Raymond Island is located in the Gippsland Lakes, separated from the mainland at Paynesville by the narrow McMillan Strait. The low island is 6.4 km long and 1.9 km across at its widest point. Much of the island is still covered by natural woodland, with some wetlands at the northern end.
Abundant game and swans’ eggs brought Aboriginal hunters to the island. Relics of their visits have been found, including a canoe tree.
The island was named after W.O. Raymond, an early Gippsland grazier. A pastoral lease covered the island from 1856 until the early 1880s. In the mid-1880s, some blocks of land were sold and a township laid out at the south-western end of the island. The residents were mainly professional fishers. A ferry service began operation in 1889, consisting of a rowing boat for pedestrians and a punt for horse drawn vehicles.
In 1893, a village settlement was established on the island. The increased population allowed the commencement of a school in 1902 and in 1903 a larger punt was commissioned. Crops of maize, onions, potatoes, peas and beans were grown. A jetty was built to facilitate export of produce, but steamer traffic was already declining. Many of the settlers took up fishing to supplement their living, but gradually the uneconomical farms caused people to leave. The school finally closed in 1934.
After World War II Raymond Island became popular for holidays and abandoned farm cottages were renovated as holiday homes. Later, new houses were built as retired people were attracted to the island and in recent years, young families have made their home there. Many of the newcomers are from professional backgrounds, as well as numbers of tradespeople. In 1949, there were about 90 permanent residents. This grew to 250 in 1985 and 350 by 1995. In peak holiday times, there are up to 1000 people on the island.
An Advancement League was formed in 1949 and eventually achieved the connection of telephone, electricity and water to the island as well as a number of community amenities. But development has not always been welcomed, as in the 1970s proposals for a holiday village and later sewerage treatment works were vigorously opposed. The ferry service has been upgraded over the years but calls for a bridge have created controversy, many residents wishing to preserve the island’s unique lifestyle.
Fishing and boating are the main attractions to the area. Residents have a community centre and the Anglican St Barnabas abbey which was moved from Wurruk to the island in 1989. There are good walking tracks through the bush and an abundance of bird and animal life, including a large colony of koalas brought from Phillip Island in the 1950s.
Census populations for Raymond Island have been:
The median age of residents at the 2011 census was 62 years (Australia, 37 years).
M. Beesley, Raymond Island: past, present, future, 1986
M. Beesley, Raymond Island school No. 3384, nd