Toora, a rural town on the South Gippsland Highway, is 155 km south-east of Melbourne. It is 4 km inland from Corner Inlet, Wilsons Promontory.
There is a coastal plain south of Toora, but to the north there is hilly country which originally had valuable forest trees. In the 1850s the Buchanan brothers set up a sawmill on Muddy Creek near present day Toora. The timber was very durable, being used for railway sleepers and wharf building. It was tram lined down to the water’s edge and taken away by boat. A small settlement began at Muddy Creek, but by the 1870s falling prices had cut back timber production.
Later in that decade farm selections were taken up. The name ‘Toora’ was given to a property east of Muddy Creek in 1876 and by 1880 it was the name of the survey parish. In that same year a school was opened on the property of a Toora district’s settler, John O’Dea, on Franklin River, 5 km west of Muddy Creek. The school was named Franklin River until 1889 when it was renamed Toora. It is thought that ‘Toora’ derives from an Aboriginal expression referring to a woman keeping a fire alight.
By 1889 the settlement at Muddy Creek was known as Toora. It had an Anglican church, a Mechanics’ Institute, a jetty at Corner Inlet and tin mines at Toora North. Mining began in 1884 and Tin Mine school ran from 1907 to 1967. Mining ended in about 1942.
Toora’s future lay in dairy farming, once the moist hills were ring barked and burnt to given an ash bed for grass to sprout. Battles with bracken and, later, rabbits lay ahead. A dairy factory opened in 1893, coinciding with an unsuccessful village settlement scheme on the coastal plain south of Toora. The railway was extended from Leongatha to Toora in 1892, and the place seemed promising enough for the future ‘Australia Unlimited’ booster, Randolph Bedford, to start his Toora and Welshpool Pioneer newspaper in 1892. In 1903 Toora was described in the Australian handbook:
Around 1910 Catholic and Methodist churches opened, the Toora Creamery and Cheese Factory replaced the earlier facility and hydro-electricity was supplied to the town. Public health was attended to by a private hospital (1914), which was replaced by a bush nursing centre and a new hospital (1933). The somewhat unreliable hydropower was replaced with the State Electricity Grid in 1938.
Toora had sports teams and a public baths on Muddy Creek, upstream of the watery sediment (1928). The hill country was under control for dairying, although it was rumoured that farmers had uneven legs from walking along the steep contours. The dairy factory was enlarged and adopted the Tooralac brand (1953). There was sufficient money and leisure in the town for a bowls club and a new hall (1960, 1961). A half size Olympic pool replaced the Muddy Creek baths in 1970.
Toora had been capably led by civic minded citizens and kept its nose in front of Foster for regional supremacy. However, the prize of State secondary education went to Foster high school in 1952, and its dairy industry was equal to Toora’s. Within a couple of decades Foster was the district centre. At the end of the 1990s the dairy factory, part of the Bonlac Corporation, was closed. In its place as the industrial backdrop of Toora, wind turbines were installed on the nearly hills in 2001.
The amalgamation of farms into larger units had contributed to the declining population of the district. The number of small businesses decreased, due to easier access to larger towns. The railway station closed in 1983 and the hospital in 1985.
An unexpected beneficiary of the post 1950s wind down was the town’s built heritage. Examples include the Royal Standard Hotel, former post office and a former guest house in Victoria Street. North of Toora there are the Agnes waterfall and a lookout on Silcocks Hill Road. From the lookout the town and a biologically important coastal wetland can been seen. There is a boardwalk over the wetland at the end of Toora Jetty Road.
Toora has a supermarket, a community bank, a medical centre, a hall, a primary school (55 pupils, 2014), a heated swimming pool, a tourist/caravan park, three churches and an arts centre. Its census populations have been:
At the 2011 census, dairy farming accounted for 7.8% of employment in Toora and environs.
J. Vale, With mud on their boots: Toora 1888-1988, 1988
Rosemary Crawford, Toora tin mines – Toora North: a brief history, Foster, 1996
Barry Collett, Wednesdays closest to the full moon: a history of South Gippsland, Carlton, 1994