Nilma is a small township on the Princes Freeway in Gippsland, 4 km west of Warragul and 106 km east of Melbourne.

The railway line from Melbourne to Gippsland was surveyed in the mid-1870s, prompting the selection of land in the heavily timbered district. A small settlement developed near the rail line, being named Bloomfield in 1877, probably after a place in Ireland. Until the railway opened in 1878, provisions were obtained by packhorse from Brandy Creek, about 10 km to the north-west and the nucleus of settlement in the area.

The first store opened in Bloomfield in 1882, soon followed by a butcher, baker and hotel. A mechanics’ institute hall was constructed several kilometres north of the township in 1883 and a school commenced in 1885. A flag station, allowing passenger use of the rail siding, was established in 1885 and a railway station soon constructed.

From the early 1880s a number of sawmills worked to the north of the rail line. Poor roads necessitated the construction of tramlines to convey the timber to the railway siding. Much of the forest was removed by the end of the decade, although a firewood mill began operations in 1893.

As the land was cleared crops including wheat, barley, onions and potatoes were grown. Settlers also began dairying and a creamery was established north of the township in 1891. As farms acquired separators, the factory manufactured butter but was eclipsed by a new factory built near the railway station in 1903.

In 1903 the Australian handbook described a flourishing township:

In 1910 the name of the town was changed, due to confusion with mails for another town. Nilma, an Aboriginal word meaning either call or home of the gang gang parrot, was selected.

The town continued to thrive, with a new school in 1910. An Anglican church was built north of the township in 1908 and a new hall south of the railway line in 1912. In 1933, a church was moved to the town to serve the Methodist congregation.

Dairying was the main farming activity, although the butter factory buildings were moved to nearby Warragul in 1918. Gradually, with improvements in roads and transport, Nilma was overshadowed by the larger regional town. Nilma’s railway station was closed in 1950 while the rail line was duplicated and despite protests the station was not rebuilt. The Methodist church closed in 1973, and the post office in 1978. The Anglican church is now a private residence. In 1984, the hall and four houses were demolished to allow duplication of the highway. The railway line and Princes Freeway divide the town.

The school survives, swelled by Warragul residents who prefer a rural school. It had 76 pupils in 2014. For some years a tourist facility with a maze operated and there is an antiques shop.

Census populations for Nilma have been:

census date population
1911 392
1933 333
1954 300
1966 200
2006 218
2011 226

Further Reading

M. McCarthy, Settlers and sawmillers: a history of West Gippsland tramways and the industries they served, 1993

E.M. Williams, Bloomfield and beyond: a history of Nilma 1885-1985, 1985