Tarwin Lower is the main settlement on the extensive flats on the lower reaches of the Tarwin River in South Gippsland. Tarwin Lower is about 167 km south-east of Melbourne.
The Tarwin River was a boundary for the original Aboriginal inhabitants, with the Bunurong tribe living to the west of the river and the Brataualong tribe of the Kurnai people to the east. These generally peaceable people camped along the coast in summer, leaving middens and stone implements as evidence. Contact with Europeans led to a dramatic decline in their population.
The Tarwin area was reached in 1840 by Anderson, a settler from the Western Port district to the west. The river was named Tarwin from an Aboriginal word possibly meaning thirsty. Soon cattle were being moved along the coast from Melbourne to Port Albert, far to the east, and the Tarwin pastoral run was taken up in 1842, the good grassland providing a resting place for travelling stock. In 1852, the run was acquired by George Black, who eventually controlled several adjoining runs. Tarwin Meadows homestead and workers’ cottages were built in the 1870s and ensuing decades, partly from materials salvaged from a shipwreck.
In the 1870s the area was opened for selection. Gradually the dense scrub was cleared, swampy land drained and pasture sown. Breeding of horses and cattle provided the main livelihood. The river was first snagged in the 1880s to alleviate flooding. The area was very isolated, with supplies first being transported by packhorse from San Remo to the west. A punt crossed the deep and wide river until a bridge was built in the 1890s. The rail line (1892) into South Gippsland passed about 12 km to the north, but roads were poor and for many years stores were transported by boat to a wharf on the river.
From the late 1880s a boarding house catered for shooters and fishers. The Riverview was granted a hotel licence in 1896. A school opened in 1889, soon followed by a hall and a store. A butter factory was established in 1892 and saleyards were built in the early 1900s.
After 1902, the large property Tarwin Meadows was subdivided into eight share dairy farms. Three miles of horse drawn tramway linked the farms to their own cheese factory. Pigs were raised in conjunction with dairying. To serve the community on Tarwin Meadows, a school and store both opened in 1913.
Dairying remained an important activity, although the Tarwin Lower milk factory (1930) closed in 1942 and milk was then sent to distant factories. New saleyards were built in the 1950s and extended and modernised in 1972. One of the worst floods occurred in 1934. A River Improvement Trust was formed in 1950 and has improved drainage in the area.
The district was the scene of a major search after the disappearance in May 1952 of Margaret Clement, a recluse from the property Tullaree. The mystery remains unsolved.
The township serves a large farming district, with a hotel, motel, hall, school, community health centre, church and several stores. The river is popular for fishing, serviced by boat ramp and camping ground, and there are golf and bowling facilities.
The Tarwin Lower Infrastructure Plan was released in 2014 to guide the infrastructure, recreational and social development of the town.
Census populations for the Tarwin Lower district have been:
The population census for 2006 did not record a figure for the Tarwin district, but the town had 115 residents. The school enrolment in 2014 was 42.
J.R. Charles, A history of Tarwin Lower 1798-1974, 1974
R. Charles, Not enough grass to feed a single bullock: a history of Tarwin Lower, Venus Bay and Waratah, 1989