Dartmouth is a small rural town in north-east Victoria near the headwaters of the Mitta Mitta River, 75 km south-east of Wodonga. It is 4 km downstream of Lake Dartmouth, Victoria’s largest water storage.
Dartmouth was named after the Dart River, now east of, and cut off by, Lake Dartmouth. The river was presumably named after the Dart River, England, although nineteenth century references also record Victoria’s river as the Dark.
Gold was officially reported as being discovered at Dart River in 1874. The goldfield was described in the Victorian municipal directory, 1884. It had five steam crushing mills for the ore and there was a post office. An allied mining settlement was Zulu Creek. Dart/Dark River had a school (1892-1902) and the directory continued to describe it at length until the 1930s. Dartmouth was recorded in a single line (1933) and its school had lasted only three years (1909-12). There are three heritage listed gold battery sites around Dartmouth.
Dartmouth came to the fore in 1970 when approval was reached under the River Murray Agreement for the building of the Dartmouth dam where several streams (including the Dart) converged at the Mitta Mitta’s headwaters. The history of the project was unusual in that an earlier proposal for a storage near the borders of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria (Chowilla) had been abandoned on the grounds of cost and high evaporation. It had been proposed chiefly to safeguard water for South Australia, and the Dartmouth project was conceived as holding water for slow release to the Murray River and downstream supply to South Australia. Its primary purpose became the storage of water for irrigation, domestic and livestock supply in Victoria and New South Wales.
Construction of Lake Dartmouth began in 1973. A planned township for the contractors and workforce was provided. It included a shopping centre, a hall, a primary school, sports facilities and a caravan park. In 1976 the town’s estimated population was 1650 people.
When completed in 1978 Lake Dartmouth had a capacity of 4 million megalitres (Eildon 3.39 million, Hume 3.04 million). There is also a hydroelectric power station. After the project’s completion the town was sold and by 1991 it had been sold again. Its potential as a resort was probably overstated, but there are a hotel, motel units and a caravan park. The Mitta Mitta River has been widened by weirs to form Lake Banimboola, adjacent to the former township.
No recent census data has been published for Dartmouth.