‘Leave the place in better condition’

Kevin Breen and his five brothers and sister grew beside Deep Creek.

Robert Hall 

Local waterways are often interwoven into the lives and histories of the families that live beside them. Deep Creek is inseparable from the Breen family’s everyday life and has been for seven generations. 

The Breen family’s connection to Darraweit Guim came through an 18-year-old Irish ancestor, James McCabe, who arrived in Victoria in 1835. He found the property in the 1850s while working as a bullock dray driver travelling from Melbourne to the goldfields, and in 1867 established a pub that watered the locals till it was replaced with the existing house in the 1930s. 

Kevin Breen and his five brothers and sister grew up in this weatherboard farmhouse beside Deep Creek. 

“We had our own swimming hole in a bend in the creek below the house, with a little sandy beach, a big deep water hole and a rope on a tree above it. We spent our summers in the creek swimming,” Kevin said. 

“Our childhoods were spent around the creek. When you weren’t swimming in the heat of the day, you were messing around and roaming up and down the creek. 

“Local cousins and friends would team up when cousins came from Melbourne. As soon as the kids got out of the car, we would head off and wander up the creek all day. 

“We (also) hosted the Darraweit Guim cricket and footy ground. As kids, our job was to get the cricket balls out of the creek.” 

The ‘cricket ground’ was otherwise used for dairy cattle, part of their mixed farming operation. Originally milked by hand and the cream carted to the butter factory in Kilmore, the cows grazed on both sides of the creek. Most days Kevin and his brothers would be sent across to round up the cows and bring them across the creek to the milking shed. 

“In those days, there was no sense of protecting trees or anything else and the cows grazed right down into the creek,” Kevin said. 

Apart from the big old established red gums and willows, there was barely a tree in sight along the creek. 

The native fauna was also treated differently then. Growing up, they didn’t see a kangaroo or wombat at all. Both were hunted by the broader community. 

“The environment was seen as an inexhaustible resource, but that has changed now,” Kevin said. 

“Fifteen years ago, Melbourne Water removed all the willows between McCabe’s bridge and the Darraweit bridge. That was really the catalyst (for change).” Following this work came the financial support to fence off the creek and start the waterway rehabilitation. 

There were many difficulties – wallabies and wombats, floods and fires – but the vegetation slowly restablished itself. Birds returned in greater numbers. Platypus were observed. 

The fires of 2014 provided an opportunity to get on top of the gorse. Annual follow up is required but the property is radically changed for the better. 

The Breen family is keen to leave an intergenerational benefit. 

“We have very much appreciated what we have inherited here, and our guiding philosophy now is to leave the place in a better condition,” Kevin said. 

For 60 years, the extended family has had a special day when they come together under the shade of the majestic red gums. Beneath the trees, their now 98-year-old aunt always remarks, “Isn’t this wonderful?” 

Kevin and his brother, Peter, reckon she is thinking back, comparing the place to the way it used to look when it was stripped of vegetation.