Hawkesdale, a rural town in western Victoria, is 33 km north of Port Fairy and about midway between there and Penshurst.

The first white settlement in the Hawkesdale area comprised three pastoral runs (1843-44) which had boundaries converging near Hawkesdale. One of the runs, Kangatong, was acquired by James Dawson in 1847. Dawson occupied it for 20 years and gained a reputation for a sympathetic interest in Aboriginal Australians. His book on Aborigines of the Western District was published in 1881 and was republished in 1981.

In or about 1855 the Hawkesdale Inn was opened, positioned on the Penshurst road and roughly equidistant from the three pastoral runs. A village was surveyed and named after the inn in 1860. In 1866 a school was opened and by 1871 the population was over 200 people. Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist church services were being held.

In 1871 the area from south of Hawkesdale to near Penshurst was severed from Belfast shire and proclaimed Minhamite shire. There was a contest between Hawkesdale and Macarthur for the shire’s administrative headquarters, but Hawkesdale ultimately prevailed when council meetings ceased alternating between the two towns’ mechanics’ institutes and a shire hall was built in Hawkesdale in 1908. Hawkesdale was described in the 1903 Australian handbook:

Whilst Hawkesdale had not overtaken Macarthur, its importance had advanced. A railway line from Koroit to Hamilton, via Hawkesdale was opened in 1890, and although shortened to Penshurst in 1898 it continued until 1977. There was extensive closer and soldier settlement around both centres during 1900-24, and Hawkesdale underwent greater soldier settlement after World War II. Both towns gained swimming pools (1957 and 1969), Macarthur kept the local hospital, but Hawkesdale got the district high school in 1963.

Hawkesdale has a pre-school and a prep-12 college (234 pupils, 2014), Catholic and Presbyterian churches, a Lutheran church in the former Methodist building (reflecting the postwar population change), a public hall and the former shire hall, a golf course, a recreation reserve, a swimming pool, shops and a hotel. Minhamite shire was united with several others to become Moyne shire, but Moyne’s offices are confined to Port Fairy and Mortlake.

Hawkesdale’s census populations have been:

census date population
1871 204
1881 219
1891 191
1901 150
1921 206
1947 180
1966 185
2006 399
2011 432

Further Reading

P.L. Yule, From forest, swamp and stones: a history of the Shire of Minhamite, Warrnambool, c1988

The history of Hawkesdale, 150 years on, Port Fairy, 2011