Benambra, on the undulating plains about 24 km north of Omeo in East Gippsland, is predominantly a grazing district. The land was first taken up in the mid-1830s by squatters from the Monaro, New South Wales searching for new pastures. In the 1850s gold was discovered on the Livingstone Creek to the south, and later on the Gibbo River to the north. Land was opened up for settlement in the 1870s and the farmers were able to supply meat and other produce to the miners.
The township took its name from the Benambra run, a word thought to be Aboriginal in origin meaning hills with big trees or men spearing eels. When a school was opened in 1876 it was named Omeo Plains East. The Australian handbook described the town's progress by 1903:
Mining had declined by 1900 but the town was little affected. In 1911, there were 211 people in the district. In 1933, there were 148 inhabitants in the town and 101 in the surrounding area. Organisations such as a Progress Association, a Bush Nursing Association and a fire brigade were formed. There were several other small schools on the Omeo Plains, although most closed by the 1960s.
The limestone caves at nearby Limestone Creek had been discovered many years before by James Pendergast. Pink marble was also found there. George Summers, a well known sculptor, inspected the marble and in 1905 four tons were brought out to Benambra by bullock team. Although judged superior to Italian marble, transportation costs made it impractical to mine commercially.
A cheese and butter factory had opened in the 1890s. Several factories under several owners operated for some years, but with improvements in wool prices most farmers ceased dairying. A flour mill also operated for a while, but could not get enough wheat from the local area.
Grazing is still the most important industry, the Hereford breed having been found to be best suited to the cold conditions. There were saleyards at Benambra from the 1920s, and in 1946 the first calf sale in Victoria was held here. Previously, cattle were sold only as grown bullocks. Successful sales are also held at Omeo and Ensay and most cattle are now sold under twelve months old.
In the early years the lake, Lake Omeo, was generally dry, only filling in wet years. Plans to keep it filled had been promoted since the early 1900s. McMillan’s Lookout, approximately 900 feet above sea level on a ridge south of Benambra, affords a good view of the lake, the plains and the range of hills, The Brothers, to the north.
Although the town is not large, there are several prosperous homesteads around the area, with the families of many of the early settlers still represented. Benambra has a hotel, general store, public hall, Anglican, Catholic and Uniting churches and an airfield. The school closed in 2002 and is used for local meetings.
Bushfires threatened the township in 1993 cutting power to the town and destroying some houses. Volunteers and community members were based at the hall. The town celebrated 170 years of settlement in 2005 with a plaque unveiled at the oldest house.
Benambra's census populations have been:
* includes environs
At the 2011 census, the median age of residents was 50 years (Australia, 37 years) and farming accounted for 37.6% of employment.
A.M. Pearson, Echoes from the mountains, and history of the Omeo Shire Council, 1969
J.V. Pendergast, Pioneers of the Omeo district, 1968