Ouyen is a rural township near the centre of the Mallee region in north-west Victoria. It is on the Sunraysia Highway, 100 km south of Mildura, and is a railway junction for the lines to Mildura and westwards through the Mallee to Murrayville and Pinnaroo, South Australia.
In 1903 the railway line was extended from Woomelang (80 km south of Ouyen) to Mildura, the site of an irrigation settlement on the Murray River. The prospect of farming in the Mallee had been enhanced by settlements at Hopetoun and Lascelles (both near Woomelang), and the opening of the railway line invited settlement along its route. Settlers began arriving in the Ouyen district in 1906, and the township was proclaimed in 1909. It is thought that the name was derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ghost or waterhole.
West of Ouyen an area of land extending to the South Australian border was found to be adequate for farming and contained bore water (1906). Settlement spread westwards from about 1909 to Walpeup and beyond. Ouyen began functioning as a service centre. A school was opened in 1909 in a coffee palace and public hall. Within 15 years of its settlement Ouyen had 900 people, and was the administrative centre of Walpeup shire (1911). A shire hall was built in 1918.
A district hospital was built in 1929, and a higher education school was opened in 1928. It became a high school in 1952. A Catholic primary school was also opened in 1952. By the 1930s, though, Ouyen had a local court, four banks, an agricultural society, sporting and racing clubs, and local industries such as cordial making, plaster sheet, a freezing works and an electricity generation plant. Silos were later built for the storage and railing of cereal grains.
Ouyen has golf, tennis, bowling and harness racing clubs, based in public reserves east and west of the town. There is also a swimming pool. Two motels and a caravan park have been added to the hotel accommodation, but the courthouse has been closed and is used for a community centre and local museum (1984). The district hospital continues, along with an infant welfare centre. Passenger services have ceased on the railway lines, but an aerodrome is near the town. There are Catholic, Uniting and Combined churches, a State primary school and secondary college (248 pupils, 2014). The Catholic primary school closed in 2005. The local newspaper is the North West Express. There is an annual Mallee Wildflower Festival held in October.
In 1998 Ouyen held its first Vanilla Slice competition, supported by Premier Jeff Kennett. It was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak period marked by a long drought and a proposed toxic dump west of Ouyen. The toxic dump proposal lapsed, and Ouyen moved on to restoring its Roxy theatre (2007).
The state government's Department of Primary Industry office in Ouyen, that provided support and advice to the region’s farmers, closed in 2012. However, a community proposal in 2014 for a five-metre-deep lake to improve liveability in the town and provide an opportunity for swimming and boating was supported by the State government. The proposal included a footpath around the lake, fencing and developing a wetland for birdlife.
Ouyen’s census populations have been:
H.T. Lacy, Souvenir booklet Back to Ouyen June 8-15, 1964, Back-To Ouyen Committee, 1964
W.B. Opie, Back to Ouyen June 9-16, 1975, Back-To Ouyen Committee, 1975
Hugh Carroll, Mallee roots to vanilla slices: Ouyen – one hundred years, Ouyen, 2009
Merle Pole, Who were they? The naming of Ouyen’s streets and parks, Ouyen, 2006