Pakenham is the administrative, industrial and residential centre of an attractive shire located in the foothills of the Dandenongs, 64 km south-east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway at an elevation of 31 metres above sea-level. Grazing, dairying and fruit-growing are practiced in the district.
Prior to European settlement the Woiwurung Aborigines occupied the area. The first whites in the district were those bound for Gippsland who crossed Toomuc Creek at Pakenham Upper. It was at this crossing that Michael and Catherine Bourke established the Latrobe Inn, also known as Bourke's Hotel and the Princes Highway Hotel. This became a stopping place for Cobb & Co coaches. A regular overland mail service from Melbourne to Gippsland was established in 1848, passing through this area.
Pakenham was proclaimed a town in 1861 and it was formed as a riding of Berwick shire in 1868. Pakenham became the headquarters of the shire in 1901 and a shire hall was eventually built in 1912.
Nar Nar Goon, 11 km east of Pakenham, was part of the Mount Ararat run, taken up in 1844. A timber mill and tramway operated there later in the 19th century.
5 km further east is Tynong (from an Aboriginal word meaning 'many fish'). Timbergetters cutting sleepers for the railway line worked the forest hereabouts in the 1870s and the first settlers took up land in the late 1870s once the railway had arrived. Early local industries included the distillation of eucalyptus oil, grazing cattle and timber milling. A quarry was established here after World War I to supply granite for the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
Another 8 km east is Bunyip (originally known as 'Buneep') which was first mentioned in 1847 when a route was surveyed from Dandenong to Buneep, to facilitate traffic to Gippsland. The 'Buneep Buneep' cattle run was in existence by the early 1850s and the Buneep township was proclaimed in 1857. The original townsite had an hotel and was located north of the present townsite. The construction of a new road in the 1860s saw the old inn and settlement abandoned and the New Bunyip Hotel was built in 1867. Development occurred but the passage of the railway line further south again in the late 1870s saw the townsite moved to its present location. It prospered initially as there was no railway bridge over the Bunyip River and so the western section of the Gippsland line terminated here, making it a major changing place for passengers and goods. Moreover, in the 1890s, Bunyip was located at the landward end of the main drainage works associated with the Koo-wee-rup swamp. Thus the Bunyip railhead was used as the point of departure for the men and materials working on the project. The upshot was the selection of allotments in the township and the farmlands emerging out of the reclamation works.
Garfield, 4 km west of Bunyip, was named after US president, James Garfield, who was assassinated during his first year of office, in 1881. It was previously known as Cannibal Creek, after the Cannibal Creek agistment lease, taken out in 1845. It emerged in the 1860s as a stopping place for the east-bound coach service. The Pig and Whistle Hotel was established and the railway arrived in 1877, facilitating the expansion of the timber industry with tramways connecting the main line at Garfield to the sawmills and loggers' camps in the Black Snake Ranges to the north. The Cannibal Creek State School opened in 1886. A brick and pipeworks opened in 1890. As with Bunyip, the reclaimed swampland on the northern side of Westernport Bay opened up new areas for farming, thus encouraging local settlement and development. After the turn of the century a bank, Methodist church, baker's, newsagency, butchers, other storekeepers and a public hall appeared on the townsite. After World War I primary production stepped up and the business and shopping centre expanded although a drastic bushfire destroyed much of the area in 1926.
Things to see
Historical Society Museum
The Berwick-Pakenham Historical Society has a display of items pertaining to local history. They are located in a room adjoining the library in John St and are open by prior appointment only, tel: (03) 5943 2271.
Mariah Hill Alpaca Ranch
Mariah Hill Alpaca Ranch is one of Australia's largest such farms, featuring 200 alpacas on 100 acres. There are guided tours of the 1842 homestead with its 33-cm walls. Sections of the cottage garden date back to the 19th century. There is a new wallaby enclosure, a nursery, tearooms, picnic areas with barbecue facilities, a gift shop and hayrides on the weekends. The ranch is open from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. daily (it is best to ring first if you are interested in visiting on Monday or Tuesday), tel: (03) 5942 5722.
To get there head east of Pakenham along the Princes Highway for 4 km and turn left into Mt Ararat Rd North. Mariah Hill is at no.125
Truleen Downs Alpaca Stud
Truleen Downs is located 10 km north of Pakenham at 940 Toomuc Valley Rd, Pakenham Upper. There are guided tours of the operation and a gift shop. The stud is open to the public on a daily basis, tel: (03) 5942 7417.