Barwon Downs is a rural village on the east branch of the Barwon River’s headwaters where they descend the southern slopes of the Otway ranges. It is 22 km in a direct line south-east of Colac, and considerably further by road.
The name is descriptive of the area, the downs referring to the hilly landscape. ‘Barwon’ was derived from an Aboriginal word thought to describe the magpie.
Farm settlement at Barwon Downs occurred during the early 1850s, but significant numbers of settlers did not take up farm properties until the early 1880s. A Bible Christian church was opened in 1884 and a school was opened in 1888. When a railway line was opened from Birregurra, through Barwon Downs and to several Otways settlements in 1891, farming and timber cutting expanded. Dairying, vegetable growing and firewood were the main activities.
Barwon Downs was described in the Australian handbook in 1903:
By 1907 Barwon Downs had stores, a Catholic church, a Presbyterian church (1901) and a public hall (1903). Timber mills were opened in 1933 and 1944, but the closure of the railway in 1957 signalled an end to that industry. The present main industries are dairying, mixed grazing and vegetables. There are a general store, hall, Catholic and Uniting churches. The school closed in 1993.
Barwon Downs’ census populations have been:
Winsome De Jong, Barwon Downs primary school 1888-1988, Barwon Downs
E.B. Gregory et al, Coast to country: Winchelsea, a history of the shire, Shire of Winchelsea and Hargreen Publishing Company, 1985
Pam Jennings, Farming the foothills: Pennyroyal, Murroon, Barwon Downs and Gerangamete, Geelong, 2008