Gippsland, in south-east Victoria, is defined by the southern coastline eastwards from Western Port Bay and by the New South Wales boundary from Cape Howe to where it joins the Murray River. The remaining parts of the boundary, ie westwards across the alps from the Murray River and down to Western Port Bay, have been defined in several ways which are discussed below.

Defining Gippsland

Early maps of Gippsland followed the boundaries of the counties. From east to west they comprise Croajingolong, Tambo, Dargo, Tanjil and Buln Buln. In the 1990s Gippsland was defined for purpose of economic geography as comprising the local government areas of Bass Coast, Baw Baw, South Gippsland, Latrobe, Wellington and East Gippsland. Neither version is entirely satisfactory for the true Gippsland. The counties stop short near Warragul, leaving out most of what is termed West Gippsland. The six shires extend further westwards, but only as far as Bunyip. The shires and the counties have northern extremities that differ greatly from each other.

If counties and shires are put aside for the purpose of defining Gippsland, a third possibility is water catchments. From east to west the catchments comprise East Gippsland, Snowy, Tambo, Mitchell, Thomson, Latrobe, South Gippsland and Bunyip. The last one, the Bunyip catchment, consists of several streams that flow into Western Port Bay, as well as the Dandenong Creek which enters Port Phillip Bay at Carrum. With the Dandenong Creek omitted, the balance of the Bunyip catchment (ie eastwards of Cardinia Creek) includes most of Gippsland West that is missed if shires or counties are used to define Gippsland. The northerly limits of the catchments are the alpine ridge which, if crossed, take a traveller to the alpine high plains, north-east Victoria or over 'the Divide' into the headwaters of the Goulburn River.

An approximation of the catchments' northern limits is a westerly line generally joining the Murray River headwaters to Omeo, Mount Hotham and Mount Buller, Matlock, Powelltown, Cardinia Reservoir and Cranbourne.

The areas of the water catchments are:

Water catchment sq km
East Gippsland    4568
Snowy    6472
Tambo    4256
Mitchell    5449
Thomson    5969
Latrobe    5214
South Gippsland    6582
Bunyip, part (say)    2000

The Tambo, Mitchell, Thomson and Latrobe catchments flow into the Gippsland Lakes, although some of the Thomson's headwaters have been diverted for use by metropolitan Melbourne. The South Gippsland catchment does not reach into the Dividing Range but has headwaters in the Strzelecki Ranges in Central Gippsland. The area of the eight catchments is 17.8% of the area of Victoria, which is a good approximation of Gippsland's area.


Apart from coastal observations of Gippsland, the earliest recorded landfalls by European explorers were at Western Port Bay. George Bass entered the bay and Bass River in 1798, and a short-lived settlement occurred at Corinella in 1826. It was a shortage of pastoral land in southern New South Wales that sent the explorer and settler, Angus McMillan, on a trail-blazing journey in 1840 through Omeo to Port Albert and which brought about permanent settlement. The Polish explorer, Paul de Strzelecki, completed a journey from Mount Kosciusko to Western Port in 1840. He named the region Gippsland after Sir George Gipps, the Governor of New South Wales.


Access to Gippsland from Port Phillip was impeded by the large Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp at the head of Western Port Bay. Settlement came from New South Wales, and from Bass Strait mainly through Port Albert. When gold was discovered in the 1850s in the upper Goulburn and at Omeo supplies were often brought in from Gippsland. During the 1860s-80s intermittent breaks in the sand bar separating the Gippsland Lakes from Bass Strait enabled a shipping trade to use the four rivers that run into the lakes. The making of an artificial entrance (hence, Lakes Entrance) in 1888 greatly facilitated shipping, but came ten years after a railway line had been opened from Oakleigh to Sale. During 1888-92 a railway line was also built across the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp to Port Albert. The Sale line was extended to Bairnsdale in 1888 and to Orbost in 1916. Gippsland was thus denied the prospect of a large regional port as the railways tethered its trade to metropolitan Melbourne. It developed a series of sub-regional agricultural townships, of which Bairnsdale and Sale were the largest. Towns with over 500 people were:

area population
  1881 1901
Bairnsdale  854 3074
Drouin  418  702
Jumbunna1 -  729
Korumburra1 - 2445
Leongatha -  681
Maffra  489  777
Sale 3073 3462
Stratford  424  581
Traralgon  338 1118
Walhalla2 1614 2061
Warragul  839 4359

1.Coal mining towns  2.Gippsland's longest lasting gold town

Agriculture and local government

During 1880-1900 there was an agricultural invasion of Gippsland as the forested hills were cleared for dairying and crops. The railways transported timber – or at least timber that was not burnt in the clearing process – and farm produce was taken to metropolitan markets. Much of the new population settled in villages and in out of the way valleys; village settlements were numerous, encouraged by closer settlement schemes to remove unemployed families from the depression-ridden metropolis of the 1890s. The following table lists the local government areas that approximated Gippsland and shows their populations in 1881 and 1901. Where there is no population figure for 1881 the local government area had not yet been constituted.

local government area  population
1881 1901
Alberton 2907 4080
Avon (Stratford) 1738 2480
Bairnsdale 5544 8178
Berwick 3477 5084
Buln Buln (Drouin) 3829 4616
Cranbourne 1420 5080
Maffra 3242 3911
Mirboo   - 1183
Morwell   - 2857
Narracan (Trafalgar) 2184 4299
Omeo* 1630 4262
Orbost   - 3350
Phillip Is & Woolamai 1438 2791
Poowong & Jeetho (Korumburra)   - 7899
Rosedale 3113 3245
Sale (borough) 3073 3462
South Gippsland (Foster)   - 3129
Tambo   - 2489
Traralgon   - 2293





Warragul   - 4359
Woorayl (Leongatha)   - 3574
  35,209 85,316

* Most of Omeo Shire's population was in Gippsland. Sources: Victorian Year Book (1881) and Statistical Register (1901).


Gippsland's wet temperate climate is good for dairy farming, and the railway construction programs that began in the 1880s provided transport to metropolitan markets. By 1907 there were 48 dairy factories in Gippsland. When Murray-Goulburn began factory amalgamations in the 1950s Gippsland had about 25 factories that were amalgamated. In 2012 Murray Goulburn had factories at only Leongatha and Maffra, Fonterra had factories at Drouin, Darnum and Toora, and Longwarry had the independent Food Park. All the others had gone.

The intensive dairy farming country runs in an arc around the Latrobe Valley, from Drouin to Korumburra and easterly through South Gippsland towards the Gippsland lakes. The data for milk cattle in 1994 was:

place No. Cattle
Cranbourne Shire   19,107
Pakenham Shire   19,105
Gippsland Division 396,462
East Gippsland Division   81,073

They had 32.7% of total milk cattle in Victoria. The shires with the largest cattle populations were:

Woorayl (Leongatha) 58,479
Buln Buln (Drouin) 51,805
Maffra 48,866
Rosedale 47,454
South Gippsland (Foster) 45,917


Black coal was mined in the Korumburra area, and in 1909 black coal mining began at Wonthaggi. In 1919 the State Electricity Commission was formed to exploit the brown coal deposits at Morwell (La Trobe Valley). Power generation began at Yallourn in 1924. During this period dairying and crop production came from the fertile soils of the Koo-Wee-Rup swamp after the completion of drainage works. It offset the abandonment of hill farms in the Strzelecki Ranges.

Populations 1911-61

Between the census years 1911 and 1933 the local government areas which had population increases of about 50% or more were: Berwick (near Melbourne); Cranbourne (near Melbourne); Tambo (Lakes Entrance); Maffra (irrigation, Glenmaggie storage); Morwell (brown coal, Latrobe Valley); Narracan (Latrobe Valley); and Wonthaggi (State Coal Mine)

Between the census years 1933 and 1961 the areas which had population increases of about 50% or more were: Berwick, Cranbourne, Bairnsdale, Traralgon (Latrobe Valley), Woorayl (Leongatha, dairying), Morwell (including Moe and Yallourn, increased from 7427 to 38,832), Warragul (dairying and grazing).

Maffra Shire's population increased by 41%. Bairnsdale was catching up with Sale as Gippsland's main town east of the Latrobe Valley. Its Gippsland Lakes hinterland was an attraction for retirees and during 1961-91 Tambo Shire's population increased partly for the same reason.

Towns and cities

Urban local government areas were created. Sale had been a borough in 1863 and was proclaimed a city in 1950. Subsequent proclamations were: Bairnsdale town, severed from shire in 1967 and made a city in 1990; Moe borough, severed from Marracan Shire in 1955 and made a city in 1963; Morwell city, by upgrading of shire in 1990; Traralgon borough, severed from shire in 1961 and made a city in 1964; and Warragul rural city, by upgrading of shire in 1990.


Since the 1960s the western parts of the former Berwick and Cranbourne Shires became urbanised as metropolitan Melbourne extended beyond Dandenong. In the early postwar years Dandenong had been characterised as the gateway to Gippsland. By 2000 it is doubtful if the gateway was even at Berwick, and perhaps the notion of a gateway had faded.

Gippsland populations

The populations of most parts of Gippsland increased during the twentieth century. Two places' populations went backwards, Walhalla and Omeo, and both because of the decline of gold mining. The population of the Korumburra area stayed at about 7400, as mine workers left the coal industry and more farm holdings were taken up. The population of the Latrobe Valley also fell during 1996-2001 because of downsizing of the electricity industry's workforce.

Inter-censal comparisons for Gippsland can be done if a line is drawn east of Cardinia Shire. The reason for leaving out Cardinia is that the changes to local government boundaries in 1994-95 make valid statistical comparisons in Cardinia inaccessible, and the population census for 2011 included all of Cardinia Shire in metropolitan Melbourne. Cardinia's eastern boundary runs southwards from near Powelltown, to east of Bunyip and to Western Port Bay near Lang Lang. The local government areas east of Cardinia are Bass Coast, Baw Baw, South Gippsland, Latrobe, Wellington and East Gippsland. Census populations have been:

1933 1961 1991   1996 2001 2006 2011
      Bass Coast Shire 20,062 23,971 26,548 29,614
      Baw Baw Shire 32,919 34,632 37,179 42,864
      S Gipps Shire 24,026 24,524 25,737 27,208
      Latrobe City 67,454 66,819 69,329 72,396
      Wellington Shire 39,701 39,158 40,080 41,440
      E Gipps Shire 37,775 37,792 40,037 42,196
102,692 187,235 224,897


221,937 226,896 238,910 255,718

After falling during 1996-2001, Latrobe city's population picked up during 2001. East Gippsland Shire gained on Wellington Shire. East Gippsland's towns of Lakes Entrance and Paynesville grew, and together had 9201 in 2011.

Taken overall, the population growth since 1933 was greater than most other regions in Victoria which, unlike Gippsland, did not have any substantial industrial growth to offset declining numbers in mining and agriculture. And even the areas in Gippsland with agriculture and forestry had steady population increases, aided in some cases by a benign coastal climate which attracts retirees and tourism.

Further Reading

Charles Daley, The Story of Gippsland, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1960

Patrick Morgan, The Settling of Gippsland: A Regional History, Gippsland Municipalities Association, 1997

John Wells, Gippsland: people, a place and their past, Landmark Press, 1986

Bass Coast Shire, Baw Baw Shire, Cardinia Shire, Casey city, Dandenong, East Gippsland Shire, Latrobe city, Latrobe Valley, South Gippsland Shire, Strzelecki, Wellington Shire and Wilsons Promontory entries.