Situated on the far western coast of Victoria at the mouth of the Glenelg River, Nelson is a town catering to tourists and visitors at holiday times. It is 6 km from the South Australian border.

The place was reached by the New South Wales Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell, who travelled down the Glenelg River in 1836. It was explored in more detail by Surveyor C.J. Tyers who erroneously marked the inter-colonial border there in 1839. Within seven years the area was under Lake Mornebeong pastoral run.

There was a coastal track from Portland to Mount Gambier, South Australia, joined by a punt across the Glenelg River (c1849). A township was surveyed in 1851 and named Nelson, after the vessel commanded by Lieutenant James Grant who explored Bass Strait in 1802.

The punt was the most visible form of occupation until a school and a post office were opened in 1875 and 1876. As inland roads were improved the coastal road lingered. The punt was not replaced by a bridge until 1893. In 1902 the Victorian municipal directory recorded Nelson as having a hotel and the picturesque Glenelg River abounding with fish. A Presbyterian church was built in 1910. The district was used for agriculture and grazing, and in the 1940s pine plantations were started for soft wood harvesting. Nelson’s main future, however, lay with tourism.

The easterly coastline is Discovery Bay (named by Lieutenant Grant) and the Discovery Bay Coastal Park (1979, 10,460 ha). There is river cruising on the Glenelg River to the upstream Lower Glenelg National Park (1969, 27,300 ha). Limestone cliffs edge the river for 35 km and the Princes Margaret Rose caves are 10 km from Nelson. They are one of several cave sites in the limestone, and can be reached by boat or road.

Nelson has a community hall, a Presbyterian church, a hotel, two motels, two caravan parks and holiday cabins. The school closed in 1990.

Nelson’s census populations have been:

area census date population
Nelson 1891 71
  1911 192
  1947 154
Nelson and environs 2006 226
  2011 311

The holiday populations amount to several hundred in the town and adjoining State Parks.

In 2013 a bushfire broke out in plantations near Nelson and burned through more than 2000 hectares of plantation and heathland and into the Lower Glenelg National Park.

Further Reading

Noel F. Learmonth, Four towns and a survey, Hawthorn Press, 1970