Willow Grove is a small township in the foothills of the Great Dividing Ranges, 17 km north of Trafalgar in West Gippsland and 137 km east of Melbourne. In 1850 the Hill End pastoral run, bounded by the Latrobe and Tanjil Rivers, was established to depasture cattle from larger runs in Gippsland.
Gold was discovered in tributaries of the Tanjil River in 1859. A track was cut to the field and a township, Tangil, grew up on the river. At their peak, there were 1500 to 2000 people on the Baw Baw diggings.
Settlers also used the track from the mid-1860s selecting land along the Latrobe River and clearing the open forest. Farm produce was supplied to miners at Tangil and Walhalla and to railway camps at Moe. An eating house was at the junction with the Melbourne road, south of the Latrobe River. In 1883 La Trove River School commenced, north of the river. In 1889, north of the school, an old wine shanty was converted into a post office and the district was officially recognised as Willow Grove. The name is thought to be descriptive of the wild acacia that grew in the area which was known as ‘wild willow’ or ‘willow scrub’.
In 1892 a creamery was constructed near the post office and the post office was extended to encompass hotel, store and hall. The Australian handbook described the town in 1903:
A public hall was built in 1904.
When the swamps north of Trafalgar were drained, a track was cut to the town. Farmers then took their cream to the co-operative butter factory there and the creamery at Willow Grove closed in 1905. Dairying continues as Willow Grove’s main farm activity.
Willow Grove remained the focus for the farming district. The hotel’s licence expired in 1929 but another store and a garage were built. In 1933, the school was moved to the township reserve. The hall was destroyed by fire in 1952 but was soon replaced by a new building. A recreation reserve is used by sporting clubs. New Years Day sports were held from 1906 with foot-races, wood-chopping and trotting carnivals over the years.
Dairying has been the main farming activity, with some grazing. In the 1930s, willows were used for cricket bats and boxes for berry fruits. The township retains a post office school (75 pupils, 2014), hall, general store, tennis courts and recreation reserve. Nearby is Blue Rock Lake. Completed in 1983, an earth and rockfill wall dams the Tanjil River, and provides water for the Latrobe Valley. The lake has facilities for boating, fishing and picnics.
Census populations for Willow Grove have been:
|Willow Grove and environs||2011||569|
The changing years: a history of the Hill End, Willow Grove and Fumina South districts, 1972