The Masters House which consists of a timber and corrugated iron dwelling located close to the bank of the Murray River on Gunbower Island, 6.5 kilometres northeast of the town of Gunbower, and remnant exotic plantings in the vicinity of the house.
Frederick Masters was reputedly living in a bark hut on Gunbower Island by the early 1860s. From 1874 this site became part of the Gunbower State Forest. As one of a handful of commercial fishermen who worked along the length of Gunbower Island, Frederick Masters is said to have built his own boats and took his catch to market in Echuca and surrounding towns by horse and cart. In the early 1890s Frederick commenced payment for a one-acre Residence Area under the Land Act. During the period of the Echuca river trade between the late 1850s and the late 1880s a riverboat landing stage was located in the vicinity of the Masters House. Frederick and Emma had twelve children. Emma died in 1889, Frederick in 1905 and their son William (Bill) took over as a commercial fisherman, sending fish direct to market by train after the railway reached Gunbower in 1915. He was also a shearer and cut firewood for the pumps of the Cohuna Headworks. The family presence along the river bank intensified in 1917 when William's younger brother Robert and his wife Emily and three children obtained a half-acre Residence Licence a short distance to the north. Robert also cut firewood, fished and worked as a labourer for the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission. In 1918 both William and Robert obtained additional two-acre Residence and Garden licenses. When Robert died in 1936 his family left the area. William died in 1952 and his wife Mary lived in the old house until she died in 1960. Her son James (Jim) stayed and continued the tradition of fishing and shearing. Jim's son Robert lived on the site for a period up until 2010. From the early 1970s the family established an ongoing tradition of maintaining the old house and holding family reunions centred at the building.
The Masters House is a five-roomed dwelling made up of a two-roomed gabled pavilion facing the Murray River and a smaller single-roomed gabled pavilion, which are connected by skillion-roofed additions. The buildings are of bush-pole post and beam construction and are clad with Red Gum weatherboards. Roofs are of corrugated iron on bush-pole rafters. Early internal linings include a variety of lining boards and some hessian and paper. A few remnant garden plants including vines and fruit trees surround the house.
This site is part of the traditional land of the Yorta Yorta people.
How is it significant?
The Masters House satisfies the following criterion for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register:
Criterion B Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria's cultural history
Criterion D Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects
Criterion G Strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons. This includes the significance of a place to Indigenous peoples as part of their continuing and developing cultural traditions.
Why is it significant?
The Masters House is significant at the State level for the following reasons:
The Masters House is significant as a rare surviving riverbank residence of a Murray River fishing family, which was in use for over eighty years by three generations of commercial fishermen. Commercial fishing was widely practiced on the River Murray from first settlement until the 1950s, but there are no other known remaining dwellings associated with commercial fishing on the Murray River in the state. There is ample oral and documentary evidence of the family's activities on this site. (Criterion B: Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria's cultural history)
The Masters House is significant as a fine example of the living conditions experienced by people living on Crown Lands who engaged in the exploitation of a variety of natural resources including fishing and firewood gathering. Those who took up this way of life had little capital but they made a significant contribution to the economy of the state. They frequently lived in the bush near to their resource, either illegally or under a permissive occupancy. The Masters House stands within a clear and intact context of the Murray River as the fishery, the forests for firewood cutting and the irrigation works that consumed firewood and provided employment. There is ample oral and documentary evidence of the involvement of three generation of the Masters family in fishing, firewood collection, labouring on irrigation works and shearing on nearby stations. (Criterion D: Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects)
The Masters House is significant as a fine example of a type of settlement on un-alienated Crown Land that paralleled selection under the Land Acts. From the early 1890s the Masters' riverside site was occupied under a Residence Licence, one of the less well-known forms of permissive occupancy of land made available under the Land Acts. While the Land Acts from the 1860s were primarily concerned with making land available for selection, the underlying motivation of 'opening up the land' led legislators to allow for occupation of Crown Land for a variety of other purposes. Like the Residence Area provision of the Miners' Right before it, the system enabled people with few resources to reside and cultivate a garden on a small area of Crown Land with some degree of security. Such licences were often taken up in undeveloped areas and on the fringes of more orthodox settlements. There are detailed records of negotiations over these licenses between the Masters family and the Gunbower State Forest administration and Lands Department. (Criterion D: Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects)
The Masters House is also significant for the following reasons, but not at the State level:
The Masters House is socially significant at a local level as the residence of a Gunbower Island fishing family over three generations. The ongoing attachment of the extended family to this place is demonstrated by their annual gatherings at the house, which have occurred since the early 1970s. (Criterion G: Strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons. This includes the significance of a place to Indigenous peoples as part of their continuing and developing cultural traditions.)