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Coo-ee: Cashel the doomed

By Simon Ruppert

In the late 19th century, Cashel near Dookie was a village like many others in the Benalla region.

It provided services needed by farmers in the nearby area. The thriving village contained two hotels, a police station, a general store, a National bank, churches, a butcher’s shop, a smithy, schools, newspaper publishers and post and telegraph offices.

It was the overnight stop for a stagecoach service between Benalla and Shepparton.

Coo-ee: The camp store

Court cases were heard in Cashel. A growing cemetery provided final resting places for its dead and a hall provided a place for community entertainment that women and children could share.

As its name suggested, Cashel at the foot of Mount Major was founded by Irish immigrants from Tipperary in 1872.

Cashel Cemetery

The original Rock of Cashel in Tipperary is reputed to be the site where St Patrick converted the King of Munster and his followers.

Toota one of Benalla's most memorable characters

More importantly, it still contains the remains of early Celtic and medieval buildings.

Cashel in Australia had a brighter future than most rural villages, perhaps rivalling Benalla.

An experimental farm had begun work in 1877 at Cashel. This became Dookie Agricultural College in 1886. And the railway was coming.

The railway was expected to push from Shepparton to Cashel to service the village and its college.

Coo-ee: A parachute jump

Then Cashel met with disaster. In 1879, the railway was terminated three kilometres away from the village.

Dookie formed around the rail terminus. With the prospect of cheap railway transport to markets in Melbourne, 30 wineries were quickly established around Dookie.

The Rock of Cashel in Ireland

The wineries planted 200 hectares of vines. A distillery was built.

Meanwhile Cashel languished. Intense efforts by a railway extension league through the last years of the 19th century failed to get the railway extended through Cashel.

Coo-ee: The circle of love

Services provided in Cashel began to drift to Dookie.

In the 1890s, the Dookie wineries, like most wineries in the region, were attacked by the phylloxera insect.

There was no defence against it and no cure for fungal infections of the vines that resulted.

Today, wineries defend against phylloxera by using resistant American root stock. Like many wineries at that time, Dookie wineries ripped out their vines and burnt them.

Dookie’s misfortune was no comfort to Cashel residents. The misfortune did nothing to have the railhead extended.

Coo-ee: Benalla’s poet

With the collapse of winemaking in Dookie, the State Government was even less interested in having the Shepparton/Dookie line join with the Yarrawonga line.

Then on February 4, 1900, a second disaster befell Cashel.

A train near Cashel 1875

Nearly all Cashel’s buildings were engulfed in fire. Only one hotel, the Rock of Cashel, the bank, the school and the hall survived.

Coo-ee: Kerang’s White Clocktower

The destroyed buildings were not rebuilt. Instead, remaining businesses in Cashel moved to Dookie.

The Rock of Cashel limped on, providing refreshment to the disappearing village until the Licence Reduction Board took its licence.

By 1914, Cashel was a ghost town.

Now a privately owned former bank and a small building housing an automatic telephone exchange are all that keep company with the slumbering dead of Cashel’s cemetery.