Situated 55 km south-east of central Melbourne and 14 km south-east of Berwick, Cardinia has undergone several name changes. From the Aboriginal expression karr-din-yarr, meaning look towards the rising sun, the area was known as South Pakenham until at least 1879.
From 1838 the area consisted of cattle runs until the land was subdivided in the 1850s. In 1874 the first school was built in the district, known as Pakenham South. The school name was changed to Cardinia Creek in 1881 and operated on a part-time basis with Officer until its closure in 1906. This school, along with a hall, was in Cardinia Road, about 2 km north of the present village which is at the intersection of Cardinia and Ballarto Roads. A second school opened in 1911 under the name of Ballarto State school and changed its name to Cardinia in 1912. This was at the village's present location.
The Cardinia hall was constructed in 1880 and was followed by the post office in 1881. The main industry at this time was dairying. Cardinia Creek was described in the 1903 Australian handbook:
Agricultural industry was developed due to the very rich soil, and potato growing was popular from the 1900s until the 1930s. The Presbyterian church was built in 1915.
The Cardinia Creek passes between the old and present Cardinia villages. Its headwaters are near Menzies Creek, Dandenong Ranges, and it was responsible for bringing down silt and flooding the land around Cardinia. A Cardinia flood protection board carried out drainage works and new farm settlers came on to the land around 1915. A large outfall drain to Western Port Bay was built in the 1930s, substituting for the meadering creek.
Cardinia's garage operated from 1948 until its closure in the mid-1970s. The Cardinia post office closed in 1970 and the mail service now operates through Clyde.
Cardinia has a general store, a recreation reserve and two churches. The primary school had 279 pupils in 2014.
Cardinia is also the name of a reservoir (1973) on the creek's headwaters as well as the name of a shire (1994) extending from Menzies Creek to Western Port Bay (see separate entry).
Cardinia's census populations have been:
E.M. Williams & J. Beard, Look to the rising sun: a history of Cardinia and district, c1985