Medium sized service centre in the heart of the Western District.
Casterton is a relatively small rural centre of about 2000 people located on the banks of the Glenelg River in a valley surrounded by rolling hills. Situated 352 km west of Melbourne and 63 km west of Hamilton on the Glenelg Highway, it is a service centre to a large pastoral, mixed farming, timber-producing and dairying district near the South Australian border. Casterton has a golf course, a racecourse, a caravan park, a sports and leisure centre and there are numerous sporting facilities in Island Park, off Murray St. There are a number of scenic attractions in the area.
The Kanalgundidj clan (part of the Jardwadjali language group) are thought to have occupied this area prior to white settlement. The first Europeans in the area were the party of surveyor Thomas Mitchell which passed through the area during the Australia Felix expedition of 1836. Mitchell wrote quite extensively of an Aboriginal woman and her child whom he met nearby, bestowing upon her the gift of a tomahawk. He then headed south and encountered the Henty brothers at Portland. His reports of good pasturage encouraged them to move inland in 1837, marking the start of European settlement in the Western district. They took up 28 000 ha of land in the area and an original homestead, 'Muntham', still stands between Casterton and Coleraine.
As was the case throughout Australia, the indigenous people lost access to their lands as a result of white settlement and so occasionally fed upon the sheep which gradually displaced their traditional food sources. In retaliation for what whites saw as 'theft' a massacre of Aborigines occurred at a camping and corroboree site now known as Murdering Flat. They were allegedly shot with bolts, nails and gravel loaded into a cannon. Protector of Aborigines, George Robinson, remarked that the majority of stories about Aboriginal depredations in the area were "grossly fallacious or shamelessly exaggerated". By 1857 James Bonwick observed that "The tribe is nearly extinct" and he reflected upon the degree to which alcoholism had spread through the community as the traditional culture collapsed.