Bulleen adjoins the eastern side of the Yarra River, opposite Heidelberg, 13 km north-east of central Melbourne. The land adjoining the river which curves around as a northern boundary of Bulleen is open space comprising public and private recreational facilities. The remainder of Bulleen is residential, where it merges with Templestowe Lower and Doncaster. It is flanked by the Koonung Creek and Eastern Freeway (1982) on the south, on the other side of which is Balwyn North.
The name Bulleen is derived from a Yarra billabong, characterised as Lake Bolin Bolin, thought to be Aboriginal for a place of loneliness. That does not square with the billabong flood plains being an important food source for the Aboriginal population. The name was given by Frederic Unwin to his Special Survey of eight square miles in 1841. The land was suitable for dairying and cereals, and formed several prosperous holdings with spacious homesteads.
In 1856 the Templestowe Roads Board was formed, which included Bulleen. The Board was noted for its impoverishment, which was not improved when Warrandyte was added to its area in 1873. Two years later on 7 May 1875, all the area from Bulleen to Warrandyte was proclaimed the Bulleen Shire. Contemporary descriptions of the shire make no mention of the Bulleen locality, and the name further slipped from view when the shire (from which Doncaster had been severed in 1890) changed its name to Templestowe Shire on 12 February 1892.
Being bordered on all but its eastern side by watercourses, with only two bridges (from Heidelberg and Balwyn North), Bulleen was cut off from central Melbourne. There was no public transport which came near it. Bulleen retained its rural landscape until well into the twentieth century, and the few land subdivisions sold poorly. Bulleen was a source of fresh vegetables for the armed forces during World War II, but dairying predominated from 1900s to the 1930s. Shopping could be done at one store, or across the bridge to Heidelberg. Residential subdivisions began to be taken up in the 1950s, and a primary school was opened in 1957. After a lapse of over 60 years Bulleen was again mentioned in the Victoria municipal directory in 1956.
Lacking fixed rail public transport, Bulleen was an ideal site for a drive-in shopping centre, which was built in 1974 and named Bulleen Plaza. A Catholic primary school opened in 1963. The area attracted the wave of second-home migrants who had prospered in early postwar inner Melbourne. The Italian Veneto Social Club was built near the Yarra flood plain and opened in 1973. To its north on Bulleen Road there was a drive-in theatre (c1964-85).
Bulleen's picturesque river valley attracted art patrons John and Sunday Reed, who bought a house and land in 1930. Their property and art collection became the Heide Museum of Modern Art. The Reeds' patronage of Sydney Nolan resulted in significant Nolan works being included in their collection.
In the 1980s residential development filled Bulleen, except the river flats which became home to several private schools' sports facilities, the Yarra Valley Country Club and linear parklands.
The Bulleen Boomers joined the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in 1984 and over the years featured outstanding players including Michele Timms, Hollie Grima and Liz Cambage and coaches Lori Chizik and Cheryl Chambers. They won the WNBL title in 2010-11 before changing their name to the Melbourne Boomers in 2013 and moving their home court from the Veneto Club to the State Basketball Centre in Wantirna South in 2015.
Bulleen's census populations have been:
Graham Keogh, The history of Doncaster and Templestowe, City of Doncaster and Templestowe, 1975
Judith Leaney, Bulleen: a short history, Doncaster-Templestowe Historical Society, 1991