Yarrawonga a Victorian building leader

By Robert Muir

Over the last two decades Yarrawonga has been one of regional Victoria’s fastest growing communities with more than 1,500 new homes built since the mid-1990s.

Before the 1990s, barring a few homes in River Road Yarrawonga, there were no homes in the big area bordered by River Road, Woods Road, the Murray Valley Highway and Botts Road – just a few businesses along the highway.

The vast majority, therefore, of the approximate 200-hectare land was vacant land. But all that has changed, and how! 

Along River Road, Woods Road and the Murray Valley Highway, it’s fully built. Only a little land along Botts Road and part of adjoining Jane Road is undeveloped. And Botts Road is filling up fast.

In that overall area alone in Yarrawonga, an estimated total of 900 homes have been built in the last 25 years. 

In addition, there has been construction of major facilities including Permewans (now W B Hunter), Bentley-Woods Health and Aged Care, Denis Medical Clinic (since relocated), Sacred Heart Primary School, and the Country Buddies Child Care and Kindergarten.

Also in the mid-1990s, the Botts property which was 400 hectares of a beef property, was sold and became the residential Silverwoods Estate, which also comprises a championship the ‘Black Bull’ 18-hole golf course. 

Black Bull Golf Course is now surrounded by some 250 new homes. When completed, Silverwoods will have up to 950 residential lots around the Thomson Perrett-designed golf course.

In 2020, Sebel Yarrawonga will be opened and be a spectacular new addition to Silverwoods. Sebel Yarrawonga is a $48 million luxury international 4.5 star boutique hotel and apartments.

On the eastern side of Yarrawonga alone – taking in the above two large areas, as well as the 

Gorman land on the highway’s other side, in Woods Road - an estimated total of 1500 new homes have been built over the past 25 years.

Back then, developers quickly caught on to Yarrawonga’s potential for growth as over 2000 residential lots came on stream; the same number of dwellings are estimated to have been built in the same timeframe.

Off the Benalla Road in Yarrawonga, on the eastern side in Lillis Drive, some 30 homes have been built since the 1990s and additional homes in streets joining up with Lillis Drive. Also off Benalla Road, closer to town on the western side, has been the Havenstock Drive development of homes. 

Of course, in other parts of Yarrawonga, there have been many other homes, organisations and commercial enterprises including additional health care service aged care facilities Karana and Allawah, new or extensions to schools, the town’s first food outlets of McDonald’s and KFC, and the Bunnings warehouse and more recently a new Toyota Dealership.    

For much of at least the past 25 years, Yarrawonga would surely be the leading town in Victoria for a population of its size regarding building activity, with at least 2000 new homes.

Even back in the late 1980s and the 1990s, Yarrawonga experienced intensive building activity from 1987 to 1989, 1993 to 1995 and from 2002 to 2004. 

As examples, new Yarrawonga dwellings for 1995 alone, following a breakout from tough economic times, totalled 143. In the years 2002, 2003 and 2004, new homes totalled 104, 135 and 98 respectively. Over a 10-year period from 1995 to 2004, permits for 826 new homes were issued by Moira Shire Council.

Yarrawonga has held its own against the most progressive rural towns in Victoria and the Riverina according to retired Yarrawonga real estate agent Brian Keenan.

“We’re way ahead of the field on the average,” Mr Keenan, who had 35 years as a real estate agent and served 16 years on Moira Shire Council, including a term as mayor in 2012/13, said.

“People responsible for getting Yarrawonga really going from the 1990s were Barry Donaghey around the lake area and Jim Lillis off the lake in the southern area.

“It’s a natural expansion of a world-wide trend for people to try to be near water and our water is aesthetically pleasing. 

“Yarrawonga’s been wonderful. Nothing succeeds like success, as the foreshore was developed - the lake which is the keystone to all with water sport attractions, the Grey Nomads finding the town bringing property buyers here. Quite a percentage of sales is people finding Yarrawonga for the first time.

“I really believe we’ll see more housing all up to Bundalong and beyond to Rutherglen.”

If that type of housing expansion on productive agricultural land eventuated, it would contribute to “a national disaster” as far as Mr Keenan is concerned. “We’ve got to feed the people,” he said.

Owner of local building firm Lekeal Pty Ltd, Ken Stevenson, said he has built 400 homes throughout Yarrawonga since 2011, including 145 new homes in the area bordered by Murray Valley Highway, Woods Road, River Road and Botts Road, and 15 homes at Silverwoods.

“I built my first house in 2011 on the estate vineyard where the Drive-In was,” he said. 

“That whole former Drive-in area (bordering Botts Road and Murray Valley Highway) is complete with new homes. 

“The building growth has been fantastic,” Mr Stevenson said. 

“For a country town, Yarrawonga would be second to none in Victoria regarding the number of new homes.

“It’s creating employment opportunities with the likes of Bunnings, Silverwoods Resort and improvements to ClubMulwala and the golf club,” he said.

“I love the fact that it’s bringing enormous employment opportunities. The future looks pretty bright and because it’s creating employment opportunities for younger people, it means people are staying in the town.”

Yarrawonga/Mulwala has tremendous appeal to people wanting to move here to live according to Mr Stevenson. “People come here and fall in love with the town,” he said.

“They come here to retire. I had a case whereby a couple in Melbourne wanted a new hot water service for their house but couldn’t afford it. They sold their house for $800,000 and for the first time, bought a brand new car, a small caravan and built a house.

“A couple sold their house in Melbourne for $900,000 and bought up here for $500,000. Couples in their mid-30s want a change. I have five couples from Melbourne on the go, wanting to move to the country. They say it takes too long to get to work.”

Yarrawonga has dominated building activity in the Moira Shire for the last 30 years. The shire’s headquarters are located in Cobram but for many years, council planning and building staff were based in the Yarrawonga Town Hall to better handle the vast workload for the town and immediate surrounds such as Bundalong.

That method of operation currently happens in the Mulwala Civic Centre with Federation Council’s planning and building staff stationed in town two days a week, out of headquarters in Corowa.

Mulwala has been at the forefront of development throughout the Federation Council (formerly Corowa Shire) area, with more than 650 new tenements approved by council since January 2000.  

The new dwellings/tenements have been constructed throughout Mulwala, including the development of larger lifestyle blocks as well as smaller higher density neighbourhood lots. 

Although there have been no significant new developments in the past 19 years there have been substantial refurbishments to many facilities, such as the ClubMulwala, Mulwala Water Ski Club, Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club and DC on Lake Caravan Park.

The Mulwala commercial precinct and Business Park (Industrial Estate) are also growing and thriving areas.  

Federation Council, with the appointed consultants, GHD, is preparing the community profile and Local Strategic Planning Statement for the Federation Council area.

It will clearly define the growth for all towns and locations within the council area and will guide the future land development of the council area as a whole.

What has been clear is that Mulwala, for much of the past two decades, has been the leader in the number of new homes in the shire and seems set to continue as the leader.    

Director Andrew Kennedy of Kennedy Builders Mulwala credits the influx of many new arrivals to Yarrawonga Mulwala due to the prices of houses.

“l think it is to do with the good prices people get for their homes in Melbourne and moving to the great life style here,” he said.

Mr Kennedy compared the twin-town’s building splurge over his 30 years with Kennedy Builders. “When I started my apprenticeship (1989) we used to build about five homes a year and now we build 40-plus and do commercial work as well,” he said.

“I have seen Mulwala grow substantially since I started my apprenticeship, for example, the supermarket. For Mulwala to grow further we need to get more land developed for housing.”

Mulwala Progress Association President Robert Purtle OAM considers Mulwala, with its population of 2,161 as at the 2016 census, is in a league of its own regarding building activity for a similar size population.

“I can’t imagine what area with the same population as us has anywhere near the amount of building activity, especially new homes, over the last 20 years,” he said. 

“With Mulwala’s employment (which includes Thales Australia and three licensed clubs) and the retail industry and much else in Yarrawonga, Yarrawonga and Mulwala complement each other perfectly.”