Cowwarr is a rural village in Gippsland between Toongabbie and Heyfield. It is 24 km north-east of Traralgon.

The Cowwarr district was part of Hayfield pastoral run, taken up in the early 1840s. In the early 1860s, when gold rushes occurred in the Great Dividing Range to the west, a supply route quickly developed from Sale through Toongabbie, south-west of Cowwarr. From about 1866 an alternative route to Walhalla, the main goldfield, developed north of Toongabbie.

By 1868 an accommodation house was operating and a township was surveyed. At first the settlement was known as The Forty Second, as the surrounding land was taken up under the 42nd clause of the Amended Land Act which allowed selection of small blocks of land close to goldfields. The name Cowwarr is thought to be from an Aboriginal word meaning mountains or wind.

Cowwarr was situated on the plain near the point where the track entered the mountains. Here, supplies were transferred from bullock wagons to packhorses for the arduous climb to the goldfields. Gradually the thick scrub on the Thomson river flats was cleared. Oats, potatoes and other crops were grown on the fertile soil and several orchards were planted, the produce being packed to Walhalla. In 1883 a railway loop line from Traralgon passed through Cowwarr. During the 1880s a number of sawmills operated in the district, supplying red gum paving blocks to Melbourne. As more land was cleared and drained, dairying became widespread. A creamery was set up in 1884 and 1893 construction began on a butter factory. At this time the largest training stables in Gippsland were situated at Cowwarr.

In 1903 the town was described in the Australian handbook:

In 1918 a new butter factory was constructed near the railway station. Two landmark buildings were completed in 1930: the two storey Cricket Club Hotel that replaced an earlier building and a substantial new mechanics’ institute hall was built. Cowwarr was the centre of the Roman Catholic parish and a school, which had earlier operated until 1894, reopened in 1919.

In 1952, the Thompson River flooded, carving a new bed close to the township of Cowwarr. Rainbow Creek, as the breakaway is known, is now the main channel of the river. In 1958, a weir was built to maintain a flow in the old channel and minimise soil erosion.

Reflecting the changes to small country towns, the butter factory closed in 1959 and the Catholic school was moved to nearby Heyfield in 1954. Cowwarr now has one hotel, a school (21 pupils, 2014), three churches and a store. The heritage listed butter factory, an unusual building of French Provincial style, is now an art gallery.

A rail trail is on the former railway line (1883-1987).

Cowwarr's census populations have been:

Area census date population
Cowwarr 1871 74
  1881 115
  1911 239
  1921 486
  1947 308
  1961 206
Cowwarr and environs 2011 376

At the 2011 census dairy farming accounted for 11.8% of employment and other farming 7.5%.

Further Reading

entry based on Wellington landscapes, p 62