Baw Baw Shire

Baw Baw Shire was formed in 1994 by the amalgamation of the former Shire of Buln Buln, the former rural city of Warragul, most of the former Shire of Narracan and part of the former Shire of Upper Yarra. The new shire covers 4034 sq km in West Gippsland and the administrative centre is at Warragul, 102 km east of Melbourne.

Baw Baw is thought to be an Aboriginal expression for ghost or bandicoot, and is the name of a mountainous plateau east of Melbourne and directly north of Moe. The Mount Baw Baw alpine village attracts both downhill and cross country skiers.

Mount Baw Baw is in the north of the shire, surrounded by alpine and cool temperate forests. The area's most productive industry has been timber harvesting. In the south of the shire there are the Strzelecki Ranges and their foothills, enclosing productive dairy land from the south of Trafalgar to Ellinbank and Longwarry. Although the Strzelecki Ranges are productively more significant than the Baw Baw plateau, the name was possibly too hard to spell or explain as the name for a shire. (Paul Strzelecki was an influential explorer of Gippsland, 1840-41.)

Settlement of the Baw Baw Shire's area came from the north through gold mining (Matlock, Walhalla etc, c1862) and along the Gippsland track which approximated the future railway/freeway corridor. Forest covered hills and swamps hampered settlement, but the Gippsland railway provided an all-weather transport route. Towns such as Drouin and Warragul sprung up and local government started with the Buln Buln Shire (Drouin) and the Narracan Shire (Trafalgar) in 1878. Warragul Shire was excised from Buln Buln in 1881 and Morwell Shire was excised from Narracan in 1892. Narracan Shire was further reduced when Mirboo Shire was created in 1894.

Farming, and especially dairy farming, became the staple industry. The brown coal industry lay outside Narracan Shire in the Latrobe valley, but there were small mines at Coalville.

The Gippsland railway (1878) had branch lines from Warragul to Noojee (dairy produce, timber) and from Moe to Walhalla (gold, minerals, timber, dairy produce) and to Thorpdale (timber, potatoes, dairy produce).

North of the railway, of equal importance to timber harvesting, there is water harvesting. The Thompson Lake (1984) holds 1,068,000 megalitres and is a drought reserve source for Melbourne. Water is carried by tunnel to the Upper Yarra reservoir.

Tarago Reservoir (1969, 37,580 megalitres) near Neerim South supplies Westernport and the Mornington Peninsula.

Blue Rock Lake (1984, 208,000 megalitres), north of Moe, supplies the Latrobe valley, much of the water used for coolant for electric power generation.

Moondarra Reservoir (1950, 30,300 megalitres) supplies Morwell, Rosedale, Traralgon and other nearby towns.

The three main towns along the railway/freeway corridor, and their populations have been at the 2006 and 2011 census:

town population
  2006 2011
Drouin 6858 9368
Warragul 11,498 13,081
Trafalgar 2301 3044

They had 59% of the shire's population at the 2011 census.

Baw Baw Shire's census populations have been:

census date population
1996 32,919
2001 34,632
2006 37,179
2011 42,864

At the 2011 census, education accounted for 6.5% of employment and dairy farming 3.7%. Dairy farming declined between the 2006 and 2011 census:

dairy farming
year No. employed % of all employment
2006 856 5.1
2011 732 3.7

Further Reading

Baw Baw Shire heritage study stage 1, volume 1: thematic environmental history, Brunswick, 2006

Buln Buln, Narracan and Warragul Shires entries