Sherbrooke and Sherbrooke Shire

Sherbrooke is a small locality adjoining the Sherbrooke Forest in the Dandenong Ranges, 35 km east of Melbourne. The forest was part of a timber reserve, most of which was excised for selection in 1892, and the retained parts comprised the Monbulk Forest Reserve and the Sherbrooke Forest. Sherbrooke was named in 1894 after the Canadian birthplace of an early European settler, R.W. Graham. Before then it was known as South Sassafras.

The Forest's popularity with excursionists and tourists was heightened by its habitat for lyrebirds. Nearby, Alfred Nicholas (1881-1937), drug manufacturer, built Burnham Beeches and laid out a large garden which later became the Alfred Nicholas Gardens, now open to the public. Several other large homes were also built in the 1920s and 1930s. Sherbrooke remains an attractive tourism area with hospitality and reception centres. Sherbrooke community school had 136 pupils in 2014.

Sherbrooke's population has been estimated at around 200 for most of the postwar period. Recent census populations have been:

census date population
2001 226
2011 268


Sherbrooke shire came into being when Fern Tree Gully shire was divided on 10 November 1963, creating Knox shire and a smaller Fern Tree Gully shire. The latter was named Sherbrooke on 23 December 1964 not least because Ferntree Gully township was in Knox shire. Sherbrooke shire was left with a weakened rate base when much of the developed land went to Knox. Tourism offered an income stream to residents, avoiding some of the excesses of rural subdivision. The best known tourist attraction is the ‘Puffing Billy’ scenic railway which opened in July 1962, with the visual corridor through the shire being classified by the National Trust.

Bushfires in 1962 revealed how a water shortage could have serious consequences. The Cardinia Reservoir in the south of the shire was constructed in 1968-72, enhancing the water supply even if depriving the shire of rate revenue. Many residents preferred to keep the rural character of the shire, disputing road-making schemes, and most townships had between 200 and 1000 people. Upwey with 5000 was the largest. During the 1970s conservationists were influential and numerous community houses were opened. The ambience created by these influences was severely damaged by bushfires on 16 February 1983 and planning controls requiring the retention of combustible trees near houses were sharply criticised. Nevertheless, tree regrowth returned the scenic charm which attracts tourists.

On 15 December 1994 most of Sherbrooke shire was united with Upper Yarra shire and most of Healesville and Lillydale shires to form Yarra Ranges shire.

The census populations of Sherbrooke shire were:

Census date Population
1966 17,667
1971 20,484
1976 25,543
1981 31,100
1991 36,554

Further Reading

Helen Coulson, Story of the Dandenongs, 1838-1958, F.W. Cheshire, 1968

Michael Jones, Prolific in God's gifts: a social history of Knox and the Dandenongs, Allen and Unwin, 1983

A.P. Winzenried, The hills of home, 1988

Sherbrooke Forest: its flora and history, Belgrave, 2000

Avonsleigh, Belgrave, Belgrave Heights and Belgrave South, Clematis, Emerald, Ferny Creek, Kallista, Lysterfield, Macclesfield, Menzies Creek, Olinda, Sassafras, Selby, Tecoma, The Patch and Upwey entries