Quambatook is a rural township on the Avoca River, 40 km south-east of Kerang and 55 km south of Swan Hill. It is also on the railway line between Bendigo and Robinvale.
Quambatook is situated on the former Reedy Lake or Bael Bael pastoral run, taken up in 1845. The run’s area was 1500 sq km extending westwards from near Kerang to Lalbert. It was later subdivided, one of the holdings being Combertook and two others being named Quambatook East and West. It is likely that both expressions were derived from the one Aboriginal word, thought to mean a camp near water.
In 1870 a road was surveyed from Charlton to Swan Hill, passing along what was to become Quambatook’s main street. A year later part of the Quambatook pastoral run was subdivided into 130 hectare farm selections. Towards the end of the decade a hotel (1878), a Catholic church and a private school (1879) were opened. The Avoca River Trust (1881) began the constructions of weirs on the river for water conservation. The Quambatook flour mill (25 km southwards on the Avoca River) was opened in about 1880.
In 1894 the Quambatook township was surveyed, coinciding with the sale of township allotments and the opening of the railway. Quambatook was the terminus until the line was extended to Ultima in 1900. A saleyard was opened in 1895 and the Quambatook Herald was first published in 1898.
Quambatook experienced severe droughts in 1902 and 1914, and in 1915 a District Water League was formed to agitate for supply from the Goulburn-Waranga system. Ultimately the district received stock water supply from the Waranga Western Channel and the Wycheproof Goshen channel from the Grampians storages.
In 1903 Quambatook was described in the Australian handbook:
In 1907 the subdivision of the Quambatook estate was concluded, and the town and the adjoining area’s population approached 500, with a larger population further afield dependent on Quambatook as a district centre. The Quambatook farmers’ journal and the Quambatook times began publication in 1910. (The Herald had amalgamated with a Boort newspaper.)
Quambatook became a mixed farming area, carrying sheep and cattle (some dairying), wheat and fruit.
With a town population once over 500 people, Quambatook has a good range of amenities: a golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a recreation reserve, two churches, a memorial hall, a group/district primary school, a community health centre, a hotel, a caravan park, shops, motor garages and a million bushel grain storage. Quambatook hosts the Australian Tractor Pull Championships.
The Bael Bael homestead (c1870s), just off the Lake Charm Road, next to Lake Bael Bael, is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
In September 2010 and again in January 2011 many parts of regional Victoria experienced widespread severe flooding. In Quambatook the Avoca River flooded many local roads and cut off the town.
Quambatook’s census populations have been:
At the census, the median age of its residents in 2006 was 47 years and in 2011 it was 53. The ageing of its community is reflected in the school’s enrolments: 54 in 1998, 12 in 2013 and 5 in 2014. The drought years were hard on towns with little or no supply of stock water, and poor grain yields.
Music producer and ABC Countdown host Ian 'Molly' Meldrum grew up in Quambatook, together with another musician, John Williamson. The John Williamson Museum, honouring the country music singer, operated in the town for two years before it was damaged by fire in 2005. In 2010 the Gannawarra Shire donated the town's former child health centre to the Quambatook Historical Society for a museum to be re-established as the Quambatook Historical Centre with a broader focus on the region's history.
Allan E. Keating, And then the Mallee fringe, the author, 1983