In the early 1870s, we find John Swannell, a man of unyielding determination, ready for his next adventure.
After exhausting all the pioneering opportunities in the Pentland Hills region, he had quite the list of accomplishments: from opening quartz gold mines to restoring bridges and building hotels. But he wasn't done yet.
His thirst for exploration led him to native land at Rowans Swamp, although the name wasn't quite appealing and swiftly rebranded to Lake Rowan, thanks to the marketing department!
Located between Yarrawonga and Ballan, his property had no passing traffic, so John decided to take matters into his own hands. He organised a working bee with George Clyne on the plough and Mr. West in charge of locating the survey pegs. Their hard work resulted in a 23-mile road that would lead travellers directly to his new settlement.
John's rapid progress relied on his unwavering support for local farmers. He provided them with everything they needed to get established, with an understanding that he'd be repaid once they recouped returns on their land. His meticulous planning ensured that the district had suitable holdings for choice selectors.
As his family continued to grow, so did his township. John opened a butchery and a fine hotel connected to his expanding store, both of which he skillfully operated from his days in Pentland Hills. His efforts even attracted the National Bank from Melbourne to open a branch at Lake Rowan, initially located in his premises. This partnership was so successful that the bank eventually built its own brick building.
Soon, a local newspaper was in circulation, a State School opened, a public hall was built, and a large police barracks took shape, all constructed from brick. Mr. Dickens ran another store, and Mr. Irvine managed a bustling blacksmith's shop.
However, John's boundless energy and enthusiasm couldn't always keep up with his bank account. Financial difficulties led to the Supreme Court declaring his estate bankrupt in August 1878, with debts totalling £289 10. 4d. A trustee was appointed, but John's resilience shone through. He launched release motions that appeared to be successful, allowing him to continue operating his hotel. He also took on the role of caretaker for Mr. Chadwick's sheep farm while supplying rations for the prisoners at Lake Rowan Lockup.
In 1879, John passionately contributed to the debate through the local newspaper’s “Letter to the Editor” column about the impending railway and its route. He was a fervent advocate for the Lake Rowan region, emphasising its easy and affordable railway establishment due to minimal engineering requirements. This sparked heated debates and controversies among fellow letter-writers, all with their parochialism shining through.
By 1880, the local council, spurred on by John Swannell's unyielding spirit, invested over £1000 in local roads and bridges around the township. Sadly, John's remarkable journey came to an end in the same year. He battled a malignant tumour for nine months and passed away on April 27, at the age of 42. He left behind a wife, five children, and a legacy that most people could only dream of achieving.
There's no truer adage that fits John Swannell than "it is not the country that makes the man, but the man that makes the country".