Merbein, on the Murray River in north-west Victoria, is 10 km west of Mildura.
Originally known as White Cliffs, the area was proposed for closer settlement in 1906, comprising irrigated, river-side farms with mixed farming further afield. Settlement began in 1909 when a pumping station for irrigation was opened, and the area was renamed Merbein, a word thought to be derived from an Aboriginal expression describing a local sand hill. Within a year there was also a Merbein South settlement. Schools were opened at Merbein (1911, in a Methodist hall) and at Merbein South (1913). In addition to the farm settlements, the Chaffey brothers had established their Mildura Winery at Merbein in 1911. The railway was extended from Mildura to Merbein in 1910.
Discharged and returned service personnel also took up soldier-settlement blocks in 1917, and a government vine-research station was established in 1919. Merbein’s population was heading towards 2000, and it had three fruit-packing factories (Aurora, and branches of Irymple Packing Company and Mildura Co-op), a distillery, a public hall, a picture theatre and several shops. In 1918 about 2000 ha were under intense fruit culture (grapes and a small amount of citrus) and about 3100 ha by 1935. Town amenities added during the 1920s and 1930s included a bowling club, a golf club (1926), the Kenny Park and a band rotunda. The park was named after E.J. Kenny, a local official of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
Although the population dipped below 2000 after World War II, there were sufficient children in Merbein, Merbein West and Birdwoodton to require a high school in 1960.
The Mildura Winery, on the cliffs overlooking the Murray River, was named Mildara in 1961 and has featured the Chaffey’s ‘Rio Vista’ homestead on the labels of several of its fortified products. In the postwar years the winery strengthened its production of dry reds, and later diversified interstate and into sparkling wines. It became Mildara Blass. Grapes are purchased from about 400 local growers.
Merbein has large recreation reserves at either end of the town, each with ovals. Kenny Park is the larger, with tennis, bowling and swimming facilities and a caravan park. There are also a hotel/motel, a P-10 college (566 pupils, 2014), a Catholic primary school (1928), a State primary school, three churches and a community health centre. The CSIRO closed the horticultural research station in 2011.
Merbein’s census populations have been:
Margaret Matthews, The south end of the settlement: a history of Merbein South, Merbein South school council, c1990
Bernadette Wells and Bronwyn Zrna, A pictorial history of Merbein 1909-1939 and Merbein: 100 years in pictures 1909-2009, Merbein, 1999 and 2009
From battlefield to block, Merbein District Historical Society, c2002