A farming district, Iona is located 6 km south-west of Bunyip and 75 km south-east of central Melbourne. It was originally known officially as Bunyip South but more commonly as the Swamp and was created from the drained areas of the Koo Wee Rup swamp. Bunyip South was on the Bunyip River Drain, the main conduit for carrying water. Unemployed married men were encouraged to work on draining the swamp and to settle with their families on 20 acre farms created from the reclaimed land. It became probably Victoria’s most densely populated agricultural district.

A wooden tramline linked Bunyip to the small township which had a state school (1894), a grocery store, bakery and Pioneer Hall (1895). A creamery was opened in 1897, with 50 suppliers by 1900. The following year local farmers voted to change the name to Iona, after the island in the inner Scottish Hebrides which was the centre for Irish Monasticism, AD 560-850.

In 1907, Drouin Cooperative Butter Factory Company opened a cheese factory in Iona. As milk production declined, potato farming became more profitable and the factory finally closed in 1928. The Holdensen and Neilson Butter Company opened a creamery with a steam powered separator in 1912 and closed in 1921.

St John’s Presbyterian church was opened in about 1903. The Catholic church was constructed in 1900 and followed by a convent for the Sisters of St Joseph in 1914. St Joseph’s Catholic school opened in 1918. The Koo Wee Rup North State School was established in 1894 and changed its name to Bunyip South in 1899 and finally to Iona in 1905. Iona Primary School closed in 1993, seven months short of its centenary.

The Catholic presence in Iona is readily seen from the high tower of the red brick church (1940), paid for by generous parishioners. The convent school is equally impressive, although teaching ended there in 2000 when the Columba school opened in Bunyip.

Buffalo farming and an associated dairy industry was trialled in 2014. A natural gas plant TXU was constructed at Iona.

Iona’s census populations have been:

area census date population
Iona 1911 863
  1933 357
  1954 294
Iona and environs 2006 337
  2011 363

At the 2011 census, dairying, vegetable growing and other farming accounted for 17.1 percent of employment.


A little over 2 km west of Iona is the locality of Vervale. It had a post office (1909-67) but there is no record of a hall or school.

Further Reading

D.M. Nest, Call of the Bunyip: history of Bunyip, Iona & Tonimbuk 1847-1990, 1990

D.M. Nest, On the edge of the swamp: a history of the Iona Primary School No. 3201, 1894-1994, School Back-To Committee, 1994

Damian Smith, 100 years of a Catholic faith community: St Joseph’s Iona 1905-2005, 2005