Dargo is a quiet country township situated on the Dargo River in the Great Dividing Range, 100 km north of Sale in Gippsland. Dargo is thought to be either an Aboriginal word possibly meaning have patience, high hills or spear fight or else the name of the division of the Brabiralung tribe which occupied the area.
The Dargo pastoral run covered the river valley but a township did not develop until gold was discovered in the rivers of the district. In 1860, a government prospecting party, led by A.W. Howitt, explored the tributaries of the Mitchell River, being the Dargo, Wonnangatta, Wongungarra and Crooked Rivers north and north-west of Dargo. Evidence of mining was found on the Dargo River. However, better prospects were found on the Crooked River and a rush quickly ensued. Hotels and stores were established at Dargo to supply the miners. In 1863, payable gold was discovered in the Upper Dargo River and several small settlements sprang up there.
The terrain was rugged and access to the diggings difficult, so in 1864 government parties cut a dray road from Dargo to the Crooked River field and tracks linking the diggings with Omeo and with Harrietville across the Dargo High Plains. In 1864, quartz reefs were discovered on the ridges in the course of cutting a track between the Crooked and Dargo Rivers. However, another settlement on top of the ridge, finally known as Grant, quickly became the principal town on the goldfield. By the end of 1864 there were approximately 1000 people in the area.
Despite its promise, the Crooked River field quickly waned. By 1875, there were only 140 people at Grant and about 120 on the Crooked River. By the late 1880s, most settlements were deserted. The longest survivor, Talbotville, on the Crooked River, was abandoned in the 1940s.
Dargo survived because it developed as a stopping place and supply centre for the diggings. The broad river flats were suitable for agriculture so it was not dependent on mining. Walnut trees were planted, and tobacco and hops were tried in the 1880s. Cattle, sheep and pigs were raised.
The township was surveyed in 1864 and lots sold in 1866. Hotels and stores were soon in operation. A government school was established in 1870 and a Catholic school opened in 1897. There was some mining activity on the lower Dargo River. The river was worked briefly for alluvial gold. A few quartz mines were short lived. In 1893 a dredge began operations some distance downstream from the town. To encourage mining, the government battery was set up near Dargo in the early 1900s, but by 1911 it was removed to Grant. By 1903, the Australian handbook described a settled agricultural township serving a mining district:
The Dargo High Plains, to the north, were first leased for grazing in the 1860s. With the development of mining, a number of accommodation houses catered to the miners travelling across the plains. The Treasure family became established residents, mining, supplying travellers and raising cattle. Now cattle are bred and raised on the high plains and brought down to lower pastures below Dargo during winter.
The Dargo High Plains were described in the Victorian municipal directory of 1930:
The Victorian municipal directory also described Dargo in 1930:
Dargo has maintained a population of about 150 inhabitants over the years. In 1959, a sawmill began operations south of the town. This provided substantial employment until its closure in 1988.
The area has become known for the production of walnuts, some of the trees being over a century old. A Walnut Festival is held each Easter. The area is very scenic and attracts fishers, walkers, 4WD enthusiasts, trail bike and horse riders. It is also a stepping off point for exploration of the Dargo High Plains and Wonnangatta and Crooked Rivers.
Dargo's census populations have been:
*census area extending from the Grant Historic Area reserve to the Mitchell River National Park
R.W. Christie, Dargo Crooked River: a pictorial history, 1984
R.W. Christie, Ghosts and gold in the Victorian high country: the story of mining and settlement in Victoria's historic alpine areas, 1993
R.W. Christie, Victoria's forgotten goldfield, 2nd ed, 1996
R.W. Christie, ‘Victoria's forgotten goldfield’, Victorian historical journal, 50/3, August 1979
M. Fletcher, Avon to the Alps, 1993