The town of Mallacoota is situated inside the mouth of Mallacoota Inlet, 530 km east of Melbourne. It is reached by a scenic turn-off road from Genoa on the Princes Highway. The inlet consists of Top Lake connected by a narrow channel to the larger Bottom Lake. A changeable and treacherous sandbar guards the lake’s entrance to the ocean. Croajingolong National Park surrounds the inlet. Thick forest clothes the hills, and jetties and picnic spots are provided in peaceful spots. Low saltmarsh islands inside the entrance attract numerous water birds.

Mallacoota is thought to be an Aboriginal word, the most commonly suggested meanings being place of meeting or come back again. The lake and ocean shore provided plentiful food for the Aboriginal inhabitants. Trade and ceremonies sometimes attracted Aborigines from neighbouring areas.

Early history

Mallacoota pastoral run was taken up in 1841, changing hands frequently until forfeited in 1871. From the 1880s, selectors reached the heavily forested area, many stripping wattle bark to supplement their living. Commercial fishers from Lakes Entrance and Paynesville visited the inlet seasonally from the late 1880s. Their catch was held in staked nets, awaiting collection by larger boats carrying ice.

In the early 1880s Lake View Hotel commenced business on the eastern shore of Bottom Lake. Over the years many well known people patronised the hotel despite its extreme isolation. There were few tracks and access was mainly by boat. Gold was discovered around Bottom Lake in 1894 and some 50 claims were pegged in the area. The Spotted Dog was the largest mine, working for several years. In the 1890s, Gipsy Point, on the Genoa River which flows into Top Lake, became a trading centre for the area.

Settlers made little impact on the area and in 1909 a temporary reserve for a national park was set aside, mainly composed of lake foreshore. About 1909 a journalist and poet E.J. Brady established a camp at Mallacoota, visited by authors over the years and inspiring a number of literary works. Alcoholic Henry Lawson stayed there to ‘dry out’.


A town site was reserved on a point west of the entrance in 1897 but in 1918 a township was surveyed inside the entrance. During the 1920s a hotel and several guesthouses were established at Mallacoota. A road was cut to the township and gradually a few stores commenced business. An aerodrome was built west of Mallacoota in the early 1940s and air force personnel were stationed there throughout World War II.  A Royal Australian Air Force bunker in Betka Road is a museum.

There was some desultory mining until the late 1960s. Dairying and some wattle bark stripping supported a few settlers, but grazing beef cattle is now the main agricultural activity. Fishing remained an important industry and from the mid-1960s abalone and oysters were harvested in the area. An abalone cooperative (1967) processes the shellfish for overseas markets.

Holiday mecca

Tourism is now the major industry. From a few guesthouses, the town now has a hotel, motels, guesthouses, flats and camping parks. Around 10,000 people visit Mallacoota in holiday season, attracted by the extensive lake system, the ocean beaches, the surrounding bushland and the moderate climate as well as the remoteness and the relaxed and unsophisticated atmosphere. A small shopping centre includes two supermarkets, a general store and takeaway food shops. A Prep to 12 school serves the permanent population which includes fishers, tourist operators, retirees and numbers of people interested in conservation and alternative lifestyles. An office of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is located in the town. There are also a bowls club, sports complex, health centre and an airport. The golf course is at Bastion Point. Below Bastion Point there has been a controversial proposal for a breakwater and boating development. The town was thick with ‘Save Bastion Point’ signs.

Gabo Island

Gabo Island is about 16 km east of Mallacoota. Relics of a whaling station, which operated in the 1840s are visible. Construction of a lighthouse began in 1846 but was halted by difficulties. The wreck of the Monumental City on a nearby island in 1853 prompted the immediate construction of a wooden tower. A lighthouse of red granite, quarried on the island, was built in 1862. In the 1840s, the island was only separated from the mainland by a narrow channel. By the 1880s, a sand bridge had formed but began to erode in the 1890s. The channel is now about 1 km wide.

The Mallacoota P-12 college had 136 pupils in 2014.

Census populations have been:

census date population
1911 59
1933 122
1954 189
1971 296
1986 826
2006 972
2011 1031

Further Reading

Mallacoota reflections, Mallacoota & District Historical Society, 1990