Marlo is situated at the mouth of the Snowy River, 15 km south of Orbost and about 395 km east of Melbourne. The Snowy River is joined by the Brodribb River, north of Marlo, winding across a delta and then flowing into a narrow inlet behind a barrier of sand dunes. The river reaches the sea through a channel plagued by a constantly changing sand bar.
The Krauatungalung tribe inhabited the area, finding ample food around the swamps, lakes and beaches. Middens are visible at several locations along the coast. However, after squatters moved into the area in the 1840s, the native population was rapidly reduced. The Marlow pastoral run encompassed the coastal plains. Marlo may be an Aboriginal word meaning white clay or muddy banks. Other speculations include naming after St Malo, a French seaport, or after Marlough, in Ireland.
In the 1870s selectors took up land on the flood plain of the Snowy River. Previously isolated, the increased population stimulated the development of river navigation. A schooner entered the river in 1875 to collect a cargo of wattle bark. The Snowy River Shipping Company was formed in 1880. Barges were poled to the river mouth, where maize, skins, pigs and wattle bark were loaded onto coastal trading vessels. After the river was snagged, the barges were towed by a paddlesteamer. The paddlesteamer also helped larger vessels into the river and towed ships stranded on the bar. A signal station was installed in 1888 to assist navigation.
An accommodation house was built in 1884. Stirling’s Marlo Hotel became popular with wealthy people, the area offering good fishing and shooting. The Victorian municipal directory described the locality in 1888 as a fashionable summer resort with good accommodation at Mr Stirling's Marlo House. There were boats and horses for visitors and mail deliveries twice a week from Lakes Entrance.
A township was surveyed in 1889 and allotments sold over the next few years. However, the hotel was the focus of the settlement, housing the post office and hosting social functions such as fishing competitions and athletics meetings. Regattas were also an annual attraction. A school opened in 1903.
The river trade ended in 1915 with the extension of the railway to Orbost, but improved roads and transport gradually brought more tourists to Marlo. In 1906, a bridge replaced the punt over the Brodribb River, improving communication with Orbost. The road, previously often flooded, was bitumenised in the 1930s. The first tour bus brought visitors to Marlo in 1926. Increasing demand for accommodation prompted the modification of a house becoming Ricardo Guest House and Marlo Hotel was extensively rebuilt in 1929. A store commenced business in the 1920s and about 1930, the Ozone Picture Theatre was constructed, serving as a hall and venue for entertainment.
In the 1950s the quiet village of Marlo began to grow, with holiday houses being built among the scrub. Many homes became permanent residences of retired people and workers in nearby Orbost. An estimated 1350 campers swelled the population during holiday periods. Provision of services became imperative and electric power was connected in 1963 and a water supply in 1970. This stimulated further development and the residential area was extended to satisfy demand for land. A council camping park was improved, and holiday flats and another camping and caravan park were established. A boat club first formed in the 1950s, was reformed in the 1970s, as well as a boat rescue club. A flying club was formed in 1964 using an air strip east of Marlo township.
Marlo remains a popular holiday resort, but it is quiet and unassuming, with a school (23 pupils, 2014), a store, takeaway food shop and hotel. Fishing and boating are the main activities, with swimming, sailboarding, canoeing, waterskiing, walking and birdwatching also popular pastimes. Marlo bush races and a triathalon are held each January.
A coastal road east from Marlo leads to the Cape Conran resort with cabins and camping facilities. Cape Conran is in a state park of 11,700 hectares with heathlands and woodlands. Its earliest cabins date from the late 1980s.
Census populations from Marlo have been:
O. Green, Marlo: the township, the plains, the cape, 1984