The village of Harkaway is nestled in the hills north of Berwick and about 43 km south-east of Melbourne. The area was first settled in the 1840s. Although the land was hilly and densely timbered, all the more open land had already been taken up by squatters. A large number of the early settlers were German.
Aborigines from the Bunurong tribe sometimes visited the area, but game and water were not abundant. As the European population increased, the Aborigines ceased visiting the area or were driven out. The last corroborees reportedly took place about 1858.
About this time, the name Harkaway came into use. The origin of the name is unknown but may possibly be from an English racehorse from the 1830s or from the call used by shepherds when directing dogs to move sheep.
General farming and dairying were the main occupations. There was also a vineyard and winery. At first, there were no roads and settlers walked to Melbourne to sell their produce. They supplemented their living with brick making, building, fencing and road making.
A post office and store soon operated from a settler's home. Schooling was provided from the earliest days. In 1869, a building was constructed, generally known as the German church as it was also used for Lutheran church services. A bell, imported from Germany, was constructed on a wooden tower. A government school building was opened in 1876. A boarding school also operated in the area.
The Australian handbook described the district by 1903:
A hall was built in 1909. It fell into disrepair but was restored and reopened in 1959. A new bell tower was constructed in 1935. The church became defunct and the building was sold but a tradition began of ringing the bell on New Year's Eve. The cemetery contains many of the original memorials inscribed in German. An avenue of honour lines Harkaway Road.
Try Boys' Home was built at Harkaway in 1875. It provided a home and training for boys, and closed in 1959. An artist, Jessie Traill lived in the area and painted many local landscapes. Author Martin Boyd set one of his novels in a thinly disguised Harkaway, at 'The Grange', a house built by Boyd's grandfather, W.A.C. A'Beckett in 1866.
Dairy farming and grazing were once the dominant occupations at Harkaway, but at the 2011 census the leading occupations were in education and construction. The area has commanding views and historic charm at the village at the corner of Harkaway and King Roads with the hall, Jessie Traill reserve, general store, school and avenue of honour. Harkaway primary school had 176 pupils in 2014.
Harkaway's census populations have been:
|Harkaway and environs||2006||878|
Berwick-Pakenham Historical Society, In the wake of the pack tracks: a history of the Shire of Berwick, now the City of Berwick and the Shire of Pakenham, 1982
From bullock tracks to bitumen: a brief history of the Shire of Berwick, 1962
J.C. Wells, Berwick: some aspects, 1980
N.E. Beaumont, Early days of Berwick and its surrounding districts of Beaconsfield, Upper Beaconsfield, Harkaway, Narre Warren and Narre Warren North, 3rd ed. 1979