Located in West Gippsland, Thorpdale sits high in the Strzelecki Ranges, 14 km south of Trafalgar and 134 km east of Melbourne.

The district, at the head of the Narracan Creek valley, was settled from the mid-1870s and was known as Narracan West. A small settlement 2 km south of present Thorpdale, soon had a school (1878), hall (1879), stores and hotel. In 1884 its name was changed to Thorpdale, from the Saxon word, thorp, meaning village, hence village in the valley.

In 1886 construction began on a railway line along the Narracan Creek valley, branching from the main Gippsland line at Moe. A township was planned at the terminus, which was 2 km north of Thorpdale. The station, opened in 1888, was briefly named Warrington and then adopted the name Thorpdale. Thorpdale Railway Station school opened in 1889. The original Thorpdale became Thorpdale South.

Three sawmills were soon established, each with a tramway to the railhead. Previously large amounts of palings had been split in the district and carted by bullock wagon to the rail line at Trafalgar. Farm produce and fruit could now be railed to Melbourne. Roads were constructed to link the outlying settlements of Childers, Thorpdale South and Narracan East with the rail line.

By the late 1890s, timber industry was waning, and severe bushfires in 1898 devastated much of the district. As more land was cleared, fruit growing and dairying became the main activities. Creameries were established in the area, supplying butter factories at Trafalgar and Moe. In 1903 Thorpdale was described in the Australian handbook:

From 1900, the town experienced considerable growth. A hotel, the Travellers’ Rest, was built in 1908 after long local opposition. In the 1920s, a new road was opened to Trafalgar, the former track being steep and difficult.

Dairying remained the principal occupation until the 1960s, when potato growing became dominant. Potatoes had been grown since 1914. Experiments with varieties and production methods earned a high reputation for Thorpdale potatoes. Flax was also grown in the district from 1914 to about 1940.

From the 1950s the smaller hill townships began to decline. The rail line was closed in 1958 due to steadily decreasing patronage. The rural drift to the city and improved mobility also affected Thorpdale, the central town of the district. A Potato Festival, inaugurated in 1977 was held each March until 2002. Near Thorpdale is a memorial to the world’s tallest tree, a Mountain Ash which was 114m high.

Thorpdale has a small shopping centre, a hotel, a hall, a recreation reserve, a swimming pool (1959), a bowls green (1968), Anglican, Uniting and Wesleyan churches and a primary school (48 pupils, 2014).

Thorpdale potatoes were temporarily removed from interstate markets with the discovery of the potato cyst nematode in 2008. The potato industry responded with better management and control and the ban was lifted in 2009. By 2013 compulsory testing was no longer required.

Residents produced the Thorpdale Community Plan 2008-13 which called for, among other things, the return of the Potato Festival.

Thorpdale’s census populations have been:

area census date population
Thorpdale 1911 482
  1933 413
  1947 506
  1961 468
Thorpdale and environs 2011 504

At the 2011 census, vegetable growing accounted for 20.3% of employment and other farming 3.3%.

Further Reading

John Adams, So tall the trees: a centenary history of the southern districts of the Shire of Narracan, 1978

J. Tilgner, Recalling 100 years: a brief history of Thorpdale and district 1876-1976, 1976