The south eastern state of Victoria, although less than 3% of the total land area of Australia, has a quarter of its population; settlement by whites started in 1830 and in the 1850s gold attracted many settlers. Victoria's Aboriginal population, that is estimated to have been around 30,000 before Europeans arrived, declined as a result, but experiences a cultural revival today. Victoria is now the second most populous state in Australia, after New South Wales, with an population of over 5 million. Yet, in spite of being relatively densely populated, there are many places to get away from it all, beautiful lakes, shoreline and hills.
Mountains cover much of the eastern and central parts of the state and there are many National Parks with marvellous scenery. The Murray River, Australia's longest permanently flowing river, rises in the mountains in the east and flows to the north west, forming much of the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales. Because of human activity the river is now in serious decline. There used to be paddle steamers on the river in the old days, examples of which can still be seen in the town of Echuca and at the historic Pioneer Settlement, an open air museum in Swan Hill, Australia's first.
Further south is the Upper Yarra Valley with its centre of Warburton and the Yarra Ranges National Park, with its cool rain forests. The Dandenong Ranges, only 35 kilometres from Melbourne, offer walking tracks in the forests and the wonderful William Ricketts Sanctuary, a park filled with clay- and ceramic sculptures by William Ricketts (1898 - 1993) who often travelled to Central Australia during the fifties to live with tribal Aborigines: his sculptures, made over a period of over fifty years, reflect his philosophy, connecting with Aboriginal spirituality.