Koonwarra is a rural village in South Gippsland, 8 km south of Leongatha. According to Bunce's Language of the Aborigines of the Colony of Victoria (1859), Koonwarra is an Aboriginal word meaning swan. The village is west of a bird habitat on the Tarwin River wetlands.
Although the land west of Koonwarra is undulating plain it was relatively isolated because of impassable swamp lands. To the north there are the once forested Strzelecki Ranges. It was not until 1873 that a track was surveyed from the vicinity of Korumburra to Meeniyan, passing through Koonwarra. Farm settlement began in 1879, but supplies by railway had to be brought from the Drouin railway station. A branch line from Morwell to Mirboo North (1886) improved matters, and the Great Southern Railway (1892) brought a rail service to Koonwarra.
Koonwarra’s town survey (1890), a store (1891) and a mechanics’ institute (1892) marked the village’s beginning. A school started in the hall in 1892. Civic infrastructure came rather later: the Lyrebird church, a transportable building constructed in 1903, a recreation reserve in 1899 and (finally) a proper school building in 1913. Koonwarra was described in the 1903 Australian handbook:
In the 1920s there was a local brickworks and in 1930 an Anglican church was built. The hall was rebuilt after the original building burnt down in 1938. A livestock saleyard was opened in 1982.
Passing tourist traffic in the South Gippsland Highway stimulated village growth in the 1990s. There is a winery at Lyrebird Hill west of the village and a market day once a month. The school, however, closed in 1993 and the church buildings were recycled as halls in Leongatha. South of the village there are spectacular timber trestle bridges for the railway that closed in 1992. The line is now a recreational rail trail.
Koonwarra has a general store, a hall, a recreation reserve and a restaurant. Its census populations have been:
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At the 2011 census, dairy farming accounted for 7.9% of employment and other farming 5.8%.
Koonwarra, ‘back to’ March 12, 1965, 1965
Fred Holt, Koonwarra my home 1878-2000, Koonwarra, 2001