Swifts Creek

The town of Swifts Creek lies in the valley of the Tambo River, near its junction with Swifts Creek, 96 km north of Bairnsdale and about 374 km east of Melbourne.

The territory of the Brabrulung tribe encompassed the area but their number declined rapidly after pastoralists occupied the district from the late 1830s and forced them out. The track to the Gippsland plains from the Monaro, in New South Wales, passed through Omeo, north of present Swifts Creek, and south down the Tambo Valley.

In the early 1850s gold was discovered in many tributaries of the Tambo River. Swifts Creek is thought to be name after a prospector. Small settlements sprang up on tributaries of Swifts Creek, the largest field being the Cassilis. A small settlement grew at the junction of Swifts Creek and the Tambo River and by 1880 had a store, post office, butcher, baker, and boarding house. A school commenced classes in 1874.

As the alluvial gold petered out, selectors settled along the valley. Sheep and cattle were raised and oats grown for chaff production. Farmers began dairying and a butter factory was established at Swifts Creek in 1905.

Reef mining in the district ceased by 1918 and the police station at Cassilis was moved to Swifts Creek. The town had a Mechanics’ Institute hall, opened in 1892, and a Bush Nursing Centre was established in 1918. The avenue of trees, on the southern approach to the town, was planted in the 1920s. By 1938, the Victorian municipal directory described a small service town for the surrounding agricultural district. It had a post, telegraph and money-order office, three churches, a hotel, a butter factory, blacksmith, motor garage and two stores.

Small sawmills operated in the surrounding forested mountains and in 1945 a modern sawmill was established at Swifts Creek by Ezards, stimulating growth in the town. In 1965, another mill was resited to Swifts Creek. Although there has been only one sawmill since 1985, it provided about 40% of the town’s employment.

Government departments are also significant employers. The Forests Commission established an office at Swifts Creek in 1956 and it served as the headquarters for forest operations in the area. It is the main centre in East Gippsland for collection of seed for regeneration. The high school serves a wide district. Secondary classes began in 1955, with high elementary school status in 1964. Omeo high school was amalgamated with Swifts Creek in 1978 and the primary and high schools were amalgamated in 2010. It had 134 pupils in 2014. Small depots are maintained for electricity-supply and Telstra.

The butter factory closed in 1946 and dairying ceased in the district, with wool and beef production now the main farming pursuits.

Although dependent on the timber industry, Swifts Creek also functions as a service and social centre for the town and surrounding farming district. It has a hotel, several stores, garages, police station, bush nursing centre, churches and community centre as well as camping park, a bowls club, a swimming pool and other sports facilities. The Tambo Valley racecourse and golf course are out of town. Improved roads and transport allow travel to Bairnsdale, the regional centre, for shopping and professional services.

About 1 km north of Swifts Creek is a monument marking the site of the robbery of a gold escort in 1859, which resulted in the murder of Cornelius Green, a gold buyer.

Census populations for Swifts Creek have been:

census date population
1881 204
1911 236
1933 199
1954 386
1971 298
1986 263
1996 228
2006 281*
2011 419*

* including environs; census area for 2011 larger than for 2006.

At the 2011 census, farming accounted for 19.6% of employment.

Further Reading

Swifts Creek School: centenary 1874-1974, 1974

Laurie Boucher, Whispers from the mountain, Bairnsdale, 1997