The small settlement of Swan Reach is on the Tambo River, about 10 km from its outlet into Lake King in the Gippsland Lakes. The Princes Highway passes through the township which is 21 km east of Bairnsdale and 306 km east of Melbourne.
In 1842, the descriptively named Swan Reach pastoral run occupied the lower reaches of the Tambo River. During the early years there were violent clashes with the original inhabitants, the Brabralung tribe, over land and resources.
Sawmills were set up on the Tambo River in 1864 and 1870, but otherwise the district was sparsely populated until selectors arrived in the 1870s. The settlers grew beans, and later hops. Dairying was supported by a creamery and a small cheese factory. Tambo School opened in 1875, a hall was built in 1881 and a post office, store and hotel commenced business in the early 1880s.
At first the river was forded upstream, but in 1876 a punt service commenced. Tracks were cut to link Swan Reach to Bairnsdale to the west and to Lakes Entrance to the east. New sawmills began operations in the late 1880s, transporting the timber by tramway to the river bank for collection by steamer and barge. A wharf was constructed in 1888 to serve the shipping which plied the river.
The increased population spurred development of the township, with butcher, bakery, bootmaker, drapery, blacksmith and boarding house commencing business. A new school was constructed in 1891 and a new brick hall in 1895. Four denominations built churches in the early 1900s. The establishment of a village settlement in 1894 also brought more people to the township, and Swan Reach was the commercial centre for the lower Tambo district.
In the 1890s mites devastated the hop gardens and by 1900 maize was the main crop. A wooden bridge with drawbridge was constructed on the river in 1905 but it collapsed in 1925. By this time the river trade was ended, so a pontoon bridge served until 1932 when a new concrete bridge spanned the river.
During the 1930s there was a gradual change from maize cropping to dairying, and now the river flats support cropping, dairying and grazing. This small highway township is also aided by tourism, its attraction being boating and fishing on the river and lakes. There are a hotel, motel, caravan park, guest house and store, and the township retains a school, hall, recreation reserve and church. The school had 88 pupils in 2014.
Census populations for the Swan Reach district have been:
Swan Reach and environs census populations have been:
Swan Reach School 1631: centenary 1875-1975, 1975