There are several theories as to the origin of both the word and pronunication of “Watchem”.

One theory is that Watchem is derived from the Aboriginal name for wattle which grew prolifically near the Watchem Lake.

Alternatively, some believe that it comes from the Aboriginal “Blackfeller lie alonga lake to watchem wild cattle come from water, then blackfeller spear cattle.”

A third option is that the name was derived from an earlier name of a squatter’s holding, which lay within the boundaries of Banyenong West.

Regardless, it seems that the name came into being between 1860 and 1870. In the early years official documents such as Lands Department maps, Road Surveys and building applications, showed several variations of the name: Watchum, Watcham, and Watchem.

The spelling of “Watchem” became the standard from 1870 onwards.


Local Aboriginals

The country around the Watchem lake was the home of the Banyenong tribe and lead by “King Johnny”, who was considered far more civilised than the others.

It is believed that King Johnny would secretly warn the white residents of the district whenever he heard that his own people were going harm them. He and his partner were presented with rather large brass plates that were inscribed with “King Johnny” and “Queen Mary”.

Sheep Runs

The earliest known sheep run was in 1854 when Mr. Morton took up the plain country between Karyrie to Banyenong. In 1862 he sold off the portion known as Narraport  to a Mr. Lines. A second portion, later known as Morton Plains and Watchem was sold to Messrs. Mills and Nelson who built a homestead at Morton Plains.

During his occupation of the homestead, Mr. Mills introduced rabbits and let them run free. He realised his error when he discovered they were making burrows under the wool shed. This was around 1870, well before the first rabbit plaque of 1878.

First Selectors

The first land selected was by the Donohue family in 1873. This selection was situated south of the township. In 1874 Mr. Martin Donohue carted the first wool clip produced at Watchem to Ballarat, and the following year delivered the first Watchem grown wheat to the nearest rail station at Dunolly. Around 142 miles apart, this would have been a lengthy and ardous journey.

By mid 1874 many more families had selected land in the Watchem district including: Skewes, Ryan, Mahony and Connellan. 1875 saw rapid expansion with further selections granted to Fielding, Camp, Pickering, Merrett, Griffiths, Molony, Fry, McMahon, Moore, Digman, Hindmarsh, Downie, Freeland, Darcy, Naughton, O’Connor, Warren, Neal, Ackland, Donnan, McCombe, Bruce, Crombie, clark, Kennedy, Belleville, Maitland, Galvin, McCredden, Rooney, Palframan and Cave. Many of these names are familiar to today as as  descendents of these settlers are current local residents.

That same year (1875) a petition was sent to the Lands Department and a site for the township of Watchem was granted.