The first reported sighting by Europeans of the wide plain that the Aborigines called 'Omeo' was by the naturalist John Lhotsky from the southern alps in 1834.
The area was first visited by stockmen who drove stock through the region as early as 1835. In 1845 gold was found in the Livingstone Creek which runs through Omeo, this caused the population to boom and by 1901, Omeo was at its peak with a population of 9400. They were prosperous times. The main street, Day Avenue, was packed every night with people out strolling, shopping and enjoying the evening air. Hotels and cafes were doing a roaring trade with free-spending miners, and businesses were booming. Businesses began to establish themselves. Banks arrived. In 1889, the Colonial Bank of Australia. In 1892, the Commercial Bank. A J McDonald, one of the colony's leading architects designed the post and telegraph office and new courthouse. They were completed in 1891 and 1892 and remain unique for their architecture to this day.
The Post Office near its present location opened on 1 January 1858. However, two earlier offices in different locations named Omeo were open in 1851 and 1856 to 1857.
Earthquakes in 1885 and 1892, and the Black Friday bushfires of 1939, destroyed many buildings; many remain including the historical Omeo Bank House.
In 1851 Reverend W B Clark, a noted geologist, reported that he had found evidence of gold in quantities that would make the mining of it economically feasible. Alluvial deposits of gold were found in tributaries of the Livingstone Creek, and by the end of 1854, over 200 men were camped along its banks digging for gold, most of it being found within a meter or so of the surface. The Oriental Claims area alone produced an estimated 58,000 ounces of gold. By 1855, most of the shallow alluvial gold had been mined and the process of hydro-sluicing was introduced to the Omeo goldfields. In an operation that took nine months to complete a water race was constructed along the mountain slopes for a distance of almost nineteen kilometers. Giant flumes crossed gullies and ravines with the water arriving at about 190 feet above the creek and the alluvial deposits. Races were cut from almost every stream that could supply water. In the process, water blasted away the alluvial gold-containing gravel and the gravel slush was channeled into rows of wooden sluice boxes and the gold ore collected.
At a point when alluvial deposits were diminishing, a miner walked into E J Johnston's general store, to cash in some gold. Johnston paid the man his cash, but as he weighted the gold, he noticed something stuck to the pieces of ore. It was quartz. It heralded the meaning of reef mining. And a new boom. The first venture into quartz mining was at the Dry Gully field with the first battery being established at Mountain Creek. People came from all over the district to see a local identity, Miss Rogers, smash a large bottle of champagne over the wheel as it started up, and christen it the Mountain Maid. Bullock teams hauled multi-headed batteries up the mountains and across the alps to work the new found reefs. Smile of Fortune, Rip Van Winkel, Happy Go Lucky, The Joker, and Inexhaustable were some of the names given to the many reef mines that opened up.
The town today
The small town of Omeo is located in an attractive open and undulating plain, surrounded by high mountain ranges, and on the Great Alpine Road which links Bairnsdale with Bright and Wangaratta.
Fishing is a popular activity in the many creeks and waterways in the area, while there are many picturesque small communities and scenic lookouts on a number of the roads around Omeo.
The town centre of Omeo is situated on the slope of a hill along Day Avenue, offering scenic views over the many historical buildings in town. The A.M. Pearson Historical Park features the town's court house and the original police log lock-up. An extensive recreation park stretches from the commercial centre at Day Avenue right down to Livingstone Creek and features walking
tracks, a rotunda, and a swimming area in a wide section of the creek. Omeo's regional information centre is located at the German Cuckoo Clock Shop which displays a wide range of hand-crafted cuckoo clocks.
The alpine resorts of Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham are located less than an hour drive west of Omeo, and are popular with visitors all year round.
The town hosts a range of events including the Mountain Calf Sales and Hinnomunjie Picnic Races in March, an Easter Saturday Rodeo with a town market held at the court house gardens prior to the event, Easter Sunday Polo Match at Cobungra Station (20 minutes), Caravan & RV Muster and an Agricultural Show in November.
The town has a range of services including a Hospital, Chemist, Transport Services, Supermarket, Post Office, Shire Services, Banking, Engineering & Mechanical, and a range of Food & Accommodation outlets.
Attractions include the Justice Precinct which includes a working Court House built in 1893, the Oriental Claims, the Cuckoo Clock shop, and white water rafting on the Mitta Mitta River. The Cobungra River, Bundara River, Big River, and Mitta Mitta River around nearby Anglers Rest, as well as the Tambo River, all provide good trout fishing.
The Australian thriller Red Hill was filmed in and around the town. "Red Hill" tells the story of a fictional town, Red Hill and an escaped convict returning to the town to seek revenge on those who helped convict him.
The Cassilis Historic Goldfields - Omeo
Cassilis was named after a small township in Scotland. In the 1800s at the peak of the gold boom, it was once a thriving mining centre home to more than 500 people.
Gold bearing quartz reefs were first discovered in 1885 at Long Gully, and by 1889 there was a battery in operation as well as a general store, butchery, bakery and Mechanics' Institute hall. A private school had already been operating when a government school commenced in the hall in 1890. The schools produced exceptional results, with pupils under headmaster McDonald gaining the highest percentage of scholarships in the State for several years. Two hotels, a coffee palace, hairdressers, bookmakers, two bank agencies and two post offices were also in existence before.
The first hydroelectric power station in Victoria was established at Victoria Falls to provide power and light for the mine.
Of the reef mines, the Mt Hepburn and King Cassilis were the largest. The Mt Hepburn mine was an immense formation nearly a kilometre in length and as much as 15 metres wide. How ever the ore obtained was heavily mineralised, and gold was lost due to the lack of a smelting plant.
An extensive cyanide plant was constructed at King Cassilis mine about 1896, but was not a great success.
By the first world war, most of the available gold was depleted, and both mines closed down. The town rapidly declined and by 1933 there were only 34 inhabitants. The 1939 bushfires destroyed part of the town, and other buildings were taken away. Now Cassilis lies as a ghost town, with no commercial buildings in operation. Set in the 3600 hectare Cassilis Historical Area, the mines are well worth a visit, with many relics from the gold mining past.