While the Pioneer Settlement looks at the history of the region, the site has its own distinct and interesting history too.
In 1962, Swan Hill community members and senior members of the State Government decided to explore the possibility of purchasing the PS Gem for Swan Hill to use as an art gallery, and as the beginnings of an open air, living history museum.
They planned to build a Mallee town to display their Gem and needed some buildings – and they got them. Some were donated by locals who wanted to help, others were built for specific purposes. Slowly a town grew – imitating the growth of the true towns of the Swan Hill region.
As the town grew, locals and visitors saw a possible home for their own loved but redundant items. At the same time, staff scoured the countryside – as far afield as South Australia and Queensland – for objects to help them get closer to their goal of recreating a lost, living past.
Horse drawn farming equipment was sourced and plans were soon afoot to follow overseas examples of growing crops and keeping livestock in the old fashioned way. Paddocks were fenced on Pental Island and machinery was demonstrated as the first step in that project.
Other large machinery like traction engines, tractors and stationary engines was also sourced, supporting the storyline of the development of the Mallee from wilderness to civilisation
In 1966 the Pioneer Settlement was ready to be opened to the public and they came, in ever increasing numbers. By the 1970s, the Pioneer Settlement was one of the most popular tourism destinations in Victoria, if not Australia. People from around the country flocked to see what the people of Swan Hill had wrought at Horseshoe Bend on the Little Murray.
The Settlement introduced a new concept to Australian tourism, a concept that many would go on to emulate. The Pioneer Settlement would always be known as the first of its type in Australia.
In 1970 the highest seal of approval was placed on the Settlement when Queen Elizabeth II came to see what all of the fuss was about.