Rainbow is a town situated where the Wimmera merges with the Mallee in north-western Victoria. It is 340 km from Melbourne. The nearest large towns are Dimboola and Nhill to the south.
About 12 km south of Rainbow is Lake Hindmarsh, named by the overlander and explorer Edward Eyre in 1838. Pastoral leases were taken up near watercourses, and the Albacutya run on the eastern side of Outlet Creek, between Lakes Hindmarsh and Albacutya, was taken up in 1846. Pastoral stations were large and ravaged by vermin. Vermin control and the Mallee railway enabled closer settlement, and in 1898 the railway line was extended from Jeparit to a town site named Albacutya, but soon changed to Rainbow Rise because of horse-shoe shaped feature which was often covered with wildflowers. Town blocks in Rainbow were sold in October 1901. The Rainbow railhead became the transport destination for large Mallee wheat crops.
In 1898 a primary school was established. A higher elementary school was started in the mechanics' institute in 1919 and moved to a new building in 1921. The Rainbow high school was opened in 1960. A kindergarten was started in 1969, also in the mechanics' institute. The mechanics' institute was the town's main assembly hall for a few decades, and served as a place of worship before churches were built.
The 1890s were dry seasons, but better rains in the 1900s brought good wheat yields which coincided with high wheat prices. Rainbow boomed, and had a modern shopping centre and its own newspaper. The 1906 agricultural show was a great success. In 1910 a celebratory ‘Rainbow of Today’ was published, and the large Yurunga homestead was built, later to become a registered historic building and museum. In 1911 a water-supply reservoir was completed by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, an Electric Light Company was commissioned, the post office was completed, churches were built and several business premises enlarged or completed. The compiler of ‘Rainbow of Today’ called Rainbow the Mallee Metropolis.
Rainbow had a turf club, football, golf and cricket clubs, four lodges and a brass band. The town had the Federal Stores emporium, three hotels an oyster saloon and farm implement markers.
In the 1920s, in addition to a normal range of shops and professional premises, Rainbow had a butter factory and a double-fronted building containing a garage and motor dealer. A cottage hospital was opened in 1926, and converted to a bush nursing hospital in 1937.
Swimming was confined to the place where Outlet Creek entered Lake Albacutya, which was affected in dry years. In 1947 an appeal was begun for a town swimming pool, which was opened in 1955. Local football teams were formed before World War I. In the 1990s Rainbow had football, cricket and netball activities, along with bowls and golf. The Country Women's Association and the Returned Servicemen's League were joined by Jaycees and Lions International. There are Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran churches, the last-mentioned also having a substantial suite of buildings (1910) at Pella, 12 km west of Rainbow. Federal Street, with gardens along its median, contains Rainbow's main shopping area. There is also a showground and a caravan park.
Rainbow is situated at the western extremity of the Wimmera-Mallee water supply system, which provides irrigation for crops and pasture. Lakes Hindmarsh and Albacutya, joined by Outlet Creek, are the northern drainage end of the Wimmera River which has headwaters in the Grampians. Infrequently Lake Albacutya flows into a northwards lake system in the Wyperfeld National Park, about 30 km north of Rainbow. The Park adds to Rainbow's tourism opportunities.
Rainbow was in the Dimboola Shire until 20 January 1995, when the shire was united with Lowan to form Hindmarsh Shire.
Rainbow's census populations have been:
Anne Longmire, Nine creeks to Albacutya: a history of the Shire of Dimboola, Shire of Dimboola and Hargren, 1985
J. Edward Robertson, Rainbow of today, 1910 (facsimile c1970)
Ian A. Wood, Return to Rainbow, 1978
100 years of the Rainbow show, Rainbow, 2010