farmers began the first of several stages in the draining of swampy land for crop lands – mainly for barley and oats. The improved farm lands lead to a general store opening in 1907, and within a few years there were also a Protestant (1905) church, a mechanics’ institute, a sawmill and other stores.
In 1924 the balance of the Squattleseamere estate was taken for closer settlement. Despite the drainage works in the southern low-lying lands, extensive flooding occurred in 1946, necessitating further works. However, soldier-settlement farms and good primary-production prices ushered in a period of prosperity, and the Victorian municipal directory (1949) recorded Bessiebelle as having a general store, a mechanics’ institute, a church, sporting facilities and a pastoral and agricultural society. An infant-welfare centre was also opened.
The general store has since closed. The school had 21 pupils in 1999 and closed in 2005.
Immediately north of the Squattleseamere pastoral run there was the Ardonachie run, enclosing Mount Eccles. Much of the land was bestrewn with volcanic rock which was used to build elaborate sheepwashes and yards (1848-64). They are intact and heritage-listed, and accessed from Lake Gorrie Road. Samuel Gorrie was the proprietor of Ardonachie.
Bessiebelle’s census populations have been:
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At the 2011 census, farming in Bessiebelle and environs accounted for 46.5% of employment, including 10.9% for dairying.
P.L. Yule, From forest, swamp and stones: a history of the Shire of Minhamite, Warrnambool, c1988
W.J. Pettit, History of Bessiebelle and district, nd