Poowong, a rural town in the western Strzelecki Ranges, is 30 km south of Drouin and 95 km south-east of Melbourne. It lies at the junction of a trail cut from Lang Lang into Gippsland and another cut south from Drouin. McDonalds Track (1862) was an access route that was very influential in having settlers traverse the Strzelecki Ranges. According to Bunce's Language of the Aborigines of the Colony of Victoria (1859), Poowong is an Aboriginal word meaning carrion.

Farm selections were first taken up at Poowong in about 1874. Among them was Caleb Burchett from Brunswick who took up a selection just south of the future town in 1876. He was a strong supporter of the first Wesleyan church (1878), a shire councillor, father of the district’s historian Franklin Burchett and grandfather of the renowned left-wing journalist, Wilfred Burchett.

The Poowong township was surveyed soon after the church (with the first school) opened. Many settlers, it appears, were devout: in addition to the Wesleyan church, there were Anglican and Presbyterian churches (1884, and 1890).

There were also hill settlements. In 1878 Danish settlers from northern Victoria came to Poowong East, pausing at Scotts hotel (Poowong) on their way along McDonalds Track. They obtained approval to open a school two years later. Another school was opened for farm settlers at Poowong North in 1885.

The fertile, moist hills around Poowong grew dense timber, in places almost suffocating understorey bracken and bushes. Tree felling and ring-barking revealed the fertile slopes that could be sown down for pasture. They also revealed bracken and scrub to the daylight, which could colonise the slopes in a good season. Exotics such as thistles could also flourish. The new vegetation was a haven for rabbits. Farmers could be locked in war with nature for decades, but determined farmers could prosper. The Poowong butter factory opened in 1892, and livestock was sold through a saleyard attached to the hotel. A shire saleyard replaced it in 1899. In 1903 Poowong was described in the Australian handbook:

Until 1891 Poowong was administered by the Buln Buln shire (Drouin). When the Poowong and Jeetho shire was created the shire hall was built at Jeetho, south of Poowong. The headquarters later moved to Korumburra.

Poowong was without a railway. The Great Southern Railway (1890) skirted the area to the south, and a short-lived line to Strzelecki from Koo Wee Rup came no closer than Poowong East. Nevertheless Poowong maintained a fairly steady population of around 600 from 1910 to 1960. There were closer-settlement farm schemes and the Poowong East and North schools, which had closed, re-opened in 1911 and 1922. A town progress association was formed in 1910 and was instrumental in building a swimming pool (1926) in a basin of the Bass River. The mechanics’ institute and athenaeum, dating from a locally-sawn timber building constructed in 1884, hosted roller skating for several years. After the second hall burnt down in 1936 (like the first one did in disastrous fires in 1898), a brick building replaced it.

Poowong’s two main postwar additions were an infant welfare centre (1959) and a new swimming pool (1963). The most serious loss was the takeover of the butter factory by the Drouin Co-operative in 1986 and its almost immediate closure. Improved road conditions, however, put factories at Longwarry and Leongatha within reasonable reach. Several of the village schools closed in the postwar years; Poowong became a group school in 1949 and a consolidated school in 1958.

Poowong has kept most of its amenities and has indoor and outdoor sports venues. The Wesleyan chapel, the Anglican church and the hotels are ornaments of the town’s streetscape. For most of the year the town’s backdrop is green hills, sometimes mist enshrouded. Another relic is the Poowong East mechanics’ institute hall, built in 1885 and renovated in 1990. Its honour board records numerous names of Danish settler families.

Planning was underway from 2013 to redevelop the Poowong Recreation Reserve used by the Poowong Football Netball Club, Poowong Loch Cricket Club and Poowong Tennis Club. Poowong consolidated school had 124 pupils in 2014.

Hong Kong investors purchased United Dairy Power (UDP) that processed milk and yoghurt products at Poowong in 2014.

Census populations have been:

census date population
  Poowong Poowong and environs
1891 69  
1911 646  
1921 628  
1947   542
1961   636
2001 302  
2006 287 587
2011 318 610

At the 2011 census, dairy farming accounted for 13.9% of employment in Poowong and environs and 17.6% of the population recorded affiliation with the Uniting church, compared with 4.7% for Victoria.

Further Reading

Franklin Burchett, Memories of the Poowong district, Poowong, 1947

Joseph White, The history of the Shire of Korumburra, Korumburra, 1988

N.A. Petersen, Close to nature’s heart, East Poowong, 1951

Ross Hartnell, Pack tracks to pastures: a history of Poowong district, Poowong, 1974, 2009

Since we were a century: the Poowong community 1974-1999, Poowong, 1999

George Burchett and Nick Shimmin, Memoirs of a rebel journalist: the autobiography of Wilfred Burchett [ch 1-5], Sydney, 2005

Arthur Henry’s memoirs: the writing of an old man with a young man’s mind, Poowong, 2003