Forrest is a rural township on a river flat in the northern Otway Ranges in western Victoria, 24 km south-east of Colac.
The river flat is on the West Barwon River, and farming activity began there in the 1880s. The settlement was originally known as Yaugher, and the Yaugher primary school was opened in 1885. When a railway line was opened from Birregurra into the Barwon Valley in 1891 the terminus at Yaugher was renamed Forrest. The name was a compliment to Charles Forrest, Colac shire councillor and member of the Legislative Assembly for Polwarth (1889-94).
The Forrest railway terminus served several purposes: tourists in the summer months, the changeover point for traffic to Apollo Bay, timber loading from the forests around Barramunga, further south in the ranges, and the receiving point for milk and cream deliveries. Livestock and hops were also grown locally.
In addition to Barramunga there was also the Otway saw mill settlement, about 10 km south-east of Forrest. It had a post office and a school until destroyed by fire in 1926.
By 1893 there was a mechanics’ institute, a hotel and Anglican and Methodist churches in Forrest. A Catholic church was later built. Forrest was described in the 1903 Australian handbook:
Forest fires made saw millers transfer their sites from the logging areas to the township. This trend accelerated after World War II as roads and motor transport improved. The railway closed in 1957. During the early 1960s the West Barwon Reservoir, a few kilometres south of Forrest, was built, bringing a reticulated supply to the town.
Forrest is an entry point to the eastern Otway Ranges and has moderate tourism. A caravan park was opened in 1976. The road through Forrest from Colac to Apollo Bay also takes in Mount Sabine, a lookout in the Otway Ranges. Forrest has a general store, a hotel, a guest house, a public hall, a caravan park, an Anglican-Uniting church, a recreation reserve, and a school (38 pupils in 2014). There are large pine plantations to the south.
Forrest’s census populations have been:
|Forrest and environs||2011||238|
G.A. Facey, Early Forrest, Barramunga and Apollo Bay, Anglesea, c1979
Norm Houghton, Forrest ... The first 85 years, the author, 1976
Norm Houghton, By the Barwon: a history of Forrest and Barramunga, Geelong, 2005
Norm Houghton, Sawdust and steam: a history of the railways and tramways of the eastern Otway Ranges, Melbourne, 1975
Pam Jennings, Hop growing at Forrest, Forrest, 2008
Ann Buchanan, Forrest school: the first 100 years 1885-1985, Forrest, 1985